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Windows Vista & Modems (New 26-Feb-07)

Windows Vista & Modems: Windows Vista is out, and the processes for installing and dealing with modems are little changed from Windows XP. One major change is that even users with administrative privileges may be prevented from making changes to modem properties (including initialization string) by default due to Vista's new User Account Control. (See Extra Settings / Initialization string: Vista section for more information on this).

The biggest problem users may have is unsupported modems: since the use of dial-up modems continues to fall, many vendors have disappeared since Windows XP first came on the scene, and no drivers have been developed for these "orphaned" modems to work with Windows Vista. Based upon feedback I've received, modems that fall into this category include most Diamond modems (manufacturer out of business), most PCTel modems, many Smartlink modems, many Motorola modems, some USR modems, as well as some modems based upon chipsets from Conexant, and Agere.

The best advice: if you have an older system and want to use the dial-up modem, use Microsoft's Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor to check whether your modem is supported in Vista. If the advisor tells you your modem isn't supported, your best bet is to believe it - if it's possible at all to use the modem, it won't be easy. And, don't count on other old modems you have laying around to work with Vista, either. I've received many messages from users who have tried many modems - none of them work. The good news is that modems are relatively inexpensive now, and there are modems that are based upon the latest chipsets from Conexant, Agere and USR that will work. But, check first! Also, the good old COM port / serial modem with hardware controller is almost a sure-fire guarantee of compatibility - however, many newer computers (especially notebooks) may not have a standard COM port - and if you can't physically connect the modem to the computer, you'll have a problem.

Actually, if you're thinking of upgrading to Vista, may I suggest you just wait. The operating system upgrade is expensive; there is really very little that's actually been improved (despite the hype you may hear - the improvements for the most part are marginal), and there's a lot more than modems that will be broken if Vista is your only operating system. (A fair amount of software as well as other hardware won't work correctly or at all with Vista.) Add to that onerous digital rights management to prevent you from copying/enjoying music and video, and changes that will prevent your investment in security products from working with the operating system. See, for example this Wikipedia article on Criticism of Windows Vista.

If you purchase a new PC and it comes with a modem, the modem should be supported and it should work (although there may be some exceptions as vendors rush to market with Vista). Beware that consumer-oriented PCs that are sold with Vista may make it next-to-impossible to install Windows XP or an older operating system: new PCs often do not come with a diskette drive, and do come with a new-technology SATA hard drive that aren't supported in the older operating systems without a third-party driver (or at all); and, Windows XP is designed such that only a diskette drive can be used to add this type of driver during the initial XP installation. You may also have problems with dual boot if you install an older operating system after Vista has already been installed. (See this Microsoft KB article.)

If you're still interested in an Upgrade to Vista: if the Microsoft Windows Vista Advisor reports no problems with your modem, or other parts of your PC and software, you are unlikely to have new modem-related problems after the upgrade.

ALSO SEE: Windows Vista Modem Trouble

Comments on this article / your experiences with Vista welcome: Click here to send feedback.

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