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I have about 7 devices (speakers, mouse, etc.) that are all USB. They all came with CD's containing drivers for it. My question is, why do they? All 7 of these devices have run just fine on every computer I've ever owned (XP, Vista, Ubuntu, 7) without me even bothering with installing the included drivers disk. All the functionality works. My first thought was that it was just downloading it off the internet but even land-locked computers (i.e. no internet) were able to successfully utilize the devices without me installing.

Can somebody explain to me the purpose then for these devices to include the drivers disk?

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3 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Every device you own uses a driver to communicate with the OS. In most modern operating systems, the default built-in drivers are enough to cover a myriad of devices, such as keyboards, mice and speakers.

But once in a while, a device comes along that the OS engineers haven't designed for. I.e., my Fitbit - a USB/wireless pedometer. In that case, you need to install a driver in order to introduce the device to the OS and allow them to interact.

Another common scenario is a known device with a novel feature (such as a mouse with extra buttons, a keyboard with special function keys etc.) in which case the built-in driver will only cover the known features, and deprive you of the use of the extra functionality - until you install the dedicated driver.

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The CD's might also contain supporting software that aren't drivers per se, such as control panel applets, testing/setup/diagnostic utilites, and .PDF manuals.

In some cases a device, such as a mouse, might have basic functionality covered by the base class USB driver, but may have extended functionality available if the manufacturer driver is installed.

The new Windows 7 "Device Stage" feature can display an image of several classes of connected devices. Windows 7 offers to download such information from the Internet but it is possible software CDs have that information too.

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One more scenario that might not quite as common today is support for older operating systems. Back in the dark ages when USB was new, there was an ongoing race between device builders and the OS vendors to invent and support device classes. It was common to need to install a driver on a Windows 98 or Windows Me machine in order to support any USB device more exotic than a mouse, for instance. Since the internet wasn't quite as pervasive then either, the cost of a mini CD was far less than the cost of a returned device or a tech support call, so they just packed CDs with everything.

I did once have a USB CD drive that came with drivers on a CD that had me wondering...

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Windows XP (still alive and well despite MSs intention to end support a couple of years ago - just before netbooks came out) also almost always needs divers too. It's one version earlier than ME, but it actually works. –  Joe Nov 7 '11 at 22:29
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