Every time I buy a piece of PC hardware, I take a trip down memory lane. As I unpack the box, I generally find the device (whatever it is), an instruction booklet, and a driver diskette or CD.
Ah, a driver disk. I remember those days. I remember loading Windows ME on my wife's PC for a class she was taking. Put in the Windows CD and start the installation. Now put in the CD with the drivers for the motherboard. Now put in the CD with the driver for the video card. And finally the diskette with the Ethernet driver.
It all worked eventually. But when I had to reinstall the software on the PC sometime later, after Windows had developed a fatal case of indigestion, I had to scramble to find all the right driver disks. In one case, I had to spend time searching the Web for a replacement for a misplaced driver disk. It was anything but a simple process.
It must be this hide-and-seek game that some readers think of when they tell me they won't install Linux because they don't want to waste time finding and downloading drivers from the Internet. Thankfully, though, the need to download drivers is quite small these days.
About the only time I see the need to download a driver is in support of bleeding-edge or highly proprietary pieces of hardware that have vendor-supplied, closed-source drivers. Personally, I avoid that problem by purchasing only hardware supported by open-source drivers -- which is very easy to do because most common pieces of hardware are supported these days.
When I installed Linux on my wife's system (dual-booting can be a very useful thing), there was no need to download anything. In fact, there was no need for multiple reboots, or digging around for floppies or anything else. All I needed was the Mandrake installation CDs. That's it.
The theory behind most Linux distributions is to offer choices and flexibility. To aid in that cause, most distributions are packed with software. The idea is to give the end-user the potential to use a very robust solution right out of the box. Office applications, server applications, Internet applications -- they're all there.
And drivers. Don't forget the drivers.
Not only are the drivers included on the distribution CDs, most of the time they are available on the machine when needed. So it doesn't matter if you are installing a supported video capture card in a PCI slot or stuffing a new wireless networking card in your laptop: The driver is already loaded in the system. That makes the task of installing and upgrading the system just that much easier.
The biggest issue with drivers on Linux is that a few vendors are still too slow or too secretive to provide the information needed to support their new devices, particularly in the area of brain-dead, Windows-only printers and modems. But I think the vendors will come around. As the impact of Linux continues to grow, the call of lost revenue will not be denied.