Hardware vendors are getting an early jump on Microsoft's next OS to avoid Vista-style compatibility headaches.

in an effort to avoid compatibility problems that plagued the launch of Windows Vista, Intel (NSDQ: INTC) is giving developers a jump on its Windows 7-based product line.

The company has released a pre-production version of Windows 7 drivers for graphics chipsets. The WDDM1.1 graphics driver is designed for "enabling the full Windows 7 experience," Intel said, noting that the driver is the result of ongoing collaboration with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT).

"As a result of the collaboration, OEMs and beta users can stay in step with Windows 7 prereleases for smooth product development," Intel said.

Drivers allow hardware components to communicate with a computer operating system. Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista, is expected by industry observers to be released in late 2009 or early 2010.

When Vista launched in January of last year, many hardware makers -- including Intel -- didn't have fully compatible drivers ready. The problems marked the beginning of a slew of bad press for Vista that ultimately led many businesses and consumers to reject the OS.

To avoid a repeat of those problems, Microsoft earlier this year ordered computer and other hardware makers to begin testing their devices on Windows 7 as soon as the first beta version becomes available.

Hardware makers that don't comply with the edict won't qualify for Microsoft's Windows Logo certified compatibility program for Windows 7 or Windows Vista. "Beginning with the first beta of Windows 7 all Windows Vista submissions must include a complete CPK with test logs from Windows 7," Microsoft said in a 61-page bulletin to its hardware partners.

CPK refers to a process control method used in software development.

Microsoft's hard line with PC and chipmakers on Windows 7 compatibility should be no surprise. The software maker is embroiled in a lawsuit filed by consumers who claim they were misled into buying systems that, they contend, were falsely labeled as Vista compatible.

A recent Microsoft blog post states that programmers who attend an MSDN Developer Conference in January will be given a DVD containing the first Windows 7 beta. (full Story)

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