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Microsoft has long offered hardware compatibility information for different versions of Windows, including Windows Vista. Remember the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL)? You can access the current versions of the HCL and Windows Catalog listings for Windows versions from NT 4.0 and 98 through Windows Vista here. The Windows Vista HCL, now known as the Windows Logo'd Products List, is available here.
Until now, though, Microsoft has dropped the ball on making software compatibility easy to determine. With a renewed emphasis on marketing and customer satisfaction this summer, Microsoft has now created an easy-to-use one-stop shop for determining which hardware and software products will work with Windows Vista, the new Windows Vista Compatibility Center (WVCC).
To track down compatibility information, you can either search by product category (hardware and software) and product name, or browse hardware and software categories. Use Search to find one or two products; I recommend using Browse to find information for several products from the same vendor, or different vendors' products in a common category or sub-category.
Hardware categories include Cameras & Photo; Printers & Scanners; MP3 & Media Players; TV Devices; Communications Devices; Mice, Keyboard & Input Devices; Displays; Networking; Graphics Cards & Components; Storage Devices.
Software categories include Business & Home Office; Communications & Internet; Graphics & Printing; PC Gaming; Kids' & Educational; Hobbies & Personal Improvement; Photo & Video; Music & MP3; Utilities; Assistive Technology; Development Tools; Enterprise Applications.
Within each category, you can select a subcategory to help focus your search, and you can then scroll through the list, arranged by vendor, to find your product. To help you find products more quickly, though, I recommend you use the filters on the left side of the screen to help find results more quickly: a list of common vendors for each product category, compatibility levels (certified, works with, or not compatible), 32-bit or 64-bit.
By default, the WVCC lists items in terms of relevance, but you're better off changing the sort option to product name (A-Z or Z-A) or, for products made by different companies now listed under the new owner's name, use publisher's name (A-Z or Z-A).
The individual listing for each product uses a green checkmark to indicate Compatible, a yellow triangle with ! to indicate Action Recommended (such as an upgrade), a red X to indicate Not Compatible, or a black ? to indicate Status Unknown.
Even if a product is listed as Compatible, click the product listing for more information, as you might need to install updated drivers using the provided link. Other links provided include the vendor's website, support site, and contact information, as well as more detailed product information. Separate tabs for 32-bit and 64-bit compatibility help you determine if a particular product is 64-bit ready.
A thumb-up/thumb-down voting system on each product entry gives you the opportunity to indicate if the information is accurate. To correct inaccurate compatibility information, or to fill in the blanks for Status Unknown products, click the Let Us Know link and provide the information requested.
You might already have a handle on most of the information provided by the WVCC for your favorite products, but do you think it will help you with unfamiliar products? Will you be using it to answer other users' questions? If you're on the fence about moving to Vista, does this website help you make up your mind? Have you found any mistakes? Tell us.