And we’re off to the races. Last week, I wrote up a teaser on some of the new features in Windows Vista for audio, which launched a long and heated discussion of the new OS. (Read through comments for some specifics, including how Vista compares to Mac OS X and BeOS. Hint: BeOS wins.)

Now, late yesterday — and well over a month before the operating system is due to ship — MOTU announced it was shipping a public beta version of its audio drivers. As far as I know, this is the first public driver support for audio interfaces on Vista. See comments for word that RME shipped their Vista drivers a couple of weeks ago, though presently only for the Fireface; MOTU’s shipment covers their entire product line. Good job, RME and MOTU — and with weeks to spare before consumers get the OS. (These drivers also feature enhancements for all versions of XP, so all Windows users, have at them)

Windows Vista drivers now shipping as a public beta []

I’m guessing the Vista Ultimate box featured on MOTU’s site is a hint; no Vista Home Basic around here, thank you.

As some readers reported, some existing XP drivers will run in the 32-bit release of Windows Vista. However, some drivers may not work at all or may suffer degraded performance, because of a whole range of issues. That means you’ll want to use Vista drivers if at all possible.

MOTU’s Vista beta drivers will cover the full MOTU audio range, including FireWire, PCI, and USB audio alike, and perennial favorites like the UltraLite and 828mkII. Note that, for high-performance music applications, the new Vista drivers’ preferred operating mode is actually good, old-fashioned ASIO. While Microsoft has unveiled a new audio system in Vista called WASAPI, it’s not yet clear how useful it will be for music software; for now, ASIO remains your best bet. (I hope to have more details on WASAPI soon, especially since every time I think of the acronym I start craving sushi and WASABI.)

Also very important: drivers are required to be “signed” under Vista, or certified by Microsoft for playback. Digital certification of drivers for compatibility is nothing new; Microsoft had a procedure for signing for Windows XP and other editions. On XP, you’ve probably gotten the “unsigned driver” error message. What is new is that the bar has been raised in terms of what tasks require signed drivers. You can’t install unsigned audio drivers under the 64-bit Vista even with admin privileges, and you’ll have to jump through some hoops even on 32-bit Windows (some DRM-controlled playback won’t play with unsigned drivers, either). So, one important feature of the new MOTU drivers is that they’re signed. Again, I’ll have more technical details on this soon. I know some of you are developing drivers for Vista, audio or otherwise, so feel free to set the record straight while I wait on the official word from Microsoft on what’s changed. (Microsoft is hosting a driver compatibility document for Vista if you feel like pouring through it.)