There aren’t many positive ways to spin this: if you’re a user of Digidesign and M-Audio products and looking to use current operating systems, very often you’re out of luck. In some cases, this isn’t so surprising — given issues with Leopard, I actually suggest running Mac OS X Tiger if you can until some issues are resolved. And while I have one machine here running Vista happily, suffice to say Windows XP remains the choice for many, as drivers from a variety of vendors mature.

Still, I think it’s bad to see drivers missing altogether this late in the game — especially in the case of Windows XP SP3, a minor update to a six year-old OS. Maybe some of this isn’t M-Audio’s fault — maybe OS driver development needs to be easier. But either way, when a major music hardware vendor is this far out of sync with the software shipping on new machines, it’s a problem. And while their loss may be good for their competitors in audio hardware, it’s not terribly good for the music tech industry in general.

(Okay, Digidesign/M-Audio — before you start throwing things at me, I’m not saying this to be mean or to single you out, I’m saying this because I hear this all the time from your customers. I think if there are problems on the Apple/Microsoft side, then that’s worth examining, too. But I do think this is a situation that could stand some improvement.)

Digidesign + Vista

Digidesign Windows OS Requirements

On the Digidesign side, the good news is Pro Tools 7.4 LE and M-Powered are now supported on Vista — sort of. The bad news is, you need 7.4, there’s still no support for Pro Tools HD, and Digidesign hasn’t yet qualified SP1 for anything. (M-Audio has made the same statement.) Now, I’m used to Digidesign’s lagging OS support, and to be honest, I think being cautious about support is a good idea. But in this case, SP1 largely involves fixes for Vista — some of them very significant issues. It’s a little odd that you could qualify Vista without SP1, containing most of the same fixes installed as HotFixes, but not SP1 itself, even though the latter is more likely to be stable and compatible in almost every other respect.

Then it gets odder. Vista Home Premium is still not supported by Digidesign, despite being identical to the supported Ultimate and Business editions in regards to music, audio, and driver support. Maybe Digidesign has some reason for doing this, but I can’t imagine what it is, and they’re not saying.

M-Audio + XP SP3

If you’re using M-Audio hardware, I recommend holding off on updating to Windows XP SP3. For starters, SP3 doesn’t really offer anything essential to audio users to begin with. But more importantly, I’ve seen a number of reports that M-Audio hardware refuses to install on SP3. That’s a major oversight. Unfortunately, there’s not even any information on M-Audio’s site other than a general statement that their drivers haven’t been "qualified" for SP3 (which I suspect means very little to users trying to get specific fixes):

M-Audio XP SP3 Statement

What makes this so odd is that this is what Digidesign has to say about Windows XP Service Pack 3:

"There are currently no known compatibility differences between systems with XP SP2 or SP3. All compatibility information regarding Windows XP Service Pack 2 also applies to systems with Windows XP Service Pack 3." [Emphasis Digidesign’s]

Yet despite massive incompatibility with SP3, a minor service update that’s been available to developers for many months, M-Audio condescendingly tells users in a support document that we should "rest assured that supporting Service Pack 3 is a top priority for us."

M-Audio + Vista

M-Audio’s support for Vista, which had been lagging badly, has now improved somewhat:

M-Audio Vista Driver Development

Among the drivers still missing as I write this, though, is M-Audio’s flagship audio interface and control surface, the Project Mix I/O. And while Roland/Edirol, MOTU, RME, and others have supported 64-bit Windows, M-Audio has no support whatsoever.

M-Audio + Leopard

Mac OS X is slightly better off, but a significant number of drivers are lagging. The entire FireWire line and Project Mix I/O, among others, remain in beta.

M-Audio 10.5 update

Got experience with drivers on current OSes? Let us know.