Answer: Device drivers are small programs that allow Windows to communicate with a device.
All devices are going to need drivers to communicate with Windows. The driver files usually have the extension of dll or drv. Unless there is a driver file, Windows cannot communicate with the device. Each device has its own way of communicating and the driver talks between the device and Windows.
When you decide to print something from your computer, Windows will look for the driver for the printer and then send the information to be printed to that driver. The driver then sends the information to the printer, which prints it. If you decide you want to get some information off a flash drive, you will ask Windows to get it (usually by choosing to open a file) and then Windows will hand that request to the driver for the flash drive and the driver will get the information and hand it to Windows, which then processes and displays it for you.
Think of a driver as being a translator, or a person that tells someone else what you want. If you want to talk to someone who only knows Chinese and you only know English, you will need a translator to change the language for both of you.
When you install a device (printer, DVD drive, flash drive, scanner, camera, etc.), Windows installs the driver that works with that device. XP drivers for all the popular devices are included in Windows, however, if you get a newer device that talks differently with Windows than previous ones, or that Windows does not know, you will have to use the installation CD that came with the device and install the drivers. Usually you just know you are installing the device and the driver is hidden.
If the driver (it is a small program) gets damaged on your computer, then your device will not work or not work properly. (Often when a device starts acting up, the driver has been damaged, not the device). Then you must reinstall the drivers, which is usually done by running the program to install the device again. You may also have to go look on the Internet and find the driver for your device.
More next time on updating drivers and why you would want to.
Send your questions to Dwight Watt at email@example.com. He teaches at a technical college in northwest Georgia and does consulting work for businesses and individuals. His website is www.dwightwatt.com.