Computers are an amazing resource. However, people often forget that modern computers are a mix of many different things. People think of computers as a unified whole. But in reality a modern computer is made up of many parts. One will quickly see that all of the parts are important. However, drivers have a special place in today’s modern computing platforms.
One should first remember that computers are actually a mixture of several different components. On the hardware level, one needs a few different pieces. A computer needs memory which can be continually written to at a rapid pace. This generally takes the form of RAM. A computer should also have slower storage which is used for files and the underlying operating system. Finally, it needs a BIOS or something similar. It might also incorporate various methods by which additional hardware is added into the mix. On laptops or desktop systems this usually takes the form of USB ports.
The BIOS handles some aspects of hardware integration inside a software stack. This is why a computer knows how to handle something like a USB port in the first place. But this is also where one can see the true power of modern operating systems. One should take a moment to consider just how much additional hardware and software is used by a computer. Even something like basic Internet access through ethernet ports isn’t covered by the BIOS. So how does a computer make use of that hardware?
Some of that comes from the operating system itself. The operating system is something of a middleman between hardware and the BIOS. The BIOS handles the most down to the metal interactions. But it won’t do much without an operating system. This is something like Windows, Linux or OSX. But in general Windows is the most common operating system for more common forms of hardware. The operating system handles hardware alongside the BIOS. And it does so with drivers. And these are really the miracle of the modern computing world.
Consider someone using a Logitech mouse. They might plug it into the USB port. From there the operating system would try to figure out what to do with it. The BIOS might offer a suggestion. It might even be able to handle standard movement, point and click functionality. But more advanced functions of the mouse wouldn’t be supported. The operating system might be able to handle more, such as a trackwheel. But to get full use of the mouse one would need drivers from the manufacturer. In this case logitech drivers would need to be installed. This can come about through different means. But in general they’re installed through an executable.
The executable tells the Windows registry about the new drivers. And they’re also installed in a standardized location. This is usually in the form of a DLL file. The DLL is a special type of program that only exists to expand a computer’s functionality. In this case the logitech drivers would have code to handle anything extra the mouse might ship with.
This process is fairly standard for most basic hardware. For example, a graphics card would probably be detected and usable on a BIOS level. The operating system might allow use of it through built in VGA drivers. But to get the full range of functionality one would need to expand it with drivers from the card’s manufacturer. This would give it full color modes and 3D acceleration. At least assuming the video card supported it.
And one can go on and on from here with other forms of hardware. The operating system will also usually provide methods to roll back to previous driver versions. And updates to the operating system will usually have new versions of the basic drivers as well. All of this comes together to show how drivers act as the glue within modern computing.