This is a problem that has confounded and caused no end of trouble to me and several friends/colleagues. Now that I seem to have found a fairly reliable solution, I wanted to highlight it here.
Problem Symptom: Vista fails to find drivers for devices – typically USB devices. Often these are devices that don’t require drivers (many USB keys and hard drives) or you have already installed drivers for them. After plugging them in you end up with a driver not found dialog box.
Quick Solution: Download this batch file (zipped version). You will need to run this from a command prompt with admin privileges. (Be careful though – usual disclaimers apply about doing it only if you know what you are doing and have backed up recently).
Detail: The reason for this problem (to the extent that it has happened to me) is that the driver cache for vista got corrupted somehow and the fix basically forces Vista to rebuild it.
Here is the breadcrumb trail of my search sleuthing that led me to the solution:
Technet (this helped in certain cases)
and finally Peter & Laura (many thanks!)
Typical error messages:
Error 1: Windows couldn’t find driver software for your device
Error 2: Windows Encountered a Problem while Trying to Install your Device