I'm not sure if it's Vista64, VMWare, Maxtor, or something else entirely, but over the past 9 months, I've had an working, not working issue with the "Safely Remove Hardware".
I run VMWare workstation on my External Maxtor Turbo edition Drives. They run all my development tools in xp. And my base os of course is Vista 64 Business edition. Well, depending on the version number of VMWare, for a while, I was always able to Safely remove the drives after shutting down all of my vms and exiting the program. However, a couple weeks ago, I installed an update to VMWare as well as SP1 to Vista. Oh, and I added a docking station to the mix as well.
Now it seems that I can't ever safely remove the drive. To remedy the situation, I closed down all the programs I had open, killed tasks but to no avail, it still doesn't work. The only way to remove it is to shutdown the computer.
Are there alternatives out there? Appearently there are. I found a nifty program called USB Safely Remove at http://safelyremove.com/ and their program actually does what Microsoft should have offered in the beginning. It tells you what programs are running against the drive if it's unable to remove the hardware. That is a really nice feature.
What I also like about it, is that it hides itself in the task bar, replacing the windows remove icon, so I don't have to run a separate program. The interface is a lot cleaner, and fewer clicks to find what devices I want to remove.
With the program, I was able to find that my Maxtor drive had a process using it with different admin level that what's current running has access to the drive. And that's why I'm not able to remove it. My other USB devices show up fine and can be removed without a problem. And I don't end up with the generic "This device is in use" message. I actually get something kind of handy.
Here is a link to their usage guide. http://safelyremove.com/scr_guide.htm
Another thing that I like, is that they have a ton of options. You can force a device to shutdown. And you can even build command line scripts! You can change icons for each of your devices, hide or show devices in the list, and it tells you how many are currently hidden. The interface is intuitive and clean. They also appear to be updating every month or two, so you know the developers love there program, and are constantly trying to improve it (that means a lot to a fellow developer like me).
So, if you find yourself often getting the can't remove device now, use this program. You'll be able to figure out what is causing the lock on the drive, and be able to remove it quickly.
It's pretty inexpensive, and it will save you a ton of headaches if you swap out a lot of usb devices. You can download it for free and get a 30 day trial.