Dude, Where's My Windows 7 Print Driver?

Gripe Line reader Dave wrote in with a complaint I've been hearing a lot lately: "I have an all-in-one color LaserJet printer. I recently upgraded my computer to Windows 7. After I did, I went to HP's Website to pick up new drivers to get my printer working again. There aren't any."

This complaint is not always about Windows 7. I've heard from a few people who still can't get printer drivers for Vista.

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"I had a similar experience with Vista," says Dave. "The excuse I was given with Vista was that 'Microsoft released Vista unexpectedly.' I might agree about Vista, but Microsoft gave lots of warning for the release of Windows 7."

Back in November, HP made overtures regarding the imminent arrival of Windows 7-compatible drivers. Fast-forward to the present, and Dave still can't get his multifunction printer to print in color or to scan with the "universal" drivers he downloaded.

"So now I have a very expensive boat anchor, and nobody at HP can tell me if or when the software I need to make it work is coming. This is the umpteenth time I've been bitten by driver issues with HP. From now on I'm probably going to buy Lexmark," Dave remarks.

Naturally, I forward all such driver requests and complaints to HP. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive an answer that Dave -- or anyone else who has written me about an HP printer that still won't work with Vista or Windows 7 -- will like. But these complaints are not news to HP. There are a number of forums dedicated to the question of drivers for specific printer models at HP.com. By way of explaining what's going on, I was directed to an HP blog post on the topic.

The post is meant to explain why printer drivers take so long, and perhaps why some printers get abandoned when a new operating system comes out: "A printer driver is specific to the exact model of printer. Many printers have variations within a range. For example, the HP PhotoSmart 4200 has eleven different models within the range."

Each printer and each model within that printer's range requires its own version of the driver, and each printer model needs a new driver for every new version of Windows. Each printer also requires a separate driver depending on how it connects to the computer: wirelessly, via USB, via Ethernet. That's a lot of drivers. Sometimes writing those drivers is a major undertaking; sometimes a simple change is all that's needed.

But it isn't writing the drivers that requires so much time and labor for HP. Rather, testing each driver to make sure it works with every possible piece of software you might choose to print with can take months -- or years.

"Each printer model number has to be tested separately and with a huge variety of applications, from MS Word to commonly used freeware," the post reads. "There are literally rooms full of printer models running on computers with a new operating system printing from dozens of different applications. This process takes a long time and is very labor intensive. If a defect is found, it has to be fixed and the entire testing process re-started. It often takes longer and costs more money to test a printer driver than to create one."

Because of the labor that can go into writing and testing a printer driver, HP thinks hard before it decides to move a printer into a new operating system.

"It costs HP many thousands of dollars and many months to update and test a driver for a new operating system," the post says.

HP and Microsoft worked together to include drivers in the operating system for most of the printers released in recent years. If the driver you need was not included with Windows 7, your printer is not one that made that cut. Will there be a driver for it? I'm afraid I can't answer that. But if you are thinking of upgrading to Windows 7 -- and are fond of the printers you have -- first check this list of printer drivers currently available for Windows 7.

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Where are my Windows 7 print drivers?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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