Contributor:
Russell Smith
September 3rd, 2012

Windows 8 Improves Support for Printing with Standard User Accounts

A primary reason for giving administrative privileges to notebook users is to give them the ability to install peripheral devices when they’re at home or on the road. Out of all the peripherals we connect to our computers, printers are the most common. As part of the development of Windows 8 and the new run-time that supports Modern UI (previously Metro) applications, Microsoft needed to create a new driver model to let users print to any device without the need to install a specific driver. Recall that in Windows 7, drivers in the local driver store and on Windows Update can be installed without elevated privileges. All other drivers must be installed by an administrator.

To help solve this problem, Windows 8 has a new print-class driver framework that enables existing printers, and even those that have not yet been manufactured, to be connected without having to install a 3rd-party driver. In-box drivers that are provided when a new version of Windows is shipped become less relevant over time because printers released in the Windows-launch time frame come to be less ubiquitous as they’re discontinued to make way for newer models. The Windows 8 driver model addresses the challenge of how to provide in-box drivers for printers that haven’t yet been developed. Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 also allow system administrators to set up Windows print servers without loading client-side drivers for each printer on the server.

Vista shipped with 4,500 drivers and Windows 7 with about 2,100. Even though Windows 7 has half as many drivers as Vista, they were more relevant for devices on the market at the time Windows 7 was released, and old drivers are moved to Windows Update when a new version of Windows is shipped.

Microsoft has been working with hardware manufacturers to ensure that printers include a compatible ID string that states if the device supports XPS, a standard rendering language used by many printers, so Windows can print straight to the device using a generic driver. If there’s no compatible ID string, Windows will search for a driver locally or on Windows Update and install it. If no suitable driver is found, then Windows 8 can use its new print-class driver. If a printer uses a proprietary rendering language, Windows 8 can still use the print-class driver but with a separate rendering filter.

Though this might all seem like trivial stuff, such evolutionary changes in Windows amount to an operating system that is easier to support and more secure. While Microsoft is moving in the right direction, Windows 8 doesn’t solve all the issues that surround running a standard user account, and a 3rd party privilege management product is still required to achieve least risk and maximum flexibility.

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