You’ll not often find me talking about device drivers with passion, but printers are likely consuming significant IT resources supporting and managing printing. As a result, there are substantial changes to how print drivers will be distributed and supported with Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices. The main reason I wrote this article is to stress the importance of the upcoming changes and how they impact customers as everyone will be affected at some time.
Currently, we’ve been getting used to the following scenarios when connecting a printer to a Windows PC:
- The printer is automatically detected and is ready for use.
- The printer is undetected, prompting users to find and install the necessary drivers manually.
As a result, many manufacturers have been encouraged to provide drivers using Windows Update to facilitate the automatic detection of drivers. That, however, is changing with changes to print driver architecture and the distribution of printer-specific software.
Having a good printer is one thing, but having good drivers is another, and sometimes doesn’t go hand in hand. Through further standardization of the printing process, Microsoft hopes to simplify printer management while improving reliability. Let’s look at Microsoft’s recent announcement and what it means for organizations.
Microsoft’s New Announcement Highlights
Several changes will be rolled out to Windows devices and cloud management of printer drivers to advance the Windows print driver architecture.
- Legacy v3 and v4 printer drivers are being phased out.
- Microsoft is phasing out printer driver servicing through Windows Update. Manufacturers might be unable to distribute their drivers via this platform in 2025.
- Microsoft is encouraging manufacturers to adopt a standardized printer driver for connectivity. For additional functionalities, manufacturers should rely on Print Support Apps. These apps, built on the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), are available on the Microsoft Store and can auto-install when a compatible printer is detected.
- The new default is Microsoft IPP Class Driver. This driver offers built-in support for printers compliant with Mopria standards, covering network and USB and Bluetooth connections.
This new device driver uses a modern application format (UWP) to deliver the print support app, which provides the user with the interface to create their print job while letting the operating system handle the job’s rendering and sending the data to the printer. The IPP Class Driver uses the Internet Printing Protocol, allowing the printer to be on virtually any network connection, including USB and Bluetooth.
Even though I assume there will be many print support applications from printer vendors, the architecture does not require a printer manufacturer to make a PSA for their device. So much of the printing process is standardized in this architecture that installing printer-specific software may not be necessary.
What are v3 and v4 Print Drivers?
- v3 Drivers: The Version 3 model is the traditional driver model introduced in Windows 2000 and used in subsequent versions of Windows until the v4 model was introduced.
- v4 Drivers: The Version 4 driver model was introduced in Windows 8 and is optimized for simplicity and performance, mainly for the Windows Store app environment.
- Design Philosophy:
- v3 Drivers: These are monolithic drivers, meaning they include various features and functionality bundled together.
- v4 Drivers: They are designed to be modular. Much printer-specific processing has been moved to the print server or client. This model promotes driver reusability and reduces duplication.
- Installation and Package Size:
- v3 Drivers: Tend to have larger driver packages since they include a broad set of features and functionality for various printer models.
- v4 Drivers: Often have a smaller footprint since they leverage the capabilities of the OS and use common, reusable driver packages.
- Printer Capabilities:
- v3 Drivers: Use Printer Definition Language (PDL) data streams or GDI-based methods for rendering.
- v4 Drivers: These primarily rely on XML-based Printer Description Languages (PDLs) and can be device-specific or class drivers.
- v3 Drivers: Uses printer-specific configuration DLLs.
- v4 Drivers: Leverages PrintCapabilities and PrintTicket for configuration based on XML.
- Print Processor:
- v3 Drivers: Often have custom print processors.
- v4 Drivers: Utilize Microsoft’s built-in print processor.
- User Experience:
- v3 Drivers: Often come with custom, manufacturer-specific UI for settings and properties.
- v4 Drivers: Aim to provide a consistent user experience using native Windows print dialogues and settings.
- v3 Drivers: Introduced with Windows 2000, supported on various Windows versions.
- v4 Drivers: Specifically tailored for Windows 8 and newer, with backward compatibility in mind.
In essence, Microsoft introduced v4 drivers to modernize the printer driver architecture, promote consistency, and reduce the complexity and size of driver packages. The intent was to provide a more streamlined experience for both developers and end-users.
What is the Mopria Alliance?
Mopria was founded in 2013 by Canon, HP, Samsung, and Xerox—the Mopria Alliance aimed to create universal standards for scanning and printing. The alliance now includes Brother, Epson, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Lexmark, Kyocera, and Adobe.
- Over 6,000 printer models now support Mopria standards.
- Mopria print technology features in over 3 billion installations globally.
- A comprehensive list of Mopria-supported devices is available on their official website.
Microsoft’s Timeline for Changes:
- September 2023: Microsoft initially announced the cessation of legacy third-party printer drivers via Windows Update.
- 2025: Manufacturers will no longer be allowed to publish new printer drivers to Windows Update. However, updates to existing drivers will still be permissible.
- 2026: Preference will be given to standardized printer drivers when ranking them.
- 2027: Updates to third-party printer drivers via Windows Update will be discontinued, barring security-related updates.
Note: Despite these changes, manufacturers can still produce and distribute printer driver packages outside Windows Update, ensuring continued support for older printers, given available drivers.
Assurances from Microsoft:
- Post-2027, Windows will not inhibit installing new print drivers obtained through standalone packages.
- No existing printer driver features will be eliminated from Windows after servicing, as verified by Microsoft’s FAQ.
Affected Windows Versions: The policy update applies to all Windows versions and editions, including Windows 10 and 11.
As you can see, Microsoft has been on the modernization path with v4 drivers, but to be honest, vendors and end users have not had much uptake. In the short term, you must consider adopting modern printer drivers and how you’ll distribute them in the organization.
Another consideration is Windows servicing. To use Mopria devices and, more importantly, the Microsoft IPP Class driver, you will need your endpoints to run Windows 10 21H2 or better. In addition to having a minimum client version, the distribution of UWP apps comes into play.
There is no issue if you are already managing or allowing users to self-service the install UWP applications. Still, if UWP apps are blocked, then there is the possibility that users cannot get connected to the printer or are missing a feature found in the print support app for the printer.
It’s not until 2025 (at the latest) that hardware manufacturers will need to support this architecture for print drivers with their newer printers, or they will have to ship their driver installer outside of Windows Update as they will not have the ability to submit new models to the Windows Update catalog. At this point, major printer manufacturers should have more to offer regarding modern hardware and software.
Unfortunately, everyone’s print environment will differ; most happen through attrition. The replacement printer will be a newer device with modern capabilities as the hardware is refreshed.
In 2026, standardized drivers will become preferred, implying that multiple modern and legacy drivers may exist for the printer. Modern and legacy driver architectures will likely complicate the picture because organizations could try to modernize specific drivers on existing printers. I see this as unlikely to happen in many environments because there needs to be a clear business case to dedicate the effort to modernizing print drivers of existing print queues.
Maybe a support statement from a printer vendor will push the modernization of some printer drivers at organizations. Still, printers often run past their intended lifetime, and generally, that isn’t a problem until the software stops working or the driver has a security issue.
That brings me to the final phase around 2027 when your older printer drivers can become more annoying. Third-party printer drivers are restricted to security updates only, and generally, the expectation is that most of your hardware should support modern printing standards.
Of course, there are exceptions, and Microsoft isn’t banning driver installers or other distribution methods for printer drivers. Also, for those with legacy hardware, the v3 and v4 printer driver specifications are not set to retire, giving you room to cope with technical debt.
Just be sure to manage risk with old devices. Up-to-date firmware and software are becoming more relevant as hackers try more obscure attack vectors. While there might be business justifications for keeping old hardware, IT must balance that with the potential risk to the organization.
The journey to modernized print capabilities can be long, but remember what I’ve discussed. We are trying to cross a chasm and retire a bunch of old drivers, and every customer will have a different timeline. Microsoft has started informing everyone; now is the time to learn and plan.