Over the past few days, I've spoken to a number of IT Pros that were interested in how printing is improved or different in Windows 8.  Even in today's age of online information and social media, I know that IT Pros spend a great deal of time managing shared printing and print drivers to make it all work as seamlessly as possible for end users.

In Windows 8, the product team has taken an opportunity to design a new print class driver architecture (version 4) while still maintaining backward compatibility with older version 3 drivers that were designed for Windows 7 and prior. 

Some of the key advantages that I absolutely love about this new driver architecture are:

  • Simplified print driver model - gets us several steps closer to a "driverless" design where printing "just works" without the need to install large complex print drivers
  • Native support for XPS printer output rendering - nowadays many printers natively support XPS (XML Paper Specification) as a page description language, allowing the ability to print to these devices without additional drivers
  • Built-in support for several common page description languages - such as PostScript, PCL, etc - to make basic print output capabilities easy for users without installing a custom driver.  You can still install a custom driver for complex print devices with lots of output options.
  • Separation of Print Rendering and Print Configuration - If you're like me, you've seen a tremendous growth in the size of custom print drivers over the years because manufacturers have tried to incorporate every possible feature into their own drivers.  Windows 8 now includes an architecture to provide a model for printer manufacturers to efficiently develop their own rendering filters, when needed, separate from their own UI configuration tools.  This allows printer manufacturers more flexibility in building rich configuration tools, while minimizing the disk and memory footprint of their drivers.  Case in point - Windows 8 supports more printer devices than ever, but the on-disk footprint of all the included drivers has been reduced from ~768MB  in Windows Vista to ~184MB in Windows 8!
  • Support for easy printing from Windows 8 style apps - without dropping into the traditional Desktop UI
  • Integration with the new High Availability Print Services - available in Windows Server 2012 by leveraging integration with Hyper-V clustering and Live Migration

You can read the full details about this new print class driver architecture on the Windows team blog - there's a great post over there by the Print team that explains the architecture in detail.

Ready to try out Simplified Printing for yourself?  Here's some great resources to test it in your own Lab!

I'm excited that these changes will reduce the amount of time IT Pros spend managing day-to-day printer tasks and print drivers.  What do you think?

Keith