Review: Universal printer drivers from Xerox, HP aren't so universal

Xerox's Mobile Express and HP's Universal Printer Driver let you use one driver for many devices. Too bad they're not truly universal.

Instead of a list of IP addresses, UPD offers a list of model name and numbers.

Instead of a list of IP addresses, UPD offers a list of model name and numbers.

If, like me, you travel regularly with your laptop between different locations, you know how annoying it can be to get even a simple document printed to the right device and in the right format. And if you forget to choose the right printer when you come into a new location? Everything disappears into the wrong queue, only to spit out in a torrent when you connect at the other location.

Why can't there be one universal printer driver that knows where you are, finds the printer you need and just prints the job? That's the problem Xerox and Hewlett-Packard attempt to solve with their free Xerox Mobile Express Driver and HP Universal Print Driver (UPD), respectively.

Xerox's Mobile Express and HP's UPD both support location-based printing. The drivers identify your location by sensing the subnet your computer is on at any given time and offering up the appropriate printers you've associated with it. If it's your first visit to that location, they will automatically discover available printers and let you choose from a list. They also let you choose a default for each office you visit. Once you've set it up, the driver determines your location by examining your network IP address and automatically sends the print job to the default printer.

But there's a rather big catch in each case. Mobile Express works only with printers that use the PostScript page description language. It won't work with any other printers, including those that use HP's popular PCL format.

Meanwhile, HP's UPD works only with HP-branded printers.

Recently, I took both drivers on the road. My own circumstances provided a perfect testing environment for these two drivers. I access six printers (three regularly) at each of three office locations. When I am at Computerworld's main office, I print to an HP monochrome LaserJet 4000 printer (attached to the network by way of an HP JetDirect print server) and a Canon multifunction color laser. At my home office, it's an HP LaserJet 1018i and a Lexmark X2350 all-in-one ink-jet printer. And a separate satellite office houses a LaserJet 1200.

As it turned out, neither product was a panacea for my printing problems in all locations, but I did find both tools useful and came up with a few work-arounds to make them play nicely together (or whatever the problem was).

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