Starting with Windows Server 2012 / Windows 8 (and newer), Microsoft introduced a new driver model for the printing subsystem called version 4 drivers (V4 printer driver model). The main idea behind it was to eliminate the disadvantages of the former V3 driver model. Basically this old model didn’t change much since Windows Server 2000. Hardware vendors wrote their own printer drivers which were mostly device specific. It was only a couple of years ago that universal printer drivers became more common. But still these drivers contain a lot of vendor specific DLLs.
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Over the years, the driver database constantly grew larger. You can see this if you try to install a printer driver using the Windows update. It takes minutes until you get the updated list. This list also contains many legacy drivers of devices which are not in use anymore. From an administrator’s point of view, driver management is not an easy task because the drivers have to be provided for 32 and 64-Bit environments and must match the clients and servers’ OS architecture.
V4 drivers are available as “In-Box drivers” (included in the Windows operating system), as so called class drivers as well as vendor specific drivers which are provided by the vendor. The idea behind the class drivers is to support devices compatible with the same printer language like PostScript or PCL. This universal approach has a big disadvantage resulting in a limited feature set. Usually, only basic options like color/BW, formats, simplex/duplex for example are available. Therefore, especially multifunctional device features might not be supported.
V4 Class driver for Xerox Workcentre 5800
To eliminate the lack of features for their products and to differentiate through their own interface, vendors started to provide their own V4 drivers. These drivers can be downloaded via Windows update or directly from the vendor’s homepage. However, it must be said that not all vendors provide V4 drivers.
Vendor V4 driver for Xerox Workcentre 5875
Properties of the V4 driver
V4 drivers are based on the XPS printing path. Printers that can handle XPS directly do not require any additional rendering filters. For all other print devices, the XPS format needs to be converted into their language like PostScript or PCL.
For more details on XPS see:
The disadvantage of XPS printing is that the print job has to be spooled completely before the printer starts to print. For large print jobs this can lead to a big delay which results in a poor user experience.
Another pain point in the past was the distribution of printer drivers for shared printer objects from a print server. V3 drivers had to be installed on the server and on the client. Via “Point and Print”, the driver was automatically downloaded by default from the server if the user connected to a shared printer. While this was less critical on normal desktops, it could cause big problems in terminal or virtual desktop environments. One incompatible or poorly designed driver influences all users on the server.
Starting with V4 drivers the distribution model on the print server was changed. If the user connects to a V4 shared printer queue, the corresponding V4 driver from the local driver store on the client is installed or downloaded from Windows update. If no driver is available, the so called “Microsoft enhanced “Point and Print driver” is used.
Microsoft enhanced Point and Printing driver on the client
Printing preferences with the enhanced Point and Print
The enhanced Point and Print driver provides a standard interface with only limited features. Older versions of the client OS can also print to V4 queues on the print server. In that case the “Microsoft enhanced Point and Print compatibility driver” is used. This is a V3 driver which is compatible with OS prior to Windows 8.
The use of V4 drivers can be an advantage in homogenous environments with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 or 10 clients. V4 class drivers provide only limited features. Make sure that vendor specific V4 drivers are available.
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And finally, a V4 driver can’t be connected to 3rd party print monitors (ports). Keep this in mind when using an application requiring special printer ports, for example accounting or pull printing solutions.
More details on V4 drivers can be found here:
Mike Schiffel has over 25 years of experience with office and high-volume printing solutions. With stations at Kodak and Ricoh, his knowledge gained as a system application engineer allows him to have a perfect understanding of the requirements and demands in this complex and dynamic area. Since 2012 Mike has been a consultant, and team leader, at tacoemojishirt.com’s Berlin headquarters.