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.

By default, Mobile Express will prompt you to choose a printer every time. That's the best setting if you frequently alternate between printers at a given location, since that option brings you directly to a pick list. You can, if you wish, set Mobile Express to automatically print to the last printer used in each location. But if you need to change printers thereafter, it's a multistep process that involves navigating through four levels of dialog boxes.

The Mobile Express Driver provides a consistent set of basic printing functions that work across all printers. These include the ability to do two-sided printing, N-up printing (multiple images per page), landscape/portrait mode, a black-and-white/color switch, and watermarks.

If you need more in-depth features, however, Mobile Express is no substitute for the original equipment device driver. It lets you choose a different paper tray, but it can't tell you what paper type resides in each -- or if there is any paper in the tray at all. It doesn't provide low-toner alerts or support any other status alerts or advanced features (except, of course, for Xerox-brand printers).

For example, with a Canon black-and-white printer at Computerworld, Mobile Express let me change basic functions such as landscape and portrait printing and one- or two-sided printing. I could choose paper size, tray and pages per sheet, or choose a booklet layout in portrait or landscape mode with or without borders. But other features offered by the Canon driver, such as scaling, text/graphics settings and status alerts, weren't available with Mobile Express.

Xerox says that Mobile Express' discovery tool will find all USB- or network-attached printers, but it didn't always find the printers I was looking for. For example, Mobile Express did discover a nearby HP printer in my subnet, but did not find a nearby HP LaserJet 4000 printer that is attached to a JetDirect 300x print server within the same subnet -- at least not initially. Later, I did another discovery pass, and it briefly appeared before disappearing again.

I was finally able to find the LaserJet 4000 by using the IP search function and add it to My Printers; I could then print to it without any problems.

I tested Mobile Express with a variety of applications, including the Microsoft Office suite. Everything worked fine -- except for the old version of Portable Software's QuickExpense, which crashed when I tried to print using the Mobile Express Driver. Given the age of the application (circa 1995), I guess that's not surprising.

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Robert L. Mitchell

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