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Microsoft Windows 7 Delivers on Legacy Printer Drivers

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  1. Making the Legacy Last
  2. Now on to HomeGroup
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Windows 7 supports an astounding number of legacy printer drivers, but the process may require a few extra clicks. You can even share an old printer on your home network through HomeGroup. Justin Korelc and Ed Tittel share their experience with Windows 7 and a 20-year-old workhorse.
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Backward compatibility would be unnecessary were it not for the staggering amount of outdated (but not necessarily obsolete) computer equipment still in use. Not everyone has the luxury of upgrading or replacing aging hardware, and some simply lack the impetus to displace "perfectly good" old equipment with newer stuff.

Recognizing that many users still expect to run their ancient artifacts hooked up to modern PCs, Microsoft supports surprisingly deep catalogs of legacy drivers.

So, for those of you who can't give up your legacy printers just yet, you're in luck when you pick up or migrate to Windows 7.

Making the Legacy Last

Case in point: I have an HP LaserJet 4 still kicking around the office. The HP LJ4 series was manufactured in the era of Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11 and then discontinued in the late 1990s. I acquired my unit way back in 1993.

To further verify its antiquity, this HP LJ4 sports a Centronics parallel interface (along with a 25-pin parallel port). If you're not familiar with the Centronics connector, that's because it's a one-hit de facto standard that retired in the 1990s in favor of parallel connections, now being nudged out by USB connections in contemporary gear (PCs and printers).

My Windows 7 workstation has neither a Centronics nor a parallel port interface, so I was forced to use a Centronics-to-USB adapter (retail price: $20).

As a true representative of old-school computing, the LJ4 also produces a magnificent sound that resembles commercial jet turbines spinning up to taxi down the runway. It's nothing like the modernistic whirs and whines—or total silence—of a more up-to-date printer during warm-up.

Despite its age, the LJ4 is still available online through resellers, and it remains a steady workhorse for small and medium-sized business environments.

Windows 7 includes a new Devices and Printers applet that displays icons for all the peripheral components connected to your PC. The Devices and Printers applet allows you to view, utilize and troubleshoot those external physical devices.

Expect to find icons for displays, flash drives, keyboards, mice, battery backups, headsets, webcams, and (of course) printers located there. What you won't find are devices that connect through any other means than ports or network interfaces.

At first, the only thing Devices and Printers reported about my new connection was a generic device listing labeled "IEEE-1284 Controller" under the Unspecified category heading.

After clicking the information bar that appears at the top of the window pane (see Figure 1-1) and allowing Devices and Printers to display enhanced icons and information from the Internet, the connection was correctly identified as an ATEN UC-1284 Printer Cable—yet still no printer!

You may have already noticed the Add a device and Add a printer buttons in the Devices and Printers applet: I selected Add a printer.

The Add Printer wizard appeared with drivers for a wealth of printer makes and models, but not mine.

Believing persistence would rule the day, I chose Add a local printer. When prompted to select a printer port, I chose to use an existing port labeled USB001 (Virtual printer port for USB) and clicked Next.

Here's where I encountered my second problem: there was apparently no driver listing for my legacy printer. I knew there'd be little chance of finding a Windows 7 driver for a Windows 3.1 printer from the manufacturer's website, but fortunately for me, there was a Windows Update button on this wizard screen.

I clicked the button and waited. After a moment of pulling older driver information from the Internet and scrolling through make and model listings, the HP LaserJet 4/4M PS driver appeared. My proof is shown in Figure 1-2. I figured it wouldn’t show up, yet there it was, defying the odds.

After selecting the driver entry, I clicked Next and proceeded through the remaining Add Printer Wizard prompts, such as naming the printer and choosing to share it on the network.

Finally, the HP LaserJet 4 was specified as the default printer and, just to remove any doubt that this was a fluke, I successfully printed a test page.

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