Can We Consider H-P A Top-Tier Company, When They Don’t Properly Support Their Hardware?

That is the question I am asking this morning, after seeing an article in Infoworld, which deals with the proper explanation of the lack of printer drivers for many of the H-P printers.

Long ago, and perhaps in a kinder, gentler time, people like me bought Hewlett-Packard printers for two reasons, both which seem to be largely irrelevant these days. Reason one was the fact that no matter whether the printer was a laser or an ink-jet model, H-P printers were head and shoulders above others in quality. That quality expressed itself in the length of time the printer remained completely usable, as well as the crisp and clear printing results. Reason two was that the printers were well supported; as new things appeared, either operating systems, or software packages, you simply new there would be support from H-P for your printer.

Those days are gone.

Many will argue that as things like printers get cheaper, we should expect less support from the manufacturer. I say that’s garbage, as nothing else in life operates in that fashion, nor should it. Besides, though the printers may get less expensive, the consumables (which we are constantly reminded of the fact that we need to use ones that are GENUINE H-P branded) get more expensive. Laser toner has never cost more, and ink for inkjet printers gets more expensive in two ways; the ink is more expensive, and the ink containers are being filled less completely than ever before. It is similar to the marketing of ice cream in the last few years, most manufacturers have gone from a standard size of half-gallon to 1.75 quarts, yet the price has gone up above what the older half gallon size used to be – the double whammy. That means that if we are all good do-bees, (and we are, right?) we will be using those genuine H-P consumables, and H-P is still making its money from us.

But to the explanation given -

Gripe Line reader Dave wrote in with a complaint I’ve been hearing a lot lately: "I have an all-in-one color LaserJet printer. I recently upgraded my computer to Windows 7. After I did, I went to HP’s Website to pick up new drivers to get my printer working again. There aren’t any."

This complaint is not always about Windows 7. I’ve heard from a few people who still can’t get printer drivers for Vista.

"I had a similar experience with Vista," says Dave. "The excuse I was given with Vista was that ‘Microsoft released Vista unexpectedly.’ I might agree about Vista, but Microsoft gave lots of warning for the release of Windows 7."

Back in November, HP made overtures regarding the imminent arrival of Windows 7-compatible drivers. Fast-forward to the present, and Dave still can’t get his multifunction printer to print in color or to scan with the "universal" drivers he downloaded.

"So now I have a very expensive boat anchor, and nobody at HP can tell me if or when the software I need to make it work is coming. This is the umpteenth time I’ve been bitten by driver issues with HP. From now on I’m probably going to buy Lexmark," Dave remarks.

Naturally, I forward all such driver requests and complaints to HP. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive an answer that Dave — or anyone else who has written me about an HP printer that still won’t work with Vista or Windows 7 — will like. But these complaints are not news to HP. There are a number of forums dedicated to the question of drivers for specific printer models at HP.com. By way of explaining what’s going on, I was directed to an HP blog post on the topic.

The post is meant to explain why printer drivers take so long, and perhaps why some printers get abandoned when a new operating system comes out: "A printer driver is specific to the exact model of printer. Many printers have variations within a range. For example, the HP PhotoSmart 4200 has eleven different models within the range."

Oh, by all means, do explain…

Each printer and each model within that printer’s range requires its own version of the driver, and each printer model needs a new driver for every new version of Windows. Each printer also requires a separate driver depending on how it connects to the computer: wirelessly, via USB, via Ethernet. That’s a lot of drivers. Sometimes writing those drivers is a major undertaking; sometimes a simple change is all that’s needed.

But it isn’t writing the drivers that requires so much time and labor for HP. Rather, testing each driver to make sure it works with every possible piece of software you might choose to print with can take months — or years.

"Each printer model number has to be tested separately and with a huge variety of applications, from MS Word to commonly used freeware," the post reads. "There are literally rooms full of printer models running on computers with a new operating system printing from dozens of different applications. This process takes a long time and is very labor intensive. If a defect is found, it has to be fixed and the entire testing process re-started. It often takes longer and costs more money to test a printer driver than to create one."

Because of the labor that can go into writing and testing a printer driver, HP thinks hard before it decides to move a printer into a new operating system.

"It costs HP many thousands of dollars and many months to update and test a driver for a new operating system," the post says.

HP and Microsoft worked together to include drivers in the operating system for most of the printers released in recent years. If the driver you need was not included with Windows 7, your printer is not one that made that cut. Will there be a driver for it? I’m afraid I can’t answer that. But if you are thinking of upgrading to Windows 7 — and are fond of the printers you have — first check this list of printer drivers currently available for Windows 7.

While that is a very decent explanation of what occurs, I would say it only explains what needs to happen, and does not excuse any of what H-P has done.

If you wish to manufacturer printers, and make money on their sale, and the sales of all the consumables during the life of the printer, making sure that there are serviceable drivers for the printers you sell is part of the deal you make with the customer. If you, as the manufacturer, do not wish to keep to your end of the bargain, the customers that you have made a commitment to have the ability to move away from using your products, and then not only purchasing another maker’s products (with possibly no better chance of upgraded drivers when necessary, but also no premium price, partially built upon that notion). They also have the ability to each be that one disgruntled customer that vents their displeasure with your company to that average of 75 people, before they tire of telling the story.

This will no doubt have a deleterious effect upon your company’s reputation, and henceforth, sales.

( I must explain that I have not recently been affected by this problem, for the combination printer/fax/scanner that I purchased from H-P has acceptable drivers for Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. However, I have not always been that lucky, so I can certainly understand those who’ve been left out when upgrades are programmed and distributed.)

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Nikon - More Pixels it’s all about the pixels, in cameras, and in printers and scanners too. Without proper drivers, nothing works well.

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