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Designing for Printer Driver Compatibility

Updated: March 28, 2003

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Designing for Printer Driver Compatibility

When designing your new printing environment, you must understand how different types of drivers work on different versions of the Windows operating system. Print servers running Windows Server 2003 use two types of drivers:

  • Version 2 printer drivers operate in kernel mode (inside the operating system kernel memory space) and are designed for Windows NT 4.0.

  • Version 3 printer drivers operate in user mode (outside the operating system kernel memory space) and are designed for Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003.

Windows Server 2003 supports both Version 2 and Version 3 printer drivers. To ensure the stability of your print servers, use Version 3 drivers whenever possible. If some computers in your organization run Windows NT 4.0 and other computers run Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, or Windows Server 2003, you must ensure that you have the proper mix of drivers to support all of these clients, and you might have to modify the Windows Server 2003 print server to include additional Version 2 drivers that work with Windows NT 4.0 clients.


  • Poorly written device drivers have been identified as a major cause of system instability. To ensure that your drivers are reliable, use drivers approved under the Windows Hardware Logo Program on your print servers.

Having the correct drivers installed on your server is important if you plan to use the Point and Print feature. By using Point and Print, a user running Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, or Windows Server 2003 can create a connection to a remote printer without using disks or other installation media. All necessary files and configuration information automatically download from the print server to the client. Point and Print eases your administrative overhead by eliminating the need to visit each workstation to install the appropriate device drivers.

Windows Server 2003 also provides Point and Print support for Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Millennium Edition clients on your network. However, Point and Print does not support automatic driver upgrades for these clients.

Your new print servers must include printer drivers that support all the clients on your network. Maintain a list of printers that are using Version 2 drivers, so that you can replace these drivers with Version 3 drivers if you upgrade the client base to Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. Additionally, if you have PostScript printers, you can use PostScript drivers to increase interoperability in a mixed Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, and Windows XP Professional client environment.

Table 3.2 notes the compatibility of Version 2, Version 3, and PostScript drivers with different versions of the Windows operating systems.

Table 3.2   Printer Driver Compatibility with Windows Operating Systems


Driver type Version 2 Version 3 PostScript

Windows NT 4.0

Table Bullet

Supported as additional drivers*

Table Bullet

Windows 2000

Table Bullet Table Bullet Table Bullet

Windows XP Professional

Table Bullet Table Bullet Table Bullet

Windows Server 2003

Supported as additional drivers

Table Bullet Table Bullet

* Must be installed remotely from Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional clients to allow those clients to print to a Windows NT 4.0 print server.

Version 2 and Version 3 Drivers

Version 3 drivers are recommended over Version 2 drivers because they support advanced printing features and improved performance. If a server stops responding as a result of a Version 3 driver problem, you only need to stop and restart the print spooler instead of restarting the server. Additionally, Version 3 drivers can reduce printer downtime, because Windows Server 2003 provides automatic recovery of the spooler service by default. If a Version 2 driver stops responding, you must reboot the server, taking all other services offline while the server restarts.

Often the existing Version 2 drivers on your print server function properly with Windows Server 2003. Although a default local Group Policy setting in Windows Server 2003 prohibits the installation of new Version 2 drivers, this policy setting does not affect existing Version 2 drivers when you perform an upgrade unless a driver is known to be problematic. To identify drivers that will not carry through the upgrade, use the command-line tool Fixprnsv.exe prior to upgrading.

For more information about Fixprnsv.exe, see "Identifying Interoperability Issues with Print Server Upgrades" later in this chapter. For more information about disallowing installation of printers using kernel-mode drivers, see the Storage Technologies Collection of the Windows Server 2003 Technical Reference (or see the Storage Technologies Collection on the Web at http://www.microsoft.com/reskit).

PostScript Drivers

Microsoft recommends that you consider using PostScript minidrivers (.ppd files) to increase compatibility in mixed environments with Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003 systems. Computers running Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 can all run the same PSCRIPT5 core code, regardless of whether these computers are running Version 2 or Version 3 drivers. This offers a higher level of interoperability among clients running different versions of Windows.

Choosing Drivers for Point and Print Connectivity

If you are using Point and Print to connect clients to printers, driver compatibility is particularly important. Clients that use the same driver architecture as the print server can simply download the primary driver used on the server and therefore do not require the installation of any additional drivers on the print server for full support. For example, a Windows Server 2003 print server using a Version 3 driver for a shared printer does not require the installation of any additional drivers to provide full Point and Print support for Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional clients, because those clients also support Version 3 drivers.

If Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Millennium Edition, and Windows NT 4.0 clients connect to the print server, you must install the appropriate driver as an additional driver on the Windows Server 2003 print server.

For additional information about network printing, including Point and Print driver installation, see the Storage Technologies Collection of the Windows Server 2003 Technical Reference (or see the Storage Technologies Collection on the Web at http://www.microsoft.com/reskit).

Point and Print for clients running Windows NT 4.0 and earlier versions of Windows

Setting up printer drivers on a print server running Windows Server 2003 to support Point and Print is generally the same for clients running Windows NT 4.0 and earlier versions of Windows as it is for clients running Windows 2000 or Windows XP. However, you may encounter some specific differences.

You can select the printer driver versions to install on the print server on the Drivers tab of the Server Properties property sheet, or, when you install additional drivers using the Add Printer Driver Wizard, in the Additional Drivers dialog box shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4   Additional Drivers Dialog Box

Additional Drivers Dialog Box

Before you load any additional drivers on x86-based systems, one of three printer driver versions is selected by default, represented by the three following options:

  • Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003. If this option is selected before you load any additional drivers, it indicates that the server is running a Version 3 driver written specifically for the Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003 platform. You cannot send that driver to a Windows NT 4.0 client for Point and Print functionality. You need to add a Version 2 driver to support Point and Print on Windows NT 4.0 client computers.

  • Windows NT 4.0. This option indicates that a Windows NT 4.0 Version 2 driver is running on a server that is running Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003. No additional drivers are required to support Point and Print on Windows NT 4.0–based client computers.

  • Windows 95, 98, or Windows Millennium Edition. If this option is selected, users can connect to and download the existing driver from the server. However, those clients will not receive automatic updates when the driver on the server is updated.

Point and Print for servers running Unidrv Version 3 drivers

When a Version 3 driver written specifically for the Windows Server 2003 or Windows 2000 platforms is installed on the server, you must install a Version 2 driver with the same model name on Windows NT 4.0 clients in order to support Point and Print. Changes in the internal data structures between the Version 2 and Version 3 Unidrv.dll can cause problems in sharing or preserving settings between the clients and the server. These problems primarily manifest themselves in two ways:

  • New or advanced settings on the Print Server might not be visible from the property sheet of a client printer.

  • The print server might not correctly interpret the client printer properties, causing the properties to be lost. As a result, the Point and Print connection allows the client to print, but might not allow modification of certain device settings or preferences if they do not match those on the server.


  • Incompatible data structures can cause certain printer settings — such as Print Text as Graphics or Print Optimization — to be lost between computers running Windows NT 4.0 and computers running Windows 2000. Additionally, settings such as paper tray assignments and media types might not be preserved between driver models.

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