It seems we’re constantly buying printers to replace the ones that break before their time. A quick word of advice if you buy an HP printer: don’t put that installation CD in the drive! The chances are good that you’ll wind up with hundreds of megabytes of bloated software that will muck up your nice shiny computer (and at worst thoroughly break it).

Always check the HP web site for the slimmest drivers that will support the basic functions – making the printer available to the computer for printing and scanning. You already have nice programs to take over from there.

There are frequently several different choices of drivers for any given printer on Vista or XP. Simple example – a choice between 38Mb “basic drivers” and 146Mb “full feature software and drivers.” Trust me – you don’t want the “full features.” (I’m deliberately not naming the particular models. I want you to check HP’s web site regardless of what model you get, just in case.)

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On another model there’s a “basic print and scan driver” (119Mb!) as an alternative to the “full feature” software (507Mb!!) – but there’s also an even more streamlined driver for “IT Professional Use Only” that’s only 53Mb. Really, over 500Mb of software to install a printer? That’s just awful. And you wonder why your computer runs slowly?

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Occasionally HP will refer to the smallest package as “corporate only.”

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You may also be offered a “universal print driver.” HP has attempted to create a generic print driver that will work on many of its printers and simplify all this driver confusion. That’s a noble goal but my experience so far has been awful – I’ve been unable to make the “universal print driver” work correctly despite several attempts in different offices with several different printers. Hey, try it! Your mileage may vary. I’m just cynical and pessimistic.