How to Set Up a Printer and Avoid Bloatware

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Last weekend, my parents bought a new wireless printer by HP. Our previous printer, also an HP, is ten years old and resides on my desk. It’s still a good printer, but it’s USB only—meaning that you can’t remotely print to it because it’s not on the network.

Fortunately, this new printer allows us to print from any device, anywhere in the house.

Unfortunately, when setting it up, HP wanted us to install their software package on every computer we’d be printing from.

Now, I think HP makes some really good printers. I’ve used Dell printers, too, and they are pretty well-made, too. The problem is, most printer manufacturers “require” you to install a bunch of software you don’t need in order to use the printer.

I call this software bloatware, because it slows your computer down.

The good news is, in most cases, you don’t have to install this software at all in order to interface with a printer. All you need is the driver.

A driver is a piece of software that creates a communications interface between your computer and a piece of hardware. Your computer already has dozens of drivers installed: one for your keyboard, one for your mouse, one for every USB drive you plug in, and more.

With printers, the principle is the same. Your computer needs a driver in order to send the printer the pages you want to print, as well as to receive any pertinent information from the printer, such as whether it’s low on ink.

When printer manufacturers want you to install all their software in order to interface with the printer, the driver is included in that software package. The thing is, you probably don’t need all the other software that they want you to install.

That’s not to say that this software isn’t useful in some way, but in my experience it can be more trouble than it’s worth. Our old HP printer “required” four separate programs to be installed, and if memory serves, I think we only ever used one—just one—of them.

The advantage of not installing the extra software (bloatware), of course, is that there’s a much lower chance that your computer will start slowing down. You’ll also eliminate a possible source of pop-ups or annoying prompts that appear when you’re normally using your computer.

The one disadvantage I can think of for not installing printer software is that you may not be able to use some of the printer’s features, such as scanning. However, there are usually ways around that, as well, as I’ll cover in a moment.

If you’re like me and you just want to install what’s necessary in order to get the printer up and running, follow these steps.

  1. Follow your printer’s installation instructions up to the point where it says to install the required software. If you’re setting up a USB printer, don’t connect it to your computer unless instructed. If you’re setting up a wireless printer, don’t sync your computer with the printer unless instructed.
  2. At this point, do a Google search for the printer’s make and model, and include the word “drivers”. Here’s an example: “HP Photosmart C4150 drivers” (that’s our old printer).
  3. Look carefully at the Google results and click on the manufacturer’s official website, when it appears. If your printer was made by Canon, look for Canon’s website (usa.canon.com). The first few results can be ads, and take you to the wrong sites. Don’t click on them.
  4. Choose the driver for your operating system. (If you’re not sure what operating system you have, try checking whatsmyos.com.) Find the list of software available for your printer, and download the files to install the drivers only.
  5. Once the download is complete, start the installation by opening the installation file (usually a single- or double-click will accomplish this).
  6. Follow the installation instructions in the driver.
  7. After the installation is complete, the driver should be installed—and you should be able to use your printer!

Before you go off on your own with these directions, there are a couple more things I’d like to note.

First: Read the fine print. In the case of my old printer, when I go to HP’s site and enter the printer info, I’m enticed to still download the entire software suite. If I want to download just the driver, I have to look for the “HP Photosmart Basic Driver”.

In this case, HP more or less forces you to install their full software suite, which is probably not what you want to do. Look at the file size—260 MB! I’ll note that a search for the “HP Photosmart Basic Driver” yielded no download page. They don’t make it easy. In this case, what you’d want to do is let your computer try to find the correct driver on its own (see below).

Second: Installation may even be easier than this. A lot of computers will find and automatically install drivers for you. My Mac automatically found and installed the requisite drivers for the wireless printer. Sometimes, Windows will do the same, installing the standalone driver without you having to hunt around for it. (If you can get the driver installed automatically, then you don’t need to follow the seven steps above!)

Most printers will scan to a USB drive or email scan results to your computer. Instead of starting the scan from your computer, you’ll need to do it from the printer itself via a menu or button option.

In summary, I don’t think all the extra printer software is bad; however, I see it as another way for the manufacturer to make money and an easy way for your computer to start slowing down. So, if you want to avoid those issues, just follow these directions!


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