For a long time, I have had a preference for HP printers. The quality is just built into the hardware and they tend to work longer and more reliably in my experience. However, HP has a history of getting in the way of allowing a simple install of the printer. Back in the day, it was the HP Toolbox that you had to install in order to get the printer installed instead of providing a simple driver. For a while, they did provide just the driver but now they’re back to getting in the way. In 2010, HP announced their Smart Install technology and it’s been getting in the way recently, so it was time to do a little digging and learn more about HP Smart Install and the options that come along with it.
From my first impression with the HP Smart Install, it needlessly complicates the installation of a printer connected to a PC by USB. Instead of the PC recognizing a printer, it now recognizes a virtual cd drive. This provides the driver to do the install but it also requires that you go through their installer in order to switch the printer to telling the computer that it is a printer and not a mass storage device. This is to solve the problem that end users are not sure when to connect the USB cable to the printer.
Here’s how an install is supposed to go for a wireless install:
You can also watch a video from HP for an HP Smart Install Demo. HP Smart Install is on a number of HP LaserJet printers now, including the HP LaserJet Pro P1100w, P1560, P1600, M1130, M1210 MFPs for USB and wireless networked connections but only on Windows machines.
The problem with the Smart Install feature is that it relies on AutoPlay to really make itself pronounced. AutoPlay is recommended to be disabled due to USB-riding malware or it could be changed based on user preference. The other problem is that the drivers on the printer are not up to date, so you will find yourself downloading drivers regardless of this feature that boasts no CD or download required. This is particularly noticeable with a number of drivers having been just updated to support Windows 8.
For more information, refer to the HP Smart Install page and No CD Installation page from HP. Most informative, however, is the HP Smart Install Questions and Answer guide (.PDF). It provides the most useful information without the marketing push. For example, you can disable the Smart Install functionality (by using a Smart Install utility):
25. Can I turn HP Smart Install off or on?
Yes. You can use the HP Smart Install utility to disable/enable HP Smart Install. The utility is stored on the software CD, in the UTIL folder. SIUtility.exe is for 32-bit operating systems and SIUtility64.exe is for 64-bit operating systems.
As a person comfortable with technology, I would certainly prefer if the Smart Install feature would just get out of the way and let me install the printer like a printer. Unfortunately, it cannot be installed directly when it is only being recognized as a virtual cd-rom. On a recent instance, I had to dive into the device manager in order to uninstall the HP Smart Install device after the install crashed half-way through. If it would just identify itself as a printer, the operating system or the end user would most likely be able to take it from there as it has been done for years. Is this another example of the user experience being dumbed down and actually making things more complicated?