Deploying printers using Group Policy in Windows 7

This is a subject I have written about various times before. We didn’t get the capability to install printers automatically to client computers via a GUI until Windows Server 2003 R2 was released, which was happening about 2 years after I started working with the school where I am now employed. Along came the Print Management console and with it, GPOs to deploy printers to clients both per machine and per user. This did have a few hiccups and limitations though. Not long after that, in 2006, Microsoft bought out an outfit called DesktopStandard and in the process acquired a product called PolicyMaker. This was subsequently incorporated into Windows Active Directory as the Group Policy Preferences. This has effectively superseded the Print Management Console-based GPO system as the most effective way to deploy printers to a client computer or user, given the enhanced capabilities such as being able to set the default printer for a user, and easily add, remove or update printers. These capabilities worked just fine on XP and pretty soon we had them in use across our whole network.

When I started to test out Vista a couple of years ago, one of the biggest issues to surface was the failure of GPPs to deploy printers to a Vista client. Even in Windows 7, you will get the printer deployed, but the drivers will not be seamlessly installed as they are on XP – the user will see the printer icon with “Driver Update Needed” displayed next to its name, and they will have to manually install the drivers for each printer (although this is pretty straightforward since it will automatically get the driver off the server where the print queue is shared from).

It appears this is pretty easily resolved by changing some settings in a GPO. Specifically these are located at Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Printers > Point and Print Restrictions policy. Enable the policy, decide whether to tick the first two boxes, and then go down to the two settings that control whether to show an elevation prompt or warning for installing new printers and updating drivers. I am presuming that at logon the system is not able to show these warnings when the GPO is being applied, and that this is the reason the drivers do not get installed. After applying these GPO settings to a newly set up VM I am pleased to see that at next logon a pile of printers showed up (using a particular account that had the preferences applied) and that they all appear to be installed properly.

This means we can stop having to play around with the old Print Management Console GPOs and use the same GPP printer deployment policies for all of our workstations regardless of OS. Resolving this issue is one further obstacle removed in our Windows 7 upgrade path.