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I have an Epson Stylus CX 3700. I plugged it into a laptop with Ubuntu 11.10 and the printer works just fine without me installing the driver that came with it. Is there an advantage to using the manufacturers driver?

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The only advantage to using a manufacturer-provided driver instead of the one bundled with your operating system is if the manufacturer's driver provides additional features that you'd like to take advantage of.

With the whiz-bang functions of modern printers, that is often the case. In order to scan, or print borderless photos, or automatically collate/staple, or get the printer to wash your car, you need to install the manufacturer's drivers.

If you just want to print pages and everything works out-of-the-box, then there's often no reason to waste time downloading and installing additional drivers. I usually don't. Then again, I use a 15-year-old laser printer. It doesn't wash my car, but it prints extremely sharp text output which is, coincidentally, exactly what I use a printer for.

A couple of other things to note, though:

  1. Often times, the driver included with your OS is provided/written by the manufacturer. That means it should be fully compatible with your printer. It's just generally a "slimmed-down" driver that doesn't include full support for all of the printer's features. There's absolutely no harm to using it if you don't care about those features.

    The advantage of using the driver included with your OS is generally stability. It's been fully tested with the OS and approved by the OS vendor. It's almost always going to just work, which is pretty important to most folks that I know. The driver you get from the manufacturer might have more features, but it was more likely rushed to production without as much testing. There are likely to be bugs (serious or not). Whether you want to deal with those bugs for the features is up to you.

  2. Printers generally (unless the manufacturer is really trying to save money) come with a disc containing drivers, but you have the right idea in downloading the most recent version of those drivers from the manufacturer's website. Those driver CDs have to be pressed long before the printer is ever shipped, and it's very likely that drivers are being updated and improved rapidly for new devices. Most of the time (and this is true of any tech equipment), the driver that comes in the box is hopelessly out of date before you ever get the toy home.

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One additional reason not to use manufacturer's disks is that their drivers are often bundled with "crapware", e.g. software that nags you to buy their consumables, etc. Although this issue usually affects Windows users only. –  haimg Dec 18 '11 at 16:57
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