Windows 7 Feature Focus: Devices and Printers

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Until the introduction of Windows 7, device management was a multi-application nightmare. Want to see a device's hardware configuration? Open Device Manager. Want to browse the contents of a storage device? Open My Computer. Need to manage the settings used by a specific device? Open the appropriate applet in Control Panel (Mouse, Keyboard, Game Controller, and so on). If you have a multifunction device, you would need to open separate applets to manage the printing, faxing, scanning, and file management functions of one device.

In Windows 7, the Devices and Printers applet in Control Panel provides a single entry point to managing single-purpose and multifunction devices. Microsoft considers Devices and Printers so important to system management that you can start Devices and Printers directly from the Start menu. To learn how Devices and Printers will make your life easier, and what you need to do to make it work better for you, read on.

Understanding the Devices and Printers Interface

When you start Devices and Printers, the dialog is divided into two parts: devices other than printers and faxes are listed in the Devices section. Typical examples include:

  • Mouse or other pointing device
  • Keyboard
  • Game controllers
  • Displays
  • Mass storage devices such as card readers and external hard disks
  • Digital cameras
  • DV camcorders
  • smartphones
  • scanners

Interestingly, the computer itself is also listed as a device.

Printers and fax devices (including software print drivers such as the Microsoft XPS Document Writer or third-party PDF creators) are listed in the Printers and Faxes section. If the device or printer uses a Device Stage-compatible driver, an image of the actual device is shown. Otherwise, generic images are shown for each device and printer. Brief properties for the currently-selected device are shown in the window at the bottom of the dialog.

Managing Devices and Printers 101

As with many other features in recent Windows versions, the key to getting the most out of Devices and Printers is the right-click function. Right-click any device in the Devices section of Devices and Printers, and you can choose from the following:

  • Configuration options for the device
  • Create a shortcut
  • Troubleshooting
  • Device properties

When you select options from the right-click menu, Windows 7 opens the appropriate properties sheet for each device, such as the mouse shown in the next figure. Thus, Devices and Printers provides a very convenient way to work with any listed device.

File Management

In a typical Windows 7 system, removable-media and external storage devices are found in more places than ever before, including internal and external card readers, printers, and multifunction devices. By selecting Browse Files from the right-click menu for Mass Storage Device or other devices that include storage, you can browse the drive letter(s) assigned to that device. If the device contains media that is supported by AutoPlay, you can open the AutoPlay dialog from the right-click menu. In this example, Devices and Printers is working with a multi-slot internal card reader.

Managing Systems

In many discussions of Devices and Printers, the most overlooked device is the computer, which is identified by name in Devices and Printers. Right-click the icon for your computer to see a staggering number of configuration options, including:

  • AutoPlay settings
  • File browsing for all drives
  • CD/DVD media ejection
  • Settings for network, sound, mouse, and keyboard
  • Regional and language settings
  • System properties
  • Device installation settings
  • Power options
  • Windows Update

By accessing these settings through Devices and Printers, you will save an immense amount of time (and wear on your mouse and your clicking finger).

Working with Imaging Devices

When you right-click on a digital camera and select Browse Files, camera name , you can browse both the camera's internal (fixed) storage (if present) and the camera's removable storage.

You can navigate through the folders, change view settings (Large Thumbnails in this example), copy or delete files, and perform other file management functions as if the camera were a regular storage device.

Managing Printers and Multifunction Devices

While previous versions of Windows have offered strong printer management functions, Windows 7 makes printer management even easier with Devices and Printers. Right-click a printer and you can:

  • View the print queue ("See What's Printing")
  • Set the printer as default
  • Change printing preferences such as layout, paper size, print quality, page order, resolution and so on
  • Change printer properties (sharing, ports, color management, security, device settings)
  • Troubleshoot any device

Right-click a multifunction device, and the device's additional features, such as support for removable media and scanning functions, can be launched or managed.

Device Stage

When you double-click on a multifunction device in Devices and Printers, you open one of the most-anticipated features in Windows 7, Device Stage. However, unless your device has a Device Stage-enabled driver, prepare to be underwhelmed. A multifunction device with a Device Stage-enabled driver includes a image of the device itself in both the Devices and Printers folder and the Device Stage window, and it includes a customized, vendor-specific, list of actions for the device. Some examples include:

  • Links to utilities
  • Driver updates
  • Paper and media ordering
  • Accessory software
  • Vendor websites

This example shows the Device Stage dialog for the new Epson WorkForce 600 multifunction device. This driver was provided in Windows 7 Beta, but was omitted in Windows 7 RC. An updated version of this driver should be available when Windows 7 goes live in October.

Device Stage-enabled drivers use specially-written XML metadata files and a device icon image file to describe the device and provide access to its functions. If you're really curious about the technical details, see the Windows Device Experience page at Microsoft.com.

So, what happens if your device doesn't have a Device Stage-enabled driver, as is the case if you're using a Windows Vista driver with Windows 7. You'll want to contact your driver vendor to see about an update, but in the meantime, what will you see?

Here's the same device (Epson WorkForce 600) we saw earlier in this article, but this time it's using a Windows Vista-class driver. As you can see, Windows 7 does its best to provide a reasonable facsimile of the Device Stage experience, but it's a far cry from the real thing. The device is represented by a generic icon and general device configuration settings, and standard Windows functions rather than vendor-specific functions may be linked to options such as scanning. For example, if you click the Scan a Document or Picture setting using a generic driver, the Windows scanner application, rather than the vendor-provided scanner application, is used (you can still run the vendor-provided scanner application from the Start menu).

Other Features of Devices and Printers

Click the Troubleshoot option from the right-click menu of any device or printer, and Windows 7 checks for problems with installed devices. If it detects a problem, it launches a device-specific troubleshooter. If it does not detect a problem, it provides the option to try other steps. If a connected device is not displayed, click Add a Device to detect and install drivers for the device. To add a printer, click Add a Printer.

Conclusion

Devices and Printers will transform the way you manage devices and printers in Windows 7 because it enables you to get more done with less effort and less scrambling around Control Panel to find the right applet to run. However, to get the most out of Devices and Printers with multifunction devices such as all-in-one units, imaging devices, and smartphones, you will need to install Windows 7-specific drivers that support Device Stage as they become available. Got any secrets about Devices and Printers you want to share? Hit Comment and let us know.

Mark Edward Soper has spent a lot of time with Windows 7, and his forthcoming book Easy Microsoft Windows 7 proves it. He's also found time for his favorite hobby, digital photography, and his new book, The Shot Doctor: The Amateur's Guide to Great Digital Photos , will help you take better pictures this summer and throughout the year, whether you use a point-and-shoot or digital SLR camera.

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