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Gutenprint Updates Printer Drivers without a Lot of Bandwidth

Part of being a tech writer is that when major operating system updates come along, I embark on a slow tour of visiting relatives and updating their Macs. While staying with my mother recently, I upgraded her iMac to Snow Leopard (and gave her a copy of my “Mac OS X Snow Leopard Pocket Guide“), and also made sure her backups were functioning well.

Although the upgrade to Snow Leopard itself went without issue, we discovered a problem that was somewhat specific to her setup: she needed a new printer driver for her HP Photosmart P1000 printer. Software Update could download the update, but it was included in the HP Printer Drivers for Mac OS X v10.6 update – which is a whopping 387.44 MB.

The problem was that my mom lives on a farm in rural California, so her only broadband Internet access is via satellite. And in her case, HughesNet imposes a daily bandwidth cap of 200 MB to (I presume) prevent people from saturating the connection with large file downloads (euphemistically called the Fair Access Policy). If you go over the limit, Hughes automatically cripples your connection to a trickle during a 24 hour “recovery period.”

System and application updates continue to increase in size, however, which can easily blow past that cap. The alternative is to wait until 11:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time), when HughesNet lifts the cap for a five-hour window. Unfortunately, Apple offers no method of scheduling update times, so I’ve had to disable the Download Updates Automatically option in the Software Update system preference pane.

Since I didn’t want to stay up late to babysit a long download, and didn’t want to make my mother do it either, I looked for another option. Fortunately, Apple pointed me in the right direction. Linked from the HP Printer Drivers update page is an extensive list of printer and scanner software for Mac OS X 10.6.

Searching for “HP Photosmart P1000” in Safari (which is far easier than scrolling through the list), I discovered that HP is using Gutenprint v5.2.3 as the driver for that printer (and many others).

Gutenprint is an open-source collection of drivers (formerly called Gimp-Print) for a wide range of printers. Since I was already at Apple’s site, I searched for “Gutenprint” and located the Gutenprint Printer Drivers for Mac OS X 10.6 installer – which is a mere 16.1 MB!

After downloading and installing the update, I needed to set up my mom’s printer again using the Print & Fax preference pane in System Preferences. After that, it printed just as it had before I installed Snow Leopard.

The Gutenprint driver offered by Apple is at version 5.2.3, even though the installer text lists the version as 5.0. The most recent version for Mac OS X offered through the Gutenprint site is Gutenprint v5.2.4, but none of the recent changes affected her printer, so I didn’t bother installing the latest version.

When I’m at home on my fast cable Internet connection, downloading large updates isn’t an issue, but I know firsthand that’s not the case everywhere, with folks in rural locations still often unable to get high-speed access. I wish Apple and other companies would acknowledge that updates that are hundreds of megabytes in size are not convenient (or even possible) for many people. Instead, it’s good to know that a little poking around will often reveal better options, and when that fails, a friend or relative with a high-speed connection may need to put together a CD or DVD of downloads from the Apple Support Downloads site.

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