The XPS Document Writer is xenophobic

The XPS document format is one of the most half-baked attempts to destroy a competitor that Microsoft have ever made.

Designed to counter Adobe PDF‘s dominance of the portable document market, it was introduced with Vista and has never caught on, despite the XPS Document Writer setting itself as the default printer on any new install of Windows. This is partly because the reader software for XPS is (for no good reason) a plugin for Internet Explorer, which means that when you open an XPS document, it opens your web browser. If you are one of the 34% of people in the world not using Internet Explorer as your web browser, then the plugin never runs and you can’t open the document. This has been changed in Windows 7, but it’s too little, too late.

All of this is a shame, because Adobe Acrobat is a bug-ridden and overpriced piece of junk that is more bloated than a lactose-intolerant hippopotamus after eating a metric tonne of Stilton. Microsoft Office and Windows Vista are often accused of this; Acrobat is worse than both of them. Combined. I’d be quite happy for Microsoft to crush Adobe PDF utterly, but if XPS is their answer, they are going to fail miserably.

But, I digress. Today I discovered that the XPS system in Windows not only hates anyone not using Internet Explorer, it also hates anyone not in the United States. Regardless of the locale Windows is installed using, it will always set itself to create documents using US Letter sized paper by default. Very few printer drivers have this problem, even ones made by HP. It’s a schoolboy error, and an extremely irritating one at that. Almost any printer driver made in the last 5 years will have the common decency to recognise when the user has set a locale other than United States, and set the default paper size accordingly (to A4, if you are in Europe).

You might think this would only affect you if you were stupid enough to actually create an XPS document. You would be wrong. Because it sets itself as the default printer, it affects the default page setup of a multitude of programs. In the case of Microsoft Office 2007, the problem goes deeper still. Even if your Office document is set to a different paper size, when you try to save a PDF (yes, a PDF, not an XPS document), it will end up sized as Letter paper, because the paper size is being read from the default printer. Incredibly, this even happens if you use the Adobe Acrobat PDF writer plugin, and not just the Microsoft one that comes with Office 2007.

I wasted a good 45 minutes today trying to work out why all my PDFs were coming out on Letter paper. There was much swearing and gnashing of teeth. When I discovered the cause, let us just say that I was… displeased.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

16 responses to “The XPS Document Writer is xenophobic”

  1. Kristof says :

    You can download the XPS Essentials pack for Vista :)

    • AngryTechnician says :

      True, but it’s an extra step that the vast majority of people won’t bother with (or know about), and it doesn’t fix the more annoying paper size issue.

  2. hazymat says :

    Ok wait, you mean to tell me that all printers installed derive their paper size settings from this bogus pseudo printer driver? This would explain a few things I’ve seen in the past.

    If this is true, has anyone given ANY thought to how much paper is wasted in the UK and other golden-section-paper-ratio loving countries due to margins getting messed up, not to mention the millions on European technician man-hours devoted to the troubleshooting process where one has to filemon printer drivers just to work out why they weren’t designed properly because they don’t allow standard users to change basic settings, then invest heavily in the time it takes to loosen up group policy settings to allow some other fudged setting that somehow solves this problem according to an obscure article found on some printer driver user forum translated from german, only to find the problem magically comes back exactly 6 weeks later…

    Arggghghghgh, the software is designed properly, so how hard is it to design implementations of settings properly?!

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I think it only affects the print setup within applications, not on the other printer objects on the system, and only if the XPS Document Writer is still the default. But yes, the general asshattery with US Letter has probably wasted more IT Support time outside of the US than any other issue in history.

  3. IT_Guy says :

    Talking about Acrobat, I particularly like the way that it fails to uninstall previous versions of Acrobat reader resulting in me having to manually uninstall Acrobat reader versions 4 through 7 from various machines quite regularly.

  4. A nonny mouse cowherd says :

    Another XPS printer problem I have encountered is that if you try to print a web page like a travel voucher in W7 with IE8 64 bit it prints. If you try to print it in IE8 32 bit it says it printed but the file is not saved anywhere and the viewer does not launch. Since most addons are still 32 bit and IE8 64 bit cannot be set as your default browser it makes XPS printer even more useless.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      That’s a very curious bug, and I couldn’t reproduce it on my Windows 7 machine. Sounds like something is broken on your machine, rather than it being a generic problem. Do your other printers work in IE8 x64?

      • A nonny mouse cowherd says :

        I do not have any other printers on the W7 Pc but I can print to a shared printer on another PC. However your comment has got me thinking and it just gets weirder – I can print to XPS in Notepad but not in Wordpad, although again it appears to work and no error message is given or event logged. The output file just does not appear.
        I am just trying to learn about W7 x64 with a view to making it my standard system but I continually turn up problems – like how little software is x64 capable. It is interesting you cannot reproduce the problem since I have a standard Dell PC and did a clean install to an empty partition and have added almost no software and have made minimal configuration changes.
        I will probably switch to the W7 x32 version and see if that is any more successful but I really feel that by now x64 should be the standard it is hardly new technology!
        Thanks for your input.
        (by the way I worked in IT on mainframes and business applications but I am retired now and I find windows incredibly frustrating).

        • AngryTechnician says :

          I’ve actually been using x64 for several years now with Vista, and since moving up to 7 both my personal laptop and desktop, as well as my work desktop, are running Windows 7 x64. They are all Dell machines, clean installed.

          My only frustration has been the lack of driver for my Canon laser printer. Apart from device drivers, I’ve yet to find any software that doesn’t work properly on x64, so one of us is having a non-typical experience!

  5. A nonny mouse cowherd says :

    On W7 x64 I do not want to get into a discussion of what works and what does not (I am only starting out on it) and I would agree that most applications run well on it (all credit to MS for this) but the point I was making is that the majority of these applications are themselves 32bit not 64bit and for example Adobe Reader, flashplayer and Sun Java which must be among the the most used non-MS applications all run as 32bit and do not load into IE8 x64.

    Getting back to XPS Document Writer which is what first brought me to your website – you are right my problem appears to be peculiar to my setup but has uncovered another anomaly. I have yet another partition on which I did a clean install of W7 x64 and did no customisation apart from my network addresses in order to do some testing for my firewall supplier who has some problems (not unique to me!).
    On using this partiton I can use XPS writer from notepad, wordpad, IE8x32 and IE8x64. However I get your original problem that XPS always defaults back to Letter size but on my live partition if I change the paper size to A4 it holds it for that application – I have to set it within each application but it is then still A4 the next time I use it. I will now have to try and find out why XPS writer is not working for some applications. One of its attractions appears to be that the files it creates are much smaller than the equivalent .pdf and my pdf driver is x32 only “with no plans to support x64”.
    If you do not have a driver for your printer have you got some kind of work around for it or do you have to boot to an x32 system to use it.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I have Windows 7 Professional so use XP Mode. If you have Home, this option isn’t available.

      You’re right that there are no 64-bit versions of Adobe Reader or Flash Player. That’s Adobe’s fault, really. They’ve had enough time to develop them but choose not to. A 64-bit version of Java is available.

  6. Bill says :

    My HP worked fine with V. After installing W7 x64, XPS is set as the default printer and will not allow me to set my HP as default. Typical MS nonsense.

    • Ron says :

      Sorry, you wrote 2 years ago.

      I have W7 Starter. Does this mean, since I just tried to open an XPS doc my girlfriend sent me as an email attachment and, of course, XPS set itself as default, that I will no longer be able to use my HP 2355 printer?

  7. Charles says :

    So a year later I am finding myself in the same boat you were in. I feel your aggitation but I don’t see any solution to the PDF pagesize issue … did I miss it or is there none?

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Basically you have to make sure the default printer – whatever it may be – is set to A4 by default. If that doesn’t work, you have a new, fun, and subtly different problem.

  8. Stew says :

    Sooooo glad for MS. PDF is buggy and terrible. XPS on Windows 7 is far superior because it is so simple. Let the XPS revolution begin.

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