HP is updating its printer management software and produced a universal printer driver.

Web Jetadmin 8.0 will now let you gather usage data on individual users or applications and assign privileges to them, instead of just the printer itself, said HP marketing director Tom Codd.

For example, a sysadmin could allow color printing only by members of the marketing department or only for documents created by a certain application. Users who were printing word processing documents or other everyday material could be restricted to black-and-white printing, which is far cheaper.

The updated version of the software also lets sysadmins get a better handle on the status of ink and toner supplies and automatically order new cartridges if the supply falls below a certain level. And printers that aren't directly connected to a company network but to networked PCs, will now show up in Web Jetadmin 8.0's management console.

Printers are the last frontier in the quest to inventory all the technology assets within a company. As printers have become more sophisticated, similarly sophisticated software is required to manage those printers and to make sure companies have a handle on their printing costs.

HP has also produced a Universal Print Driver, which will allow HP printer users to install a single driver that will work on just about any HP monochrome or color printer produced since January 1997, Codd said.

Driver management can be a huge headache with dozens of different printers scattered throughout across a company. The Universal Print Driver is recommended for just about every HP printer customer managing a fleet of printers.

Certain customers who need tighter control over the shading of a color printer or the resolution of a black-and-white printer will want to use the specific drivers for those printers, an HP spokeswoman said. But these users make up an extremely small percentage of their customers, the company said.