Printer drivers are the bane of many a Windows' users life: they're stupidly enormous, they often still demand you disable security software before you run them, and Windows Update often can 't find them, forcing you to hunt around printer manufacturer web sites. Windows 8 is completely redesigning the Windows printing architecture, which will eventually mean many people won't need printer drivers at all.
In a post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft engineer Andrian Lannin explains how Microsoft is designing a print class driver framework to replace the current Windows printing system. Supporting printers has traditionally required Microsoft to ship drivers as part of Windows. Ensuring popular printers are supported will satisfy a large proportion of users, but it's a moving target as new printer models are released. The framework is designed as a first step towards not requiring drivers at all:
With a print class driver framework, we can get closer to giving you an experience like driverless printing, where you don't have to actually go and find a driver, but instead the printer just works with the Windows printing system. A true driverless printing experience requires changes to how most printers are designed, and the print class driver framework provides support for this idea, but we also feel that it’s very important to provide as much support for existing devices as possible.
Out of the box, Windows 8 will support 2500 popular printer models. One useful practical consequence of the approach: printer support files take up 184MB in Windows 8 (down from 768MB in Vista and 446MB in Windows 7).
The existing printer driver architecture will also be included in Windows 8 to ensure backward compatibility. I'm really hoping I don't have to use it much.
Simplifying printing in Windows 8 [Building Windows 8]