Even with the popularity of newer operating systems like Windows XP, it’s still not uncommon for users to stick with older DOS applications like WordPerfect 5.1. Unfortunately, DOS programs typically have no sense of a network, and can only print to printers attached to local ports like LTP1.
Now, you could limit yourself to using your DOS program from the same computer to which your printer is attached and avoid the issue completely. However, if this isn’t an option (or you’re using a hardware print server) you’ll need a way around the issue.
If you’re running a DOS app that needs to print over the network, all is not lost. All you need to do is map LPT1 to a network port. To do this, fire up a Command Prompt and enter net use lpt1: \\printservername\sharedprintername /persistent:yes. After entering this command, everything send to LPT1 in the DOS program is automatically redirected to your network printer. It’s worth noting that the command needs to be entered by someone with administrative privileges on a Windows XP system.
If you’re running Windows XP Professional, it’s actually possible to extend your network printing capabilities clear across the Internet. When Internet Information Services (IIS) is installed on Windows XP Professional, you have the ability to connect to and manage your printers via the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP). IPP works by processing print jobs sent to the printer using the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the same protocol used to connect to web pages.
You may question why you would possibly want to send print jobs over the Internet, but there are a few handy applications. First, you could be sitting at the office and send a job to your printer at home, ensuring that it will be ready and waiting for your return. Or, you may want to do exactly the opposite, namely print to a printer at work from home. Regardless of the reason why you choose to use it, Internet printing extends network printing to a long way from home.
Once IIS is installed on the print server, you can manage a printer from Internet Explorer by accessing the address http://printserver/printersharename. This will allow you to control the printer’s settings, and handle tasks like purging or pausing print jobs. If you want to print to the printer, use the Add Printer Wizard to add an HTTP printer using the URL http://printserver/printers/printersharename/.printer. If you need to get to your printer over the Internet, you’ll also need to configure your firewall to redirect requests to your public IP address on port 80 to the internal IP address of your print server, and specify that public IP address in the URL to access the printer.
While “wired” hardware print servers have been popular for some time, wireless alternatives are gaining popularity, and fast. A wireless print server still does everything that you would expect from a print server, but adds an additional layer of flexibility by removing the need for a cabled network connection. As such, you can locate a wireless print server anywhere in your home or office that’s within range of your router or access point. Once connected to a wireless print server, a printer effectively becomes another untethered device on your wireless network.
Although a wireless print server is the obvious choice for a wireless network, these devices are typically much more expensive than their wired cousins, at least for the time being. However, wireless print servers do come in all shapes and sizes, and you should be able to find one that fits into your budget. Some models plug directly into your printer, while others are hub-like devices that allow you to connect two or more printers. If you’re looking to save some money, consider investing in a wireless router that includes an integrated USB print server. These devices allow you to plug your USB printer directly into your router, and save you the hassle of needing to purchase or deal with yet another piece of hardware.
Finally, be sure that any wireless print server you purchase will be compatible with your network. If you’ve implemented WPA security, then you’ll want a model that goes beyond just WEP support. Regardless of the model you choose, ensure that it supports firmware upgrades, if for no other reason but to protect your investment as the new wireless features and standards come on to the scene.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that you absolutely do not need to add a separate print server device to your network in order to make a printer accessible to all your computers. Any time that a printer is connected to a Windows system and shared, that Windows system is acting as a print server, and will be get the job done without the need for any additional hardware.
With that in mind, you may be asking why anyone would bother adding a hardware print server to their network at all. The simple answer is that when your printer is connected to a computer, you can only print documents if the computer that it’s connected to is up and running. If the computer has been powered down, other systems on the network can’t communicate with it, and therefore can’t print.
A hardware print server saves you the hassle associated with leaving a PC up and running all the time for the single purpose of being able to use the attached printer. All you need to do is connect the print server’s Ethernet port to an available port on your network hub or switch, and then connect your printer(s) to its USB or parallel port(s). The configurable settings of most print servers are accessible via a web browser, where you can assign settings like a password, IP address, port settings, and so on. If the model you choose doesn’t include web-based management, it will typically use a standalone software utility instead.
Besides avoiding the need to leave a PC on all the time, using a hardware print server gives you more flexibility as to where you locate your printer(s) and helps to reduce print-related bottlenecks. For example, rather than the printer being attached to a PC stored in a particular room or office, it could be placed in a more convenient and accessible location for users on your network. On the performance front, a print server is dedicated to tasks like spooling and processing print jobs, relieve a PC-based print server from having to perform these tasks.
Print servers come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s worth doing a little research prior to running out to buy one. Some include ports to attach multiple printers, while others connect to one printer only – be sure that the device you choose uses the same connections as your printers. Shop around for a good deal, as prices on print servers vary widely depending on their features and capabilities.
Once a printer has been shared on your network, there are many different ways to connect to it from client systems. One of the easiest and most common is to use the Add Printer Wizard, available from the Printers and Faxes applet in Control Panel. As you walk through the wizard you can specify the printer you want to connect to by name (for example, \\printserver\printersharename), or browse the network for it. Once the printer is added, it will be accessible just like any local printer would.
If you’re looking for a shortcut, another quick way to connect to a printer on your network is by using My Network Places. Simply browse to the PC that the printer is attached to, and you’ll find the shared printer listed (along with any shared folders on that system). Right-click on the shared printer icon, click Connect, and you’re ready to roll.
Once you’ve installed a printer and shared it, you need to give some thought to the operating systems that will need access to the device. Assuming that you’ve shared the printer from a Windows XP system, the required driver files for Windows XP and 2000 clients will be made available by default – all these systems will need to do is connect to the printer and they’ll download the driver automatically.
Of your network includes Windows 9X or ME clients, however, you’ll need to install the appropriate drivers for them to use the printer. These drivers are installed on the Windows XP system from which the printer is shared, and once available will also be downloaded automatically the first time Windows 9X or ME clients connect to the printer.
To install the required drivers for operating systems other than Windows XP and 2000, open the properties for your shared printer under Printers and Faxes in Control Panel. On the Sharing tab you’ll find a button marked Additional Drivers. If you press this button the Additional Drivers window opens, and lists which drivers are currently installed for your printer.
Check the checkbox next to Windows 95, 98, and Me to add the drivers for these operating systems. Once you click OK you’ll be prompted to specify the location of the driver files, which are usually accessible from the CD that was included with your printer (you can also download them from the manufacturer’s web site if necessary). Once supplied, you may also be prompted to insert your Windows 9X or ME CD, so it’s a good idea to have it handy.
Thankfully, sharing a printer with other computers on your network is remarkably easy, especially if you’re running Windows XP. If you haven’t installed your printer yet, you’ll be given the option to share it during the installation process. All you need to decide is what the printer’s share name will be – in other words, the name it will go by on your network. As a general rule, the name that Windows will suggest won’t be very helpful, so make a point of giving it a name that will make it easy for other users on your network to recognize and identify. For example, if you’re planning to share both a laser and inkjet printer on your network, names like LASER and INKJET will make the shared printers easier to identify.
Sharing a printer from Windows 9X or ME isn’t really any more difficult than from Windows XP, but you’ll need to ensure that you have File and Printer Sharing installed and enabled first. You can add the service from the properties of your network connection, and enable it via the File and Printer Sharing section that appears in your network properties after rebooting your system. Once enabled, you can share your printer from the Sharing tab found in its properties pages.
After a printer has been shared from a PC, that computer takes on the role of acting as print server on your network. That means that on top of whatever else you expect the computer to do, it will also be responsible for processing all incoming print jobs. In some cases (with older and slower PCs), this computer may experience performance issues, especially on networks where the printing load is consistent or heavy. If you find that the PC you’ve shared the printer from isn’t up to the task, consider switching the role to a faster computer, or investing in a hardware print server as will be outlined in the next article.
One common misconception about network printing is that it’s only possible if your printer comes equipment with an Ethernet network port. Thankfully, this just isn’t true. The real story is that you can make any printer network-accessible by connecting it to a networked PC with a suitable operating system. So, it is possible for computers on your network to print to a printer attached to a Windows 95 system via a parallel cable, or a printer connected to Windows XP via USB. No built-in networking support for the printer is required.
While “sharing” a printer connected to a PC is still the most popular way to network a printer, it’s far from the only option. Some printers do come with built-in networking support, especially higher-end models. Another option is to connect your printers to a dedicated print server, of the wired or wireless variety.
The method that you choose will depend on your particular requirements, existing hardware, and of course your budget. The good news is that network printing solutions come in all shapes and sizes. Once you set up network printing on your network, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.