Connecting to Shared Network Printers

While most users are familiar with XP’s Printers and Faxes tools, there are many ways to connect to and use a network-based printer beyond using the Add Printer Wizard. Although the Add Printer Wizard is still the standard method used to connect to (and install the drivers associated with) network printers, both My Network Places and the command line can also be used to connect.

Connecting to a network printer from the command line involves issuing one of the very useful NET USE commands. In effect, using the NET USE command to connect to a printer allows you to map an LPT port (such as LPT2) to a network printer by specifying a UNC path to the printer in the form \\printservername\printername. Using My Network Places to connect to a printer is even easier – just browse for the computer to which the printer is attached, and then right-click on any available printer icons and select Connect. It’s really that easy.

Understanding Dedicated Hardware Print Servers

While using XP as a print server for other computers on your network is great and inexpensive way to enable network printing, it does suffer from some key limitations and issues, especially on larger networks. Firstly, the XP system acting as a print server must be up and running all the time to service client requests. This ultimately leads to higher energy consumption, which may be reflected in your hydro bill. Secondly, a Windows XP system allows a maximum of 10 simultaneous connections from network clients, which means that it isn’t the best solution for networks such as those in larger corporate environments.

In cases where you have a larger network or don’t want to leave an XP print server up and running all the time, a dedicated hardware print server is often the best solution. Available from a variety of different vendors including Linksys, these small devices typically allow you to connect one or more printers to your network via parallel or USB connections. Once connected to a hardware print server, your printer functions in a manner similar to if it had a dedicated network connection. This is also a great feature if you want to place your printer in a central, convenient location without the need for it to be attached to one of your computers.
If you plan to go the hardware print server route, then take the time to look at extras that a device may include. For example, some models include wireless network support as shown below, while others include a built-in multiport Ethernet switch. Take the time to plan your purchase and then select the hardware that works best for your environment.

Troubleshooting Windows XP Printing Problems

If you run into printing problems with your XP-based print server, chances are good that more information can be found in the Event Viewer System log. XP print servers are configured to log both Error and Warning events to the System log according to the default settings of the Advanced tab in Print Server Properties. So, be sure to check this log file for more information if you’ve received on-screen messages or simply cannot print without explanation – chances are good that you’ll at least be able to gather a little more information about potential sources of the problem. If the information in the System log seems a little cryptic, then take the time to visit the online version of the Microsoft Support website available at

Fixing what appear to be system-wide printing problems on your XP print server is often as easy as simply stopping and then starting the Print Spooler service via the Services MMC. The Print Spooler service is apt to hang without warning for reasons ranging from lack of spooling space on your hard drive to various Windows errors. A stop and restart of the Print Spooler service will often solve the issue, as will rebooting XP, so these options in mind. For better (and more stable) performance from the Print Spooler service, specify an alternate partition or disk for the print spooler folder on the Advanced tab of the Print Server Properties page – this is likely to solve many of the performance issues or errors you may be experiencing.

Configuring Windows Print Server Properties

Most users are already familiar with accessing the properties of a printer in the Printers and Faxes tool. The property pages for a printer allow you to configure everything from sharing settings to specific properties settings based on the installed driver and printer model. Since many of the available settings depend upon the printer driver installed, we’ll skip them here. However, you should still take the time to explore the properties of individual printers.

While individual printer property settings are important to be familiar with, a number of important settings can also be found by selecting the Server Properties item from the File menu in the Printers and Faxes tool. Most users don’t even know that these settings exist, but don’t let that stop you from taking a closer look and making some server-wide configuration changes. The tabs available in this section allow you to configure form settings, view (and change) the ports that printers are connected to, install or remove additional drivers for any printer on your system, view driver details (as shown below), and configure a variety of Advanced settings as outlined in the annotation section. While the settings found here usually don’t need to be changed, they do allow you to better tweak you print server to meet your needs in some cases. The Advanced tab provides access to the most important print server settings.

Installing Alternate Printer Drivers on Windows XP

Installing additional print drivers (beside those installed by default – typically Windows 2000 and XP drivers for the Intel platform) can be handled on a per-printer basis from the Sharing tab in the properties of a printer. Clicking the Additional Drivers button will open the window of the same name, as shown below. By checking the checkboxes next to the client platforms you need to support, drivers for those systems will be installed. It’s worth noting that you’ll need copies of the drivers for these platforms available, for example stored on your hard disk or via the CD that shipped with the printer. Just know that you may need them and be prepared to supply them when asked and you’ll be fine.

One of the advantages of being able to install additional drivers on a per-printer basis is that it allows you to control which printers a client can use. For example, you may have one printer that you want Windows 95/98/ME users to be able to print to, but have another that only Windows XP or 2000 users can use. Of course, any combination of drivers can be installed according to your needs, but it’s up to you to specify and install the necessary drivers for everything to work correctly.

Limitations of Using Windows XP as a Print Server

Although connecting to a network printer is a relatively easy task when using the Add Printer Wizard, there are a couple of caveats and limitations that you’ll need to keep in mind when using XP as a print server. The first is that XP supports a maximum of 10 simultaneous printing requests. Once this limit is met, additional users will have to wait before being able to submit print jobs. The second limitation of using XP as a print server is that when you initially install and share a local printer, only the drivers for Windows XP and 2000 clients will be installed by default.

In other words, client systems running Windows 2000 and Windows XP will automatically download and install the necessary driver for the printer when they connect to it for the first time, but downlevel operating systems like Windows 95/98/ME will not be able to, since the correct drivers will not be available on the server. The good news is that this limitation isn’t a major issue, since XP will allow you to install additional drivers for a particular operating system or platform even after the original installation.

Understanding How Network Printing Works

Many users get confused by the concept of a print server, so it’s worth exploring before getting into the details of network printing. The simplest way to describe a print server is as a central system to which clients send their documents to be spooled, queued, and ultimately sent to a print device. For example, imagine a case where a system running Windows 2000 Professional want to send a document to a printer attached to a Windows XP system. The Windows 2000 system will partially prepare the document for printing using its installed driver, and then send it over the network to the XP system. The XP system acting as the print server will then spool and queue the document on its hard disk, waiting for the attached printer to complete any preceding jobs. When the printer becomes free, the document prints. The XP system is acting as the print server in this cases because it handles the spooling and queuing functions for another client on the network, in this case the system running Windows 2000 Professional.

In this simple example, the printer was assumed to be directly attached to the XP system – using a parallel or USB connection, for example. However, the actual print device could also be directly attached to the network and have its own IP address. If that were the case, clients would be sending documents to the XP system for all spooling and queuing functions, but the XP system would then forward the items to be printed to the network-attached printer when it was ready to receive them. The moral of the story is that an XP system acting as a print server doesn’t necessarily need print devices to be directly attached to it; instead, the print server is acting as the central authority over printing-related functions such as managing queues and spooling.
When printers are directly attached to the XP system acting as your print server, they are typically installed as local printers on that XP system and then shared. However, the process is slightly different when you want a network client (perhaps another computer running XP) to connect to and use this network printer. The most common way to do this is to open the Add Printer Wizard and select the “A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer” radio button.

After selecting this option and clicking Next, you’ll be presented with the Specify a Printer screen, as shown below. The default option on this screen is Browse for a printer, and clicking Next will allow you to browse for printers in a manner similar to using My Network Places. If you prefer, you can easily connect to a network printer by selecting the Connect to this printer option, and then specifying the UNC name for the printer in the form \\printservername\printername. Many users find this a quicker and more effective option than browsing the network, which can often be slow. Once the wizard has been completed, the necessary drivers will be downloaded and installed on the client system automatically, and the client system will be able to send documents to the XP system acting as the print server.

Installing and Sharing Printers with Windows XP

Before you get too worried about the idea of configuring your XP system as any type of server, keep in mind that any system hosting shared resources is already performing server-based functions. For example, if you’ve already shared a folder on your system, XP is acting as a file server. Share a printer, and you’ve got a print server up and running already.

Installing a printer on XP is as simple as walking through the steps of the Add Printer Wizard found in the Printers and Faxes tool and selecting the options to add a local printer. As part of the process you’ll also be able to specify whether the new printer should be shared, and give that printer an appropriate share name. For example, while the local name of the printer may be HP LaserJet 1000, you might want to pick a more intuitive name as the share name, such as “laser”. This will make it easy for other users to connect to and identify your shared printer using tools like My Network Places.

When a network card is installed on an XP system, the ability to share files and printers is enabled automatically in the properties of your network card. However, you may have previously disabled this feature, so it’s worth knowing how to re-enable it if necessary. To do so, open the Network Connections tool, right-click on your network card, and click Properties. Ensure that the checkbox next to File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks is checked and you’re ready to go – making your system a server is truly as easy as that.

Assuming that File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks is enabled, sharing an existing local printer is a piece of cake. For example, let’s say that you installed a local printer on your XP system and didn’t share it during the initial installation process, but want to share it now. Simply right-click on the printer in the Printers and Faxes window and click Sharing. This will open the properties of the printer to the Sharing tab, as shown below. To make the printer available to other network clients, simply select the Share this printer radio button, and then give the shared printer a name by which it will be identified on the network. Any name will do, but a shorter descriptive name is typically a better choice, especially if you ever have to type it out manually in a wizard or otherwise. After clicking OK, the printer will already be shared and ready for network clients to connect to and use.

Configuring Windows XP as a Network Print Server

If your Windows XP system is part of a network, then you’re probably already familiar with the concept of using it as a network client or server. In simple terms, a server is any system to which other network systems connect for the purpose of sharing resources like files or printers, while a client is the system asking for access to those resources. So, referring to XP as a “server” in some situations is absolutely correct, even though the operating system is optimized for use as a desktop.

On large business networks, server functions are typically handled by operating systems like Windows NT, Windows 2000 Server, or Windows Server 2003. Unfortunately, each of these operating systems is prohibitively expensive, especially for home and small office users. Because of this, many companies choose to leverage their systems running Windows XP for file and print serving functions – the load from such activities will typically be low, so having the system act as both a desktop and server simultaneously is usually not a big deal. While using XP as a file server for 8-10 users can be taxing on an XP system without lots of RAM or a fast CPU, acting as a print server on the same network is well within XP’s capabilities. This month we take a closer look at how to configure Windows XP as a print server, and how to make it support not only Windows 2000 and XP printing clients, but also systems running older versions of Windows (now referred to as “downlevel” versions) such as Windows 95/98/ME. The good news is that configuring XP as a robust print server is easier than you think, but there are a few potential issues that you’ll need to look out for