Get the basics on printer sharing, pools, permissions, and troubleshooting, and keep your users happy
Knowing the essentials of printer management can make your life and your users' lives easier. Basics covered include sharing a printer; installing extra drivers; managing printers using the Print Management Console (PMC) snap-in and command-line utilities; configuring printer pools, permissions, and priorities; deploying printers via Active Directory (AD), and print queue troubleshooting.
Printer management is a crucial yet often annoying part of many IT pros’ jobs. To keep things running smoothly, it’s helpful to have a good background on the essentials of printer management. Let’s look at how to share a printer, install extra drivers, use the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Print Management Console (PMC) snap-in, troubleshoot, and do the myriad other tasks that contribute to your users’ satisfaction and your job security. For consistency’s sake, we’ll assume you’re logged on to Windows Server 2003 with an account that has administrator permissions.
Sharing a Printer
After a printer is connected to a Windows 2003 computer and you verify that it works using a print test page, you can share the printer. To share a printer, perform the following steps:
Always remember that a printer’s shared name isn’t the same as the name listed in AD, even though the dialog box gives the impression that this is the case. The AD listing is based on the name the printer is assigned in the host Windows 2003 computer’s Printers and Faxes folder. If you can’t find a recently shared printer within the directory, check what name is assigned to the printer in Printers and Faxes. You should attempt to ensure that these names match to avoid confusion.
Installing Extra Print
Unless already installed, a client computer will obtain and install the necessary drivers when it first connects to a shared printer. Microsoft calls this technology “Point and Print.” In general, a printer driver installed on a Windows 2003 computer will work with Windows XP and Windows 2000 Professional computers. Where you must be careful is when you have a mix of computers with 32- and 64-bit processors. If your print server’s processor architecture differs from some or all of your print clients (e.g., x64 as opposed to 32-bit), you must manually install drivers for the alternative architecture when you configure the shared printer. To do this, perform the following steps:
It’s not possible to install Windows Vistaspecific drivers in this manner. Usually this won’t be a problem because Windows 2003 and XP client printers generally work with Vista clients. However, in some cases, drivers that work for XP and Windows 2003 don’t work on Vista because of Vista’s tighter security. If no compatible driver exists on the Windows 2003 print server, Vista will check its own driver store. If a Vista-compatible driver already exists on the Vista client computer, this driver will automatically be used. If no such driver is included with Vista, you’ll need to install an updated driver on the Vista client computer. You can do so manually or by deploying the printer to the Vista client through AD, which I cover later in this article.
Although I recommend you use the PMC snap-in to manage printers, the management tool that most administrators are used to is the Control Panel Printers and Faxes applet in Windows 2003 and XP. This applet provides a list of printers installed on the computer, the number of documents in the queue, and the status of the printer. Double-clicking a printer in the Printers and Faxes applet shows you the shared printer’s queue. The printer queue provides you with information about who submitted the document, how large it is, and when it was submitted. You can view two important menus in the print queue:
Print Management Console. The best tool for managing printers is the PMC snap-in, which is available in Windows 2003 R2 when you add the Print Server role. It’s not presently available for Windows 2003 SP1. The primary benefit of PMC over previous methods of printer management is that it lets an administrator view and manage all printers in an organization, as Figure 2 shows, not just those connected to the local print server. PMC can monitor shared printers attached to Windows 2003 R2, Windows 2003, and Win2K Server print servers.
Perhaps the most useful aspect of PMC is the Custom Printer Filters node, which lets an administrator view printers in the organization that aren’t ready due to an error and that require attention. At this node, you can also create individual custom filters and configure them to show only shared printers with a specific number of print jobs, which you could use to identify heavily used printers. You can also configure filters to send email alerts to administrators when specified conditions, such as a paper jam, occur. Email alerts can be configured only with created filters and can’t be applied to the console’s default filters.
Command line. Command-line printer management options let you automate certain printer management functions through scripting. Command-line printer management programs and scripts are located in the \%systemroot% system32 directory. The most useful printer management scripts are the following:
You can use these scripts to manage remote printers as well as printers attached to the computer on which they are run. You could also specify alternative credentials with each of these scripts. A properly configured batch file could be used to pause all printers in a domain or purge their print queues. For more information about these command-line options, see the Microsoft article “New Command- Line Tools” at technet2.microsoft.com/windowsserver/en/library/4c475b4ce5ee-444c-a730-ccb7a13e03b41033.mspx?mfr=true.
A bottleneck for some organizations is the speed at which printer hardware outputs pages. Adding a second or a third shared printer often doesn’t work as a solution because it’s difficult to balance users’ output manually. The solution is printer pools, which balance output across multiple print devices.
With a printer pool, users send jobs to a single shared printer, and that printer allocates the job to the next available hardware device in the pool. The primary limitation of printer pools is that the driver used must be compatible with all printer hardware in the pool. Generally this means that you should use identical printer hardware for each device in the pool, but you can get away with using a basic printer driver that’s compatible with many models of printers as long as your users don’t require many printing features.
The devices used in a printer pool should be located in the same area, as users aren’t notified which specific device has printed their jobs. If you set up a printer pool with identical devices on the first, second, and third floors of a building, users might have to check all three locations to find their jobs. To configure a printer pool on an existing shared printer, perform the following steps:
By default, all users in a domain are able to print to a shared printer. Often you will want to configure printers so that only particular groups can print to specific printers. For example, it might be necessary to ensure that only the CEO and his or her administrative assistant can print to the shared printer in the assistant’s office. Three basic print permissions are available for each shared printer:
To configure permissions on a shared printer, perform the following steps:
Setting Print Priority
Multiple shared printers can be configured to use a single print device. By assigning each shared printer a different priority and configuring separate permissions on those shared printers, it’s possible to let one group jump the queue and print their documents before another group. The default priority of a shared printer is set to the lowest possible value, which is 1. The highest possible priority value is 99. If there are five jobs with a priority of 1 in the queue and a job with a priority of 99 is submitted, the job with the priority of 99 will be bumped to the top of the queue but won’t displace the job currently being output on the print device even if it’s of a lower priority. To configure a printer’s priority, perform the following steps:
The most common mistake in configuring print priorities is to assume that a lower assigned priority number means documents will print faster. Ensure that the shared printer you configure for your organization’s executives has a higher priority than the one you configure for ordinary users.
Managing Print Queues
Some users repeatedly print out very large jobs, blocking printer access to everyone else until their job is complete. Using a combination of security settings and printer availability settings, it’s possible to ensure that these jobs are output only during specific times.
When a job is submitted to a shared printer that has particular availability settings, the print server holds the job until the printer becomes available and then outputs it. Printer availability allows big jobs to be submitted to a shared printer during office hours and output in the middle of the night. As the job is spooled on the print server, the client computer from which the job was submitted can be switched off when the person who uses it leaves for the evening. Figure 4 shows printer availability settings. To configure the times at which a shared printer is available, perform the following steps:
If a domain is upgraded so that it has Windows 2003 R2 domain controllers (DCs), it’s possible to use AD to publish specific printers to users and computers that fall under the influence of a specific Group Policy Object (GPO). PMC, available with R2 and covered earlier in this article, vastly simplifies the process of deploying printers via AD. To deploy via Group Policy, an existing GPO must have been created and linked to an appropriate site, organizational unit (OU), or to the domain. To deploy a printer via AD using PMC, perform the following steps:
Remember the Basics
No matter how careful you are in managing your printers, things can still go wrong. Some quick troubleshooting hints are listed in the sidebar “Troubleshooting Printer Problems,” page 42. Printer management is a daily task that almost all systems administrators deal with. Armed with the print management tools and options available in Windows 2003 R2, and this refresher, I hope you’ll find this task goes smoothly.