Configuring, sharing, and pooling printers

Printing in Windows NT can be deceptively simple if you have only a printer connected to a computer's printer port for your own use. But when you use NT as a print server, you can do more to provide flexible, optimized print services than you could with any previous Microsoft operating system. This month, I demystify printing terminology, tell you how to optimally configure print options in several different scenarios, and look at some NT printing features.

Defining Printing
At first glance, you might think that Microsoft has once again redefined some common terms to match its version of reality. In this case, the new definitions make sense. A printing device is the physical object that produces the paper with the printed text or image. A printer is the combination of a printing device plus some parameters that configure the device and how you use it. NT distinguishes between the logical printer and the physical printing device. These definitions will make more sense as I proceed, but the important point is that the user sees and can connect to printers on the network, not printing devices. One printing device can have many printer identities, and one printer can be a whole room full of printing devices. If this configuration seems strange, think of disk drives: A physical disk can appear as many logical disks, and a logical disk can, thanks to striping or volume sets, be several physical disks.

Adding a Printer
You can open the Printers window from the My Computer folder; from Settings, Control Panel on the Start menu; or from Explorer. Click the Add Printer icon to create a printer definition. NT 4.0 provides the Add Printer Wizard, which simplifies the process. You have two options, as Screen 1 shows, and you need to read both descriptions. The first option, My Computer, states that All settings will be managed and configured on this computer. In other words, you are defining a local printer. To set up this configuration, you must be a member of the Administrators, Print Operators, or Server Operators groups, or be a Power User on a workstation. The second option is Network printer server. The accompanying description informs you that this option will Connect to a printer on another machine. All settings for this printer are managed by a print server that has been set up by an administrator. With this option, the printer has been defined and shared, and all you have to do is connect to it.

Let's look first at setting up a local printer, a DeskJet 540. After you choose the My Computer option, the next dialog box, shown in Screen 2, lets you select a printer port. For this example, I chose LPT1. Next, you must select a specific printer. NT asks for the location of the printer driver files and installs the printer driver on your computer. You can name the printer or use the default name NT suggests. Then choose whether to share the printer, and if so, under what name.

Sharing Printers
NT has some neat tricks for sharing printers or connecting to shared printers. If you select the Shared option from Screen 3, you can specify which other platforms and operating systems will be connecting to the share. This step is important because of the way a shared printer handles printer drivers. Whenever other NT users connect to your computer, if they do not have the appropriate printer driver locally, NT downloads a copy of the printer driver from your system. They do not need a copy of the printer driver installed on their machine.

This approach has several benefits. First, individual users do not have to install, and possibly update, printer drivers for each printer they might want to connect to, which saves time and disk space. In most cases, the typical user does not have the authority to install a local printer driver anyway, as I mentioned earlier. Second, whenever a printer manufacturer or Microsoft releases a new print driver, the printer owner or the system administrator loads it on to the computer that controls the printer. The next time remote users connect, NT automatically downloads the new print driver.

So, why the list of platforms? Well, suppose your computer is an Intel Pentium system and a user with a Digital Equipment Alpha computer connects to your shared DeskJet and copies your print driver. As you might expect, the driver will not work. The user needs the print driver for the Alpha, not the driver for your Pentium system. To avoid this problem, select and install the print drivers for all the flavors of NT that might connect to your shared printer. When Alpha users connect, their systems find and download the correct driver automatically. In reality, you might use an Alpha as a powerful print server with a group of Intel-based clients, but the principle is the same: Load the print drivers for any potential clients. If a different client comes online later, you can easily add the new print driver from the printer configuration menu. If you have Windows 95 clients, load the print driver for Win95, also. Win95 is not as smart as NT. Win95 downloads the driver when it connects for the first time, but it stores that driver on the Win95 computer and never updates the driver. After you load the different drivers, the setup is complete.

Connecting to a Shared Printer
Now let's go back into the Printers folder and add another printer. This time, the printer is on another NT computer. Select the Network printer server option from the Add Printer Wizard. A browse list from which you can select a shared printer on the network appears, as Screen 4 shows. In this example, you select the HP LaserJet 4 Plus, and you're finished. You don't need to install print drivers or search for the NT CD-ROM. All users can connect to a shared printer in this way if they have the right permissions. You do not have to be an Administrator.

Connecting to Non-NT Printers
What if the shared printer is not on an NT computer? For example, the shared printer might be on a Windows for Workgroups or Win95 computer. You cannot borrow a copy of the printer driver, because these operating systems do not support NT's driver sharing feature and do not have the correct drivers installed. When you add the printer, choose the Network printer server option; select the shared printer; and the wizard prompts you for the NT printer driver location. Because you must install the print driver locally, as Screen 5 shows, only an Administrator or operator with the necessary rights can make this connection.

Configuring the Printer
Suppose that, on the computer with the LaserJet 4 Plus, you want to let users place large jobs in a print queue and print these jobs after 6:00 pm. And perhaps you want a high-priority printer for urgent jobs. For this setup, you must configure printer properties. You've already defined the LaserJet 4 Plus. Now define two more printers, using the same printer driver but giving the printers different names, such as Low4Plus and Hi4Plus. Then change the properties for each printer. For Low4Plus, double-click the printer icon, and then select Printer, Properties from the menu. In the Properties dialog box, select the Scheduling tab, as shown in Screen 6. Change the Available property so that the printer is available only from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. The users can connect to this printer and send their low-priority jobs to it. The computer acting as the print server will hold these jobs until 6:00 pm. To verify this setting, print a job from your computer to this printer. Then go to the Printers folder on either the computer that originated the print job or the print server, and double-click the document name. You can see that this job is scheduled from 6:00 pm onwards. Of course, you must make sure that you have enough disk space on the print server to store the jobs until 6:00 pm.

To set up the Hi4Plus printer, follow the same steps, but instead of changing the available times, change the priority of the printer. The default priority is 1, and you can choose different priority levels up to 99, the Highest priority. For this printer, you want to use the highest priority. For a high-priority printer, leave the Available option as the default, Always.

Now you have three printers to which users can connect: HP4Plus, Low4Plus, and Hi4Plus. All the printers are the same physical printing device, yet each has different properties; they appear as three different printers to the users. Screen 7 shows the three printer choices in WordPad's Print dialog box.

Setting Permissions
From the Properties dialog box for Hi4Plus, choose the Security tab, and set Permissions so that only authorized users can send jobs to Hi4Plus. Printers are like any other NT resource; the Administrator controls who can access the resource and what level of access to permit. You can set different access control permissions for each printer.

Pooling Printers
If your environment is a large office with a central group of printers, consider printer pooling. You enable pooling from the Ports tab in the printer's Properties dialog box or from the Add Printer Wizard when you set up the printer (select the Enable printer pooling check box shown in Screen 2). As Screen 8 shows, you can print to multiple local LPT ports, network ports, or a combination. You do not have to connect the pooled printing devices to the same computer. Pooling is ideal when someone takes jobs off the printer and places them in out-boxes for collection, such as in a central print shop. But don't pool three printers, one on each floor of the building. You cannot control which printer gets the job (the first available printer in the pool takes the job), and you do not receive notification about which printer handled the job.

Note one very important point about printer pools: Because the user sends the print job to a printer, the driver used is the one set up in the user's printer definition. The decision about which device gets the data is made after the job is formatted for the printer. Therefore, all printers in the pool must use the same print driver. The printers need to be the same type, although you can pool a LaserJet 4 Plus and a LaserJet III if you use the driver for the III. The LaserJet 4 Plus is backward compatible, but if you configure it this way, you give up its advanced features such as duplexing.

Learning More
Other features of NT printing, such as redirecting output from a stalled printer; auditing printer use; and configuring multiple printers with options, including separator pages, spooling, and defining forms, are worth investigating. Check them out. You'll find that NT printing offers more capabilities than just generating documents.