6 Ways to Head Off Network Printing Troubles

Configure your Windows printers to minimize common errors

I spend a lot of time perusing the email messages I receive from you, and I find it helpful to organize the messages by subject in mailbox subfolders. The Printing Questions subfolder is large, which tells me that setting up printers and resolving printing problems is a never-ending responsibility for you. So, to address some of your most frequently asked questions, I offer the following six network printing administration tips.

Tip 1: Unclutter Event Viewer Print Logs
Administrators who periodically check the Event Viewer System logs find informational messages about printing on every computer that acts as a print server. The messages appear in pairs: The first message tells you that a specific user printed a specific document, and the second message, time-stamped a few seconds later, tells you that the document was deleted from the printer. Microsoft sets this audit-type function by default. Unless you charge users a fee to print documents, this information probably isn't useful.

To stop crowding your Event Viewer with these nonessential entries, follow these steps on every computer that acts as a print server. Open the Printers folder (called Printers and Faxes in Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP), and choose File, Server Properties. On the Advanced tab, which Figure 1 shows, clear the Log spooler information events check box.

You might also want to clear the Log spooler warning events check box. Warning events occur whenever anyone with the appropriate permissions changes configuration options for a printer or the print server. Enabling this option makes sense only when you're receiving printer error messages in the System log and want to see whether inappropriate changes could be causing the errors.

Tip 2: Permit Print Operators Group to Add Printers
If you have users who know enough about Windows to install and configure printers, giving them the power to do so makes sense. Most administrators add these users to the Print Operators group, which is a built-in domain group. However, members of the Print Operators group receive an Access Denied error when they attempt to install a printer with third-party drivers. During printer installation, Windows copies the printer's .inf file to the %systemroot%\inf subfolder. Oddly, Windows denies Write permission in that subfolder (which contains printer drivers) to members of the Print Operators group. You need to change the per-missions of the %systemroot%\inf subfolder to include the right to write for the Print Operators group. (Windows-supplied printer drivers are already in the %systemroot%\inf subfolder, so no writing takes place for printers that have Windows drivers and the error message doesn't appear.)

Tip 3: Use Printer Pools to Balance Print Load
You can use printer pools to ensure printing services in mission-critical operations. Pooling is a good way to spread the print load when heavy printing activity forces users to wait a long time for their documents to print.

A printer pool exists when a virtual printer (an icon in the Printers folder that represents a printer driver you've installed) can send print jobs to multiple physical printers. The physical printers must be the same model or have an emulation mode that lets the printer driver control them.

The printers should be located together because users won't know which physical printer received the job. For a two-printer pool, I add a second parallel port to the computer. For more than two printers, I use the USB ports that come with most printers sold today. I've also set up printer pools across two computers; each computer has one or more physical printers that are in the pool. In that case, the port is the Universal Naming Convention (UNC) name \\ComputerName\Shared_PrinterName.

To configure printer pooling, install an instance of the printer driver on the computer you're using as a print server (after you've physically installed the printers). Then, follow these steps:

  1. In the Printers folder, right-click that printer's icon and select Properties from the shortcut menu.
  2. Click the Ports tab and select the Enable Printer Pooling check box.
  3. Select all the additional ports to which the printers in the pool are connected. Click OK.

Tip 4: Use Configuration-Specific Printers
Administrators are often frustrated trying to educate users about setting printer configuration options (accessed by clicking Properties after you select a printer in the Print dialog box) for specific print jobs. The most common problem is that users forget to change trays and print on the wrong paper. Sometimes they don't know what's in each tray and print a memo on checks.

The solution is to create a virtual printer for each printing configuration users need. Then, users can just choose the right printer (e.g., a printer named Letterhead or Checks) for their task.

Use the Add Printer Wizard in the Printers folder to create as many copies of the printer as you need. (These are local printers, of course, because you're working on a print server.) When prompted about using the current driver, select the option to keep the current driver. The wizard's Name The Printer window displays the same name as the first printer, with the notation (Copy 2), (Copy3), and so on. You can rename the printer to reflect its configuration now or later. The wizard also asks for a share name and offers a comment field. You have the same options: Enter the information now or do it later.

After all the printers exist in the Printers folder, you can configure each printer for its specific use. Turn off all options not related to that use. For example, one of my printers has letterhead in Tray 1 and checks in Tray 2. As Figure 2 shows, for the virtual printer named Letterhead, Tray 1 is configured for letter-sized paper, and I can mark the other tray as unavailable. The virtual printer named Checks has checks in Tray 2, and Tray 1 is unavailable.

Tip 5: Transfer Print Jobs from a Problem Printer
Sometimes a printer has a problem, such as a paper jam you can't fix immediately. If the printer's queue contains print jobs, most administrators just kill the jobs and notify users to resubmit the print jobs later. However, if you have another shared printer on the network and it uses the same printer driver, you can follow these steps to transfer print jobs:

  1. In the Printers folder, right-click the icon for the malfunctioning printer and select Properties.
  2. Go to the Ports tab.
  3. Click Add Port, select Local Port, then click New Port. Type the UNC of the alternative printer (i.e., \\Server\Printer_Sharename).

Tip 6: Print with Windows 98 Print Servers
As new desktops arrive, you can turn your Windows 98 computers into print servers. I have many printers, and each Win98 computer manages two printers with the inexpensive addition of a second parallel port. No users log on to these computers anymore, so their resources are dedicated to printing—a nifty solution.

I've had many email messages from administrators who report they received the error message Could not start print job when users accessed printers on Win98 computers. Most of them assumed they got the error because their Windows 2003, XP, or Windows 2000 computers couldn't print to a Win98 print server.

In fact, Win98 print servers work perfectly well unless you try to use the Win98 security feature, which involves creating a password for accessing the printer. The Win98 printer password is unique to the printer, and the logged-on user's Windows password won't work (unless, by an amazing coincidence, it matches the printer's password). Remove the password from the printer by deleting it from the Sharing tab of the printer's Properties dialog box.

Keep on Printing
Administering printers is largely a matter of thinking of anything that could go wrong and then configuring network printing services to prevent errors. Of course, that's easy to say; most of the time, you'll work on printer configuration options after a problem occurs. Using the tips in this article can help prevent some all-too-common printing problems and keep your Windows printer network rolling along.

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