Thursday, July 2, 2009

Printers, the scourge of network administrators

Egads! Not another printer problem. It seems whevever my day is going well, I'll get a franctic call from someone who is experiencing a problem with his or her printer. Now, don't get me wrong. Printers, or as Microsoft refers to them "print devices," do a lot of necessary work for legal, medical and retail firms across the country. They help students prepare academic work, draft plans for architects and engineers and make graphics design work a snap. They can be very expensive, very delicate machines or big clunkers that have form feeders pulling large boxes of fan-fold paper. Some multi-function printers scan, fax and copy. Every printer is different and requires drivers that interface with each operating system. Some are ink jet printers (usually the best and most expensive for photographic reproductions), while others are laser printers which involve a process where the ink is fused to paper. Older model printers use ribbon inks struck by nine- or 24-pin printer heads. The fact is printers do much of the work used in computing today. They organize our lives and make the cyber world accessible and mobile. Yet, they can confound even the most casual of users by their annoying habit of failing to print due to a host of factors. Low ink, no ink, no paper, inoperable form feeders, disfunctional fusers and dirty heads are just some of the reasons printers don't print. Many times the problem is in the software, as when a driver is corrupted or it could simply be a connection with the device has been lost, either over the network or through a cable. Microsoft calls the software on its operating systems that make print devices work as "printers." This can be confusing to anyone who doesn't understand Microsoft-speak. The fact is there are as many reasons printers don't print as there are that they do. The key to understanding a printer is to know the popular adage "garbage in, garbage out." A printer will usually do no more than it is told to do by the operating system. It rarely thinks for itself and that is good. There is enough going on in a computer operating system to go around that the printers don't need to start making decisions for us. In some of the more high-end print devices, there are parameters that can be set and maintained for every print job so that different size paper jobs can be diverted to the appropriate trays or that no color is used on certain jobs. As I indicated, when they work, they are a godsend. When they fail, they are nerve wracking. The first thing to remember when a print job fails is to stay calm and focused. Is the printer on? If not, plug it in. Is there an error message? If it suggests there is no connection, check the cabling. If it fails to print, but the job(s) are very plainly listed in the print device under the Printers and Faxes icon of the Control Panel, delete everything and start over. Many times a print job will fail for one reason or another due to an electric surge or choked network bandwidth. I have actually seen a print job fail due to a long USB cable being used. Moving the printer to within six feet of the computer cured the problem. The key is to approach these things in a mannered and orderly fashion. While one would like to drop kick them or crunch them beneath a steamroller, being patient does have its merits. If, after checking power and cables and deleting the print jobs from queue, the printer is still having issues (not printing), it may be time to examine the software. Sometimes deleting the printer, rebooting and reinstalling is called for. That's a drastic solution, but one that works in many cases. I recommend not doing it until consulting someone like yours truly. Network administrators and computer consultants know far better what might be going on. Deleting a printer is definitely not the first course of action and anyone who does that deserves to be without a printer in the interim. So, please, if your printer is not working, take a deep breath. Relax. Remember that a calm, measured approach to printers is best and that your friendly neighborhood network administrator or computer consultant can help. Whoops...gotta go. It's a phone call from someone having a printing problem....

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