Next to ensuring our client’s backups are running, the biggest area of technical support issues is printers. Even in the age of electronic everything, people still need to print. We follow a number of best practices that eliminate a lot of technical support phone calls for printing issues. One of these best practices is to never, NEVER, share a printer out from a workstation. We will not set up a shared printer on a workstation and, in our managed service agreements, we will not support shared printers. Why is that?
Printer sharing got its start when Microsoft introduced its peer-to-peer networking system. Printers could be connected to one computer and other users could attach to it and print. Much to our chagrin, printer sharing remains a feature in Microsoft’s operating systems. As Microsoft’s networking evolved over the years, the protocol that supports printer sharing became an afterthought. The ability for a computer to resolve a name, in this case a printer share name, is a key part of having the technology to work. If the name cannot be resolved, the technology cannot work. With the way names get resolved today, particularly on peer-to-peer networks, the reliability of a computer being able to resolve a share name has gone down dramatically. The net effect is shared printers dropping off the network with increasing frequency. If your computer cannot “see” the shared printer, it cannot print to it.
Other things that often go wrong with shared printers are the workstation the printer is connected to is turned off, the printer is turned off, and the printer is out of paper. Since a person accessing a shared printer is not directly connected to the printer, they don’t always get the printer’s diagnostics. If the printer is out of paper, they might not get a warning saying so; they’ll only know they can’t print. All of this leads to frustrated end users. When we bill clients for technical support, a shared printer becomes a service annuity. It’s not a service clients like paying for, and it’s not one we like billing.
In order to have a better printing experience, printers that are to be shared by multiple people should always be network printers physically connected to the network. That means the printer must be configured with an IP address. Users may be set up to print directly to the printer, or if possible, to a printer share managed on a server. Please don’t ask us to share a local printer on a workstation. We will politely say no, because we really want you to be able to print!
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