Printing Overview

One of the most important devices in any of today’s offices is a printer. A printer, just like files and folders, can be shared amongst other users on the network.  A Windows Server or XP Professional machine can act as a print server to share the printer and make it available to other machines on the network.

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A printer is a software representation of a physical print device. It must not be confused with the printing device itself.  A print driver is a piece of software that converts print jobs into a format that the print device understands.  A print server is a computer that receives print jobs before processing them and passing them onto the print device.  A print device is the physical device that produces the final hard copy.

The print process starts with a user making a request to print from their computer.  This print job is passed onto a printer (remember, a printer is a software device) configured on the local machine.

If the client operating system is Microsoft 32-bit then the local printer formats the print job. If it is Windows 2000/2003/XP or Windows NT 4 then the client also contacts the print server to ensure it has the most recent version of the printer drivers. If it does not, the newer version is downloaded.  If the client operating system is not Microsoft 32-bit then a remote procedure call is made to pass the job to the print server. If the print server is not available, the print job is held in a local spooler until the print server can be contacted.

When the print server receives the job (in RAW format) the job is written directly to disk. It is also assigned a position in the print queue.  The default behavior is to place the job at the end of the queue so that the first job sent to the print server is the first printed. However, this can be changed with priority levels.  Once the job reaches the front of the queue, it is converted into a bitmap format and passed on to the physical print device.

When IIS (Internet Information Services) is installed, a client can manage and connect to printers using a web-browser.  When connecting to a network printer a URL can be specified as the printer, this will allow a user to submit print jobs over the Internet.  IPP (Internet Printing Protocol) is only available on machines with IIS installed. IIS is covered in greater detail later on in this course.

Windows can connect to printers on other platforms such as the Line Printer Remote Protocol (LPR) used by UNIX.  A Windows Server 2003 or XP machine can also share drivers for other platforms such as Windows XP 64Bit or Windows NT 4.0.  A printer can be set up to work with the Fax Service which will allow a Windows machine to send and receive faxes.