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Windows Vista

Installing and Managing Media Devices (part 4) - Installing and Managing Printers

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Installing and Managing Printers

Most computer users are very familiar with printers. Although increased computer use has generally decreased the need for paper, it is hard to eliminate it completely. For example, it’s common to print a hard copy of a map or directions when traveling to a new location. In addition to being able to output standard black-and-white documents, many printers can output color documents and photographs. There are several different types of printers available on the market:

  • Wired printers These printer devices are designed to connect directly to a computer. Older printers commonly use a parallel port (also called an LPT port) connection. Most new wired printers connect using a USB port on the computer.

  • Network printers A standard wired printer requires a computer to be able to output documents. In some cases, many users want to share a printer without placing a dependency on one of the computers. Network-enabled printers are able to connect directly to a wired network. They include functionality for enabling users to connect directly to the device over the network.

  • Wireless printers Some stand-alone printers include a built-in wireless network interface or support for standards such as infrared and Bluetooth connections. Bluetooth is a low-range wireless network connection method that requires the computer to have a Bluetooth receiver. Infrared connections are often included on portable computers such as notebooks and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Wireless printer options are helpful in homes and small-business environments when users might need to connect to many different output devices quickly or when portable print devices are used.

  • Multifunction devices Some printer-related devices provide a wide range of different functionality in a single physical device. For example, they might include a scanner, internal memory, a printer, and an analog fax-capable modem. They can be wired or wireless devices and can be shared directly on the network.


Installing Local Printers

Windows Vista includes a large database of available printer drivers. In most cases, the process of plugging in a wired printer results in the automatic installation of the appropriate drivers. When installing multifunction devices or wireless printers, users should refer to the documentation that came with the device. Often, specific settings must be configured on the device itself. For example, network printers require you to configure Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) address information. 

It is also possible to add a printer device manually. This is necessary when Windows Vista does not detect a connected printer device automatically. It is also the process by which users can connect to a printer that is located on another computer or that is directly accessible on the network. To start the process, open Control Panel, click Hardware And Sound, and then click the Add A Printer link. Figure 18 shows the main options.

Figure 18. Manually adding a new printer

When adding a local printer, you have the option of specifying the port to which the printer is attached (see Figure 19). Options include printer (LPT) ports, serial (COM) ports, USB ports, and any other virtual device ports that might be configured. Known TCP/IP network printer ports are also included. Some types of software applications are able to install virtual printer devices that users can use to output documents to files or to other types of programs. For example, users can use virtual print devices to generate XML Paper Specification (XPS) or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files from any program that is capable of sending output to a printer.

Figure 19. Configuring ports for a locally attached printer

After you choose the printer connection type, you have the option of choosing a printer from the list of known manufacturers and models. You can also click Have Disk to provide drivers manually. Finally, the Windows Update command enables you to look for driver updates online automatically.

Adding a Network, Wireless, or Bluetooth Printer

Some printer devices are designed to be shared using a standard network connection, a wireless connection, or a Bluetooth connection. Because these devices are not connected to a computer port directly, you generally must configure them manually. When you choose the Add A Network, Wireless, Or Bluetooth Printer option in the Add Printer Wizard, Windows Vista automatically attempts to locate available shared or wireless printer devices on the network (see Figure 20) by using network discovery features. It is important to understand that you add printers that are connected directly to a network by using a TCP/IP connection, using the Add A Local Printer option.

Figure 20. Viewing a list of available network printers

If Windows Vista does not detect the printer automatically, click The Printer That I Want Isn’t Listed.

Managing Printer Settings

Most printers have options that you can use to manage how they output print jobs. For example, some printers have multiple paper size options and the ability to print on both sides of a page (a feature known as duplexing). To access the properties of a printer, click the Printers link in the Hardware And Sound section of Control Panel. Then, right-click the printer and choose Properties to open the printer’s Properties dialog box. The specific available tabs differ based on the capabilities of the printer (see Figure 21).

Figure 21. Configuring advanced settings for a printer


In addition, users can choose one of the printers to be the system default. This is the printer to which Windows Vista sends documents unless another device is chosen, using the Printer Options dialog box.

Sharing Printers

To be able to send data for output to a printer, the computer must have information about its settings, options, and data format requirements. The printer driver provides these details. For locally attached printer devices, the drivers are typically loaded automatically on the computer. They are either included with Windows Vista or are provided by the hardware manufacturer. In the case of connecting a network printer, Windows Vista automatically attempts to download the available drivers from the network printer.

Users of Windows Vista can also share their printers on the network to enable others to use them. To enable printer sharing, users must first enable it by using the Network and Sharing Center. To share a printer, right-click the printer object and select Sharing. Figure 22 shows an example of the available settings. The Share Name specifies the specific name that users use to access the printer. The full network path has the \\ComputerName\PrinterShareName format. It is a good practice to include details about the owner or location of the printer in the share name. One potential disadvantage of sharing a printer is that the computer to which the printer is connected can be bogged down by preparing printed documents to be sent to the printer device (a process that is referred to as rendering). When selected, the Render Print Jobs On Client Computers check box requires print processing to occur on the client computer, thereby offloading some of the overhead on the computer that is sharing the printer.

Figure 22. Sharing a printer for use over a network


Because users can connect to a network printer by using a variety of different operating systems, it is also possible to add additional drivers to the configuration by clicking Additional Drivers and selecting which platforms the printer should support. The specific list of operating system options is based on the capabilities of drivers that are provided by device manufacturers or that are included with Windows Vista. If drivers are not available over the network, users need to use the Windows Vista built-in driver for the device (if one is available) or manually provide the driver during the printer installation process.

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