Monday, 23 April 2007

This tech stuff is too hard (repost from other blog)

I use three computers on a regular basis. My PC is a full-tower monster with two hard disk drives and two DVD rewriters. It's not new, and over the past few months it's been giving me grief (other than the usual...). But that didn't matter too much, as I've been enjoying using my MacBook since last June. I also have a G4 Mac mini, which was my introduction to OS X and the modern Mac. (I've had a second-hand MacPlus for a few years, complete with maxed-out RAM -- all four megabytes of it -- and the legendary programmer's switch, just to prove my genuine geekness.)

I have only one printer in use, an Epson Stylus Photo R300, and until last weekend it was connected to the PC. But as I said, the PC has been giving me grief -- refusing to boot until the box had been powered up for five minutes or so, and even then shutting down a second or two after turning on. Sometimes it didn't shut down, but just sat there shouting at me (yes, really, the damn thing actually spoke -- something about CPU test failure). Other times it would begin its boot-up sequence but then stop with an 'overclocking failure'. This I could cope with, simply going into the BIOS settings and immediately saving and exiting -- it would then boot up okay.

But as you can imagine, this was getting to be a pain, especially when I wanted to print something. The PC is on my home network, and that's how I printed stuff from the Macs. Recently the PC has refused to boot up at all, and I've had to wait until the next day. I had already done some research to establish what the problem was, and had decided that the most likely culprit was the power supply. My PC has a good ASUS motherboard and a decent graphics card, but the manufacturer really skimped on some other components. The keyboard and mouse were utterly repellent. I replaced the keyboard within a week and the mouse within a month. It seems the PSU was a similarly cheap unit, and replacing it with a Jeantech 600W unit completely solved the boot-up problems.

So I could again print relatively easily from anywhere on the network using the shared printer connected to the PC. But if the PC wasn't on, I had to wait for XP to start before anything appeared on paper. I had already looked at print servers some time ago, and nothing seemed suitable (or reasonably priced) until I noticed that Linksys made a USB Print Server with a 4-port Ethernet switch, which looked like a good deal. I read some reviews on Amazon and elsewhere that made me think twice -- especially the point about the status monitor not working, which would mean you could run out of ink and not know which one of the six cartridges to change. I then found the manual on the Linksys website, in which it was pointed out that it's in the nature of network printing that two-way communication with the printer is lost -- it's not specific to Linksys.

During the course of my deliberations the printer did run out of ink when I was printing from the MacBook, and I realised that because the R300 has a small LCD status screen, the software status monitor isn't strictly necessary.

I decided to risk the purchase of the print server, given its price. It installed okay, using the supplied setup CD on the PC, and it worked fine printing from the PC.

There's no Mac software provided, but how hard can it be? Answer: very hard.

Following Apple's guidelines for installing a network printer did not work. The best I could get was page after page of Postscript commands. Other times I ended up with page after page of garbage. Trawling various forum posts, and the aforementioned Amazon reviews again, led me to believe that very few users had managed to make this thing -- the Linksys PSUS4 USB PrintServer -- work with Macintosh.

However -- and this is the purpose of this post -- I did get it to work, from both the MacBook and the G4 Mac mini, and here's how to do it:

It shouldn't be necessary to use the Linksys setup CD, as the PrintServer has a web interface accessible from a browser, but I'm assuming your setup is similar to mine (Windows XP PC and Macintosh OS X Version 10.4.9 on a home network using a wireless ADSL router). Here's what to do:
  1. Install the PrintServer according to the Linksys instructions, using the supplied setup CD on the PC.
  2. Using the Linksys utility change the PrintServer to static IP addressing, choosing a suitable address within the subnet.
  3. On the Mac, open the Print & Fax system preferences pane.
  4. Click the '+' button to add a printer.
  5. At the top of the Printer Browser window, click 'IP Printer'.
  6. In Protocol, select 'Line Printer Daemon - LPD'.
  7. In Address, type in the static IP address you chose for the PrintServer, such as '192.168.1.8'. While you type, the Printer Browser will verify that you have typed a valid address.
  8. In Queue, type 'lpd'.
  9. You'll find that the IP address has been entered into the Name field. You can change this to something more meaningful.
  10. Location can be left blank.
  11. In Print Using, select the make of your printer from the list, then select the actual model of your printer from the model list, and click 'Add'.
  12. Close the Printer Setup Utility.
(I'm not certain all the above steps are absolutely necessary, but they worked for me.)

You should now have the network printer on the list when you next want to print something from the Mac. For me, this has worked on both the MacBook (Intel) and the Mac mini (G4 PowerPC). I can't vouch for any other set-up, but reading the tales of woe in the Amazon reviews has prompted me to make this post, to show that it can be done.
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