Managing printers is one of the pains of an administrator's life. For one reason or another the promises of a so-called "paperless office" have by and large not materialized, and users seem to be printing stuff more than ever before. Maybe it's just handier to print a company's security policy out than read it directly on the company intranet. Or maybe a user wants to read the policy while heading home on the bus because he's too busy at work to find the time. And how many users have slate Tablet PCs they can download such files to in order to read and annotate them instead of printing them and marking them up with pen and highlighter? If Tablet PCs cost only a few hundred dollars like low-end laptops, more people would probably buy them and more trees would live. But with most Tablets costing around $2000 or more, it seems more economical to kill a tree and print out the stuff you want to read instead. All this makes me think that Tablet vendors need a new rallying cry for promoting their wares, maybe something like "Use a Tablet PC—save a tree!"
See how I use a slate Tablet PC in my own business and save money doing it by checking out my blog called Pimp My Tablet!
Fortunately, with the release of Windows Server 2003 R2, printers are now a lot easier to manage in an enterprise environment. This article examines the Print Management console, a new tool in R2 that lets you easily manage printers and print servers from a single, central point of management. The Print Management console, once installed on an R2 machine, can then be used to manage print servers running Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2003 R2—and also, to a limited extent, print servers running Windows NT 4.0.
Installing Print Management
To install the Print Management console on an R2 machine, simply open Manage Your Server and add the Print Server role to the machine (see Figure 1):
Figure 1: Adding the Print Server role using Manage Your Server
Be sure to have your Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 CD (the first CD of the two-CD R2 set) and also your Windows Server 2003 R2 CD (the second CD in the set) handy or know the location of your R2 installation files on the network.
Once you have the Print Server role added to your machine, you can now open the Print Management console from Administrative Tools (Figure 2):
Figure 2: The Print Management console
As an example here, I've installed Print Management on an R2 server named BOX161, which is a domain controller in the r2.local domain. Print Management can actually scan the network to find any printers present and install drivers and create printer queues for them using the local server as your print server. To do this, start by expanding the Print Servers node in the console tree to display the local server:
Figure 3: BOX161 is the local print server (the Print Management console is running on this server)
Right-click on this local server and select Automatically Add Network Printers. This opens a dialog box that will scan the local subnet for any network printers present:
Figure 4: Dialog box to scan for network printers on the local subnet
Click the Start button and the scanning process begins, and once the subnet has been scanned the information gathered will be processed, printer drivers will be installed, print queues will be created, and the printers will be shared. The only time you might have to manually intervene is to provide a driver for a printer if Windows doesn't have one for that particular brand of printer. Alternatively, let's say you already have your network printers set up and installed, as I do, and that there are two other Windows Server 2003 machines currently functioning as print servers, namely BOX162 and BOX163. Let's add BOX162 to the list of print servers and see what happens. Right-click on the Print Servers node and select Add/Remove Servers:
Figure 5: Adding a print server to Print Management
Clicking Browse lets you browse Entire Network to add BOX162 to the console (don't forget to click Add To List):
Figure 6: BOX162 is added to the list of print servers
Notice that BOX162 has printer queues for three network printers in the Sales Department. By right-clicking on any of these printers you can perform tasks such as the following:
- View the contents of the printer queue for that printer
- Pause or resume the printer queue for the printer
- Cancel all jobs pending for the printer (if there are any)
- Configure the various property sheet pages for that printer
- Print a test page to see if the printer is working properly
There's also an option to deploy printers using Group Policy, but we'll cover that one in a future article. The other nodes under the BOX162 node in the console tree let you view/manage the drivers, ports and forms for these printers. Let's go ahead and add BOX163 as a print server to make the next topic more interesting:
Figure 7: Three print servers listed in Print Management
Using Printer Filters
Say you want to get a quick picture of what's happening with different printers on your network. For example, say you want to know which printers currently have jobs in their print queues. Using the Print Filters feature of Print Management, this is easy—a lot easier than browsing all the print queues of all your network printers! Simply expand the Custom Printer Filters node in your console tree and select Printers With Jobs:
Figure 8: Using the default printer filter named Printers With Jobs
Note that both Accounting Printer 1 and Sales Printer 2 have one job in their queue, and that the Accounting printer is ready but the Sales printer is in an error state. Opening the printer queue for the Sales printer lets you see the details of what's in the queue:
Figure 9: Test page is stuck in the queue for Sales Printer 2
That doesn't tell us what's wrong with the printer of course—maybe that could be a feature request for R3! Anyway, we could also quickly find out which printers are not ready by selecting the Printers Not Ready node, another default printer filter:
Figure 10: Using the default printer filter named Printers Not Ready
As expected, Sales Printer 2 shows up here as the only printer currently not ready on our network. The third default printer filter is named All Printers and this displays all the printers currently on your network (we have three on BOX162 and two on BOX163 which makes five in total). What's even more useful is that you can create your own custom printer filters to display whatever you want to know about printers on your network.
Let's see how this works. Right-click on the Custom Printer Filters node and select Add New Printer Filter. This starts the New Printer Filter Wizard, and let's say we want to create a filter that will display all printers on our network that are to be used for color printing only, and also indicate the number there are of such printers in parentheses beside the filter name. To do this, fill out the first screen of the wizard as follows:
Figure 11: Creating a custom filter to display all color printers on the network
Click Next and select the Field drop-down listbox. Note that you can create a filter for any of the following common printer fields (properties or conditions):
- Printer Name
- Queue Status
- Jobs in Queue
- Server Name
- Driver Name
- Is Shared
- Share Name
So for example, we could create a filter that tests the Jobs In Queue field for all your printers using the Is Greater Than condition against the value 25. That way, any printer that currently has more than 25 jobs in its queue will satisfy the filter. But what about color? We wanted to display all color printers on our network! How do we do that? Well, fortunately when we created each printer we assigned that printer a location, and we decided to use the Location field of color printers to indicate that these were in fact used for color printing. For example, here is the General tab of the properties sheet of Sales Printer 3:
Figure 12: The Location field of Sales Printer 3 indicates it is a color printer and should be used for color printing only
So our planning helps (when does a little planning not help?) and let's us create a custom filter that checks the Location field of each printer to see if it contains the word "color" or not:
Figure 13: Filter to test the Location field for presence of the word "color" in it
Clicking Next brings up the optional Set Notifications screen of the wizard:
Figure 14: Set Notifications screen of New Printer Filter Wizard
Here we can set an email notification that is sent when the filter condition is met, or we can specify a script to be run when the condition is met. This isn't useful for this particular filter (we just want to display all color filters on our network) but for the Jobs In Queue Is Greater Than 25 condition mentioned previously we could set an email notification that sends a message to the administrator saying "Too many jobs in queue!" or something similar. Let's just click Finish here and see the result in the Print Management console:
Figure 15: Displaying all color printers using a custom filter we created
Note that the new printer filter we have created is refreshed dynamically, so it always displays current and accurate information concerning printers on the network.
The new Print Management console of Windows Server 2003 R2 is a welcome addition to the easy-to-use tools that Windows servers are famous for. Using this tool, you can easily manage printers on your network, create custom filters and set notifications, and more.