Printing in Windows 7: Fancy setups using 'old school' techniques

Printer pools, priority levels, paper jam recovery -- retro tips from veteran IT admins

Back in the day (roughly the mid- to late 1990s), the Windows NT 4.0 certification exams had folks scrambling back to learning centers, reading Exam Cram books, and researching (still new) Internet expressions like "cram session" and "brain dump" for advice on how best to pass these tests. The term "paper MCSE" was coined for those who studied and passed exams with no real-world experience to back them up. There was a dividing line between veterans of DOS and the new GUI-oriented generation of admins.

Much has changed since that time, as is always the case with technology, but I recently received an email asking if Windows 7 supports printer pooling. That question put me back into an old scene -- an NT 4.0 class all over again.

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I assumed Windows 7 supports printer pooling, but I hadn't done it for years. So I decided to take some time and review printing concepts from NT 4.0 that still apply to Windows 7 -- which new admins may have never come across.

It's true that a lot has changed, but you'd be surprised at how much has remained exactly the same.

Printer pools

If you click the Start orb and choose Devices and Printers in Windows 7, you'll be dazzled by the pretty icons that greet you to represent your keyboard, mouse, drives, printers, and more. By contrast, NT 4 icons must look a lot like Pac-Man to new admins, but at the time they were awesome.

First of all, what is a printer pool and what are priorities?

A printer pool is designed to assist with load-balancing print jobs. Whereas you might use servers and set up printers off the server for persons working in an office or a document processing center, you might just as easily (and more cost-effectively) use a Windows 7 system with multiple printers connected to it. To enable printer pooling, you have to go into the properties of the starting print device.

Getting into printer properties involves either right-clicking the printer (that is, the "logical printer," not the physical "print device"; there is a difference between the two), choosing Printer Properties, and going to the Ports pane. You can also double-click a printer and click the Customize Your Printer link. Once in the Ports pane, you should see your various ports and the printers attached to those ports.

Initially only one port is selected. Select the Enable Printer Pooling check box at the bottom of the pane; this lets you add more ports and printers to the pool. Now, when a person prints to that logical printer, it will be distributed among the device pool, providing load-balancing and speeding along those print jobs.

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