Printer Setup on Ubuntu: Not the Friendliest


More on my non-techie experiments with running an Ubuntu desktop on our Windows network here at IT Business Edge.


First off, a few follow-up notes from my last post, when I said my Ubuntu 7.04 install had resolved a weird problem my old AMD Duron, Windows XP system was having with its video card. Not so, it seems.


When I booted up yesterday and this morning, the weird fritz on the video was back. In fact, yesterday when I tried to reboot from within Linux, the system froze (I never had that problem in XP) and I was forced into a hard power down/power up. This morning, the machine locked up at a weird two-logo screen during boot. In both cases, the system has run happily all day after the forced power-down, including multiple reboots.


I'm posting this follow-up not because I think Ubuntu has failed me in some broad fashion; only to clarify that it, in fact, did not miraculously resolve an issue I assume can be fairly ascribed to the host system being crappy. I'll end up popping open the box over the next few days and jiggling the cards -- nothing a business would ever want an end user to do, but again, I can't hold that against Ubuntu.


Now, onto setting up a network printer on our Windows network.


Not so hot. After about an hour of trial-and-error, I was able to send test jobs to our HP 5100 network printer over the Windows SMB protocol, although no matter what changes I make in the Properties box for my printer, I can't get the jobs to run to anything but the manual feed tray. I've done some digging and I don't believe it's a driver issue -- you can't get much more commodity than an HP 5100, so you'd expect the drivers to be solid in a relatively new OS install.


All in all, setting up a printer was a little more geeky than what I encountered during my initial OS setup. With a more friendly (for the open sourcers out there, I'm sure you could trade out the modifier "dumb" here) interface and help documentation, the process could have been cut to 15 or so minutes, I'd guess, but there were still some legitimate hassles.


General gripes:


  • Ubuntu seems to be perfectly happy to keep printing to printers that don't actually exist on the network. As I was knocking around during setup, I tried to run several test jobs sent to the network equivalent of the Phantom Zone. Ubuntu never complained, nor even sent me a polite "hey stupid" message. Moreover, the Printers dialog appears more than willing to put a big green check mark over an icon for a default printer that's not properly configured.
  • The system was able to detect only one of our three networked printers, and of course it was not the one I wanted.
  • The documentation was scant. Or should I say, the worst-case scenario documentation was scant. A search of the Ubuntu Help files for the string Windows SMB Printer yielded one result, and that was for line-item configs in GNOME. Not for me. More friendly on-screen help, particularly on vocabulary that may be unfamiliar due to different printing protocols, would be a real plus.
  • I kept getting challenged for passwords to Windows network resources I was not trying to access, and it took several tries to get the system to accept my user/password combo for the printer's host on the network. By "several times," I mean like 10 -- enough for me to be confident that it was not just a typo.
  • The system crashed four times as I knocked around. On three occasions, it happened as I tried to look at the properties for a Windows SMB protocol printer setup that I had already successfully installed.
  • Getting property boxes to open for functional printers seems quite sluggish -- more so than any other task I've attempted.


Yes, I did try initially to set up the Network printer via the default Internet Printing Protocol, but no dice or our solidly homogeneous Windows network. Of course, Windows Server supports IPP, but making it work in our shop would require additional tweaking by IT, I'm told, and that's outside my non-techie scope. And it's nothing I'm gonna ask for in this toe-in-the-water exercise; I'm running through my Ubuntu install only from a "why doesn't this work" user perspective.


Conclusion: Setting up a printer on our Windows network from Ubuntu was the most "geeky" aspect of the OS I've run into so far, particularly when it comes to the Help documentation, which was wanting. The process assumed I knew the difference between printing protocols and had quite a bit of trouble connecting to host Windows machines.


In a vacuum, of course, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with Ubuntu -- I'm sure many open source advocates would contend the technical blame lies with Microsoft, and I'm in no position to argue code with them. But Windows is the incumbent in most shops, and for an alternate OS (or any new technology, really) to gain a major foothold, it needs to play nicely with both existing tech and the people who are trained to use it. That's the lens that desktop Linux will be judged by for a good while to come.


More tire-kicking to follow.

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