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Windows Server Hacks

Troubleshooting Printer Problems

by Mitch Tulloch, author of Windows Server Hacks

Probably nothing annoys users more than when they can't print. And probably nothing annoys administrators more than when users complain they can't print. As a result, being able to quickly troubleshoot printing problems is an essential skill if administrators are to keep their users happy, or at least placated.

Before we look at some printer troubleshooting techniques, however, let's briefly look at the improvements to printing in Windows Server 2003. One such improvement is that the Print Spooler service is now configured for automatic recovery should the service fail for some reason (see Figure 1).

Configuring is different than in Windows Server 2000, where no recovery options are configured for this service. The result of the new setting is that transient printing problems tend to fix themselves when the spooler restarts. This reduces the need for troubleshooting problems that cause the spooler to fail more than twice in a row.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Automatic recovery settings for the Print Spooler service in Windows Server 2003.

Other improvements in Windows Server 2003 include

Yet despite these enhancements, printing can still break down due to a variety of reasons. Let's explore ways to troubleshoot printing problems from two angles: how and who.

How Can Printing Fail?

Printing problems basically have four possible sources, and a big part of the art of printer troubleshooting involves narrowing down those choices until the guilty culprit is found. They are:

The best place to start is usually your own administrator workstation. Log on with your ordinary user account (not your administrator account, as it may have more privileges than the user account with regard to printing) and try printing. If this works, then the problem is probably with the user's machine, so go there next and try to troubleshoot the problem, or use Remote Assistance or Remote Desktop if they are enabled. If you can't print from your own workstation, try pinging the printer's IP address to see whether the network may be down. If pinging works, open the status page for the printer on your print server and look for clues about what's gone wrong. Checking the event logs on the print server can also be useful. If everything seems fine with the print server and the network, check the printer itself to see whether a yellow light is blinking or something similar indicating a problem.

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Who Is Unable to Print?

Another helpful question to ask at the start of your troubleshooting is who is unable to print to the affected printer. Typically there are three possible answers:

Have a Recovery Plan

Finally, if printer problems are widespread and can't be resolved immediately, consider implementing your recovery plan for printing problems. At the conclusion of a previous article, Upgrading and Migrating Print Servers, I mention how administrators can use Print Migrator, a free tool from Microsoft, to save the configuration of their printers for easy recovery when a disaster occurs. In that case, if your print server fails you can simply restore your print server configuration to an alternate server, reassign the new print server to the same IP address as your old print server, and let users go on printing as usual with everyone happy--especially you, the administrator!

Mitch Tulloch is the author of Windows 2000 Administration in a Nutshell, Windows Server 2003 in a Nutshell, and Windows Server Hacks.

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