File Sharing And Printer Sharing Are Not The Same Thing

If you have a computer, you probably use it to access the Internet. You are, quite likely, reading this article from your computer. If you have more than one computer, you probably have connected them together to share the Internet connection, plus you may be sharing files and / or a printer between them.

You share files, and printers, using two important network components in Windows Networking.

  • Client For Microsoft Networks goes on any computer accessing another computer.
  • File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks goes on any computer being accessed by another computer.
  • Most computers using Windows Networking will need both components, as most Windows computers function in both ways.

Both file sharing, and printer sharing, require authentication and authorisation, which is how you prove to the operating system that you have the right to access a given file or printer. Once you get past the authentication and authorisation issues, you should have file sharing working. File sharing works as an integral component of the operating system.

Printer sharing, however, involves another layer of challenges. Every printer that you might connect to your computer requires its own set of drivers. The drivers are specific both to the printer model and to the operating system. You will need the right drivers on both the server (where you connect the printer), and on the clients (where you use the printer).

The drivers are written by the printer vendor, and subject to their limitations.
  • Newer printers may only be supported for newer operating systems, and older printers my not be supported at all. If the vendor doesn't have drivers that support the operating system on your computer, you're out of luck.
  • Not all printers are designed for network use. If the drivers don't support network use, you're out of luck.
  • You do know to always check directly with the vendor for updated drivers and firmware, whenever installing a new printer? This especially applies if one of the computers is running the latest model of Windows (currently Vista).
  • And consider how you address the printer, when setting up the client.

If you have a typical $100 desktop printer, note another detail. Less expensive printers will use more resources on the server. Printer serving is a graphic process, and can use significant amounts of CPU and memory (both physical and virtual) in printing a document of any complexity. You may want to host the printer on your newer computer, because that's the computer that you'll be using the most.

If you host the printer on an older computer, you'll probably be using the network more from your newer computer. With Ethernet and a switch (NAT router) connecting the two computers, network use will be a minor issue. With WiFi, which is half duplex, if both the client and server are connected wirelessly, you'll get a possible network conflict.

The client computer will be sending to the WiFi router / Access Point, and the router will be sending to the server computer, and both on the same WiFi channel. Printing thru a WiFi network can take more than twice as long as printing thru an Ethernet network, as the router has to constantly switch between receiving from the client, and sending to the server.

Since you can only test the printer on a properly setup client and server relationship, it's a good idea to get file sharing working first. Get the sharing issues out of the way, then concentrate on the drivers issue. This is a basic layered troubleshooting technique.

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