Printing bites back: why ignored IT needs an update

There were many things to enjoy in 1997, but state-of-the-art networked printers weren’t one of them.

Printing bites back: why ignored IT needs an update

Actually, I should qualify that: network problems back then were deeply irritating thanks to the idiot ubiquity of certain bugs and crashes, but I did make a fair amount of money solving them – I could apply the same solutions wherever they popped up.

What I really wasn’t expecting, however, is demand for those skills to re-emerge in 2012. To adopt the current fashion for asking questions in a sneery, impatient tone: “And this matters why…? Surely we’ve moved on in 15 years and all this stuff has been swept away?”

Well, it matters because there’s a difference between a deprecated feature, a part of the OS not often visited, a part removed as a security risk, and the next smart trick.

Network printing was sorted out a long while ago, like the basics of file-sharing, and hasn’t really had an overhaul from the ground up since

Network printing was sorted out a long while ago, like the basics of file-sharing, and hasn’t really had an overhaul from the ground up since. You still glance around someone’s unsecured Network Neighborhood, courtesy of code largely unaltered since the days of LAN Manager (well before 1995), because the printing subsystem in Windows has never been properly upgraded.

LPR/LPD structures

It can look as though it has, because the computer trade realised that some alleviation of its principal vulnerabilities might be quite a good idea, back in the mid to late 1990s.

The basis of this effort was to introduce the LPR/LPD structures from Unix and Linux – a confusing pairing, because LPR is a protocol while LPD is a daemon or background process. Despite the confusing nomenclature, this pair was my salvation back then and is widely found now, mainly as implementing LPD requires far less processing horsepower and complexity than is found in the average Windows installation.

If you have a bottom-end networked printer, it’s a no-brainer to install LPD and thereby to invite connections using LPR, which is easily added to Windows (it isn’t installed by default, but no download or original install media is needed to set it up).

I know, these are baby steps for many of us net wizards – certainly for me – and the only reason I explain them in such detail is that I had a meeting last week that transported me all the way back to pre-LPD days; I met up with some photocopier people.

Office tidy

In part this was because I’d stuck my neck out. A client had tidied up its network in an office move, affording me the chance to put a server up on the bench between offices. It was a bit of a bodge: an ex-head-office, 64-bit Windows 2003 machine that had been retired from duty as main virtual server host when VMware bare-metal hypervisor took over from VMware Server for Windows as the client’s default choice.

Its retirement had been interrupted by the demise of an ancient server in the old office, so as a result this old warhorse was dragged out and a rushed virtualisation of the ailing server performed onto it.

I’ll confess that I’d hardly looked at the machines that went through virtualisation courtesy of VMware Converter. Time was short and there was a lot of data to move.

Up on the bench almost a year later there were signs that all wasn’t completely well. One of the two VMs was distinctly sluggish, something that’s actually quite hard to achieve even on an old hypervisor setup these days.

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