How to set up a cross-platform network

Get your PCs and printers talking to each other.

Hooking Up Printers

One great reason to network your business PCs is to share printers. Printers that connect directly to the network via Ethernet constitute one of the most brilliant innovations ever. Simply plug a printer in and turn it on, and soon it is available to every computer on the network.

To find and install a network printer in Windows, go to Control Panel, open Printers and Faxes (just plain Printers in Vista), click Add a printer, and use the network printer option in the resulting dialog box to browse for the printer on the network. Windows Vista will detect and install a driver for it, if one is available online; Windows XP offers a list of available drivers. Network printers may not show up in Windows XP if your Workgroup name differs from the one that the printer belongs to (often, 'WORKGROUP'). To locate the printer, temporarily join its workgroup (click Change in the Computer Name tab of Control Panel's System Properties) before browsing for the printer. In general, it is much easier to share resources between computers if all of them are configured with the same Workgroup name.

To find and install a printer in OS X 10.5, open System Preferences, choose Print and Fax, click the lock icon to allow changes, then click the plus sign to add a printer. If your printer doesn't appear in the Default list of printers, you may find it listed under the Windows category, which allows you to select printers shared on any local Windows Workgroup. Select the printer and click Add. To install a printer in Ubuntu Linux (the popular distribution we use as an example in this article), choose System•Administration•Printing, click New Printer, select the printer in the resulting list, and click Forward to select the correct driver and install the printer.

The wonderfulness of networked printers notwithstanding, you may want to share a printer that's connected directly to a PC with other computers on the network. To share a printer in Windows, first enable file and printer sharing. In Windows XP, open Network Connections in Control Panel, right-click your active network connection and choose Properties, check File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks in the 'This connection uses...' list, and click OK. In Windows Vista, open the Network and Sharing Center in Control Panel, expand the Printer sharing section, select Turn on printer sharing, and click Apply. While you're there, enable Network discovery and File sharing if you want to share your files with other users on the network. Next, in the Printers and Faxes dialog box, right-click the printer you want to share, select Share this printer, enter a name in the 'Share name' field, and click OK.

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