Windows Server 2003 R2 prints well

I've been doing a lot of "hack" coverage lately -- cool things you can do with stuff you already own instead of having to go beg for new stuff. I'm looking to do another one of those for this column, but that'll take a little while to put together. Meantime, I'll be digging into some enhanced features that R2 of Windows Server 2003 has brought that some folks are overlooking.

Chief among these: R2 has really redefined how Windows networks can manage printers. Several of my techs have been ignoring R2's new printer features, and the reason's simple: Nobody likes to relearn something they've already gotten down. Better to expend that energy on learning completely new features. Well, not in this case. Eating the learning curve on R2's new printer management features is not only worthwhile ... it's easy.

Start with the printer-scanning feature. Pick the server you'd like to make that segment's print controller. Making that happen is as easy as selecting the Print Server role from the Configure Your Server page. Next, open the Print Management console and check out the Automatically Add Network Printers feature by right-clicking on the local server. This begins a scan of the server's subnet for any network-connected printers.

Cool part? After it finds those printers, this little feature figures out what kind they are, hits the Web for printer drivers, installs those drivers, sets up print queues, and then shares those printers with every user on the subnet. I've watched this gem work a couple of times now on midsize networks. We've had to do some manual work both times, but only because the printers that were found were too far off the beaten product path for Windows to find a valid print driver.

That's it. Press an OK button and R2 basically installs your printers for you. Now that's cool. When all printers have been installed, the Print Management console acts as a one-screen window for all your print needs. From this screen you can manage individual print jobs, manage printer properties, view queue contents, and delete or add new printers -- mostly just through the judicious use of the right mouse button.

And if you've got dozens of printers, you'll be happy with the Printer Filters feature. Similar to a network management's utility to grab a certain type of infrastructure and bleep back specific information, Printer Filters allow administrators to group printers in several different ways to give them snapshot information. You can create filters based on type of printer, type of driver, job status, sharing information, and more. Setting up a Printer Filter is yet another right-click operation, this time on the Custom Printer Filters node. From there, you can define the basic filter and then add conditions. So instead of seeing all jobs in queue on every color printer on the network, you can add a condition where no more than 10 jobs in the hopper are displayed.

Furthermore, although I almost never do this anymore, R2 also has a way to deploy printers based on Group Policy. With this feature, R2 lets you select printers from inside the Print Management console and then choose a right-click option called Deploy with Group Policy. That lets you assign those printers to specific GPOs (Group Policy Objects). By default, you can assign those printers to everyone in the GPO, but you can actually drill down to individual users as well.

There's more, but I'm running out of space. Bottom line: You may not want to relearn something you've already figured out, but in when it comes to printer management and Windows Server 2003 R2, sticking to that create-a-local-TCP-port deal just doesn't make sense.

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