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Printing over a network with ease on RISC OS

By Reginald Whitlock. Published: 23rd Apr 2006, 22:30:41 | Permalink | Printable

An overview of one freely available solution

Being able to share a printer with various computers on a home network is a convenience many users enjoy. But there are pitfalls involved - how do you set up such a system, and will the RISC OS machines be locked out? Retired electrical engineer Reginald Whitlock describes how he made sure his RISC OS computers stayed in the loop when he used a NetGear print server and Stefan Bellon's open source RemotePrinterFS software.

Background
In my old age, I now need to be able to print from any machine in our house without having to get up to change the connections to my trusy Canon LBP4 printer.

For many years it has been connected to my Acorn Archimedes, via a special high resolution interface using a podule, with excellent results. However, with the addition of Microsoft Windows PCs to our stable, it was necessary to print via the parallel interface at times - swapping leads as necessary.

I had previously installed an ethernet LAN for the Acorn machines and the PCs so that we could exchange files using Design IT's AccessNT software, which works very well - although other protocols such as FTP and NFS can work as well. To set the scene, in our house we have a RISC OS 3.1 Archimedes and a RISC OS 3.5 RiscPC, with a couple of PCs. When my wife wanted to go on the Internet from her PC, which she uses for creating artwork, a means of connecting any machine to the one modem was required. The answer was a cheap router which allows four LAN connections to connect to the one modem and any one to instigate a dial-up connection to the Internet.

Then with my back objecting to supporting my six foot frame any longer, I had to purchase a laptop and add a wireless access point to my network - fine, but how do I print from the laptop if I'm not near the printer or one of the other computers to fiddle with cables?

QA with Stefan Bellon

Q. How easy is it to set up a printer with your software?
A. RemotePrinterFS is configured by setting up the Printers application to print to a file and use a special RemotePrinterFS path syntax for the file name. I have a quite long, and still growing, list of supported printers and print servers. If you have one of those, you can just copy the RemotePrinterFS path from the supplied documentation to your Printers application's configuration. And even if you don't have one of the mentioned models, chances are quite high that one of the example settings is working for you as well.

Q. So, do you do you use it?
A. Yes, of course. I wrote it because I desperately needed such a piece of software here. It is working happily on both of my Iyonixes, connecting them to a HP ColorJet 2550N.

But I'd like to mention that the JetDirect part of RemotePrinterFS originates from Elliott Hughes's JetDirectFS. RemotePrinterFS is a complete rewrite with extensibility of protocols in mind, but still, thanks go to Elliott Hughes for his initial version of JetDirectFS.

Q. What do you have planned for the future?
A. I have a few items on the todo list for RemotePrinterFS. Amongst them is adding support for the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) and a few quite technical enhancements and tidy ups. However as time is very limited for me at the moment due to business work, I am not sure how much I can work on RemotePrinterFS without the help of others. However as RemotePrinterFS is placed under the open source GNU GPL, everyone can join and make it an even better piece of software.
One of my friends knowing my predicament, gave me a NetGear PS105 print server, which allows the LAN to connect to a printer via the parallel 25-way port on the print server, together with the necessary software to enable remote Windows or Linux PCs to send work via the LAN to a common printer. But of course they had not included any software for the RISC OS stable. After some thought and perusal of the CDs of Archive, that I'd just bought to make life easier than climbing up to the den where many years' worth of these magazines are stored, I found an article on 'remote printing' by Andrew Flegg of Jaffasoft. After talking to him, he suggested I should try Stefan Bellon's website, from which I downloaded some most useful software and documentation, which I recommend be read by anyone attempting network-based printing on RISC OS.

It would appear that Stefan has picked up from where Elliott Hughes left off with JetDirectFS, having realised that many people are in need of the LPD/LPR protocol to connect to a printer over a network. He lists known printers and versions of RISC OS that are known to work and asks for feedback from anyone using his project to add to the knowledge base. He also mentions known bugs, for example the typical 'Shared C Library out of date' message which I became briefly unstuck on with as my copy of the SCL module was way out of date and some applications seemed to object to the updated version. I overcame this problem by adding an Ensure SharedCLib 5.53 line in the Printers's application !Run file on the RISC OS 3.1 Archimedes with the latest module placed in the Modules folder in the Printers application. Perhaps this is not the neatest solution bit it works without a major inquest, and more modern users should have no problems at all.

I tried to install as explained in Stefan's notes, which seems to be written for OS 4 and above, with Printers 1.64 and above. As I'm using OS 3.1 on the Archimedes and 3.5 on the RISC PC, with Printers version 1.28, I had to modify the position of the module RPFS to avoid system crashes. I ended up with the module RPFS within the existing modules in the Printers folder, together with an Ensure RemotePrinterFS 1.03 line in the Printers application's !Run file. This worked OK. As above, modern users should be fine with the documentation that comes with Stefan's software.

Setting it up
Stefan's RemotePrinterFS supports two popular protocols that printers understand - JetDirect and LPD/LPRng. It works by using the 'print to file' option in the Printers application; documents and other work sent to the printer by applications are redirected to RemotePrinterFS, which in turns sends the data over the network to the printer. The printer can be connected directly to the network, if it has a suitable ethernet port, or as in my case, to a print server that connects to the printer.

RemotePrinterFS is confirmed by Stefan to work on RISC OS 4 to 5, with Printers 1.64 to 1.91a. It supports several HP LaserJet models and various print servers, as well as other set ups - check with the Readme included with the software.

To configure the software, first run the Printers application, and drag the appropriate printer specification file from the folder containing all the various definition files to the printer control window that usually opens at the bottom of the screen. In my case it was the IBM XL24E file as my Canon LBP4 can emulate that printer for the parallel port connection. With the printer switched on, I remembered to turn on this emulation mode from the options in its display - it can keep this setting when switched off and on again.

Obviously I would have preferred to use the Canon CAPSL mode of high definition printing as it has 300 x 300 DPI resolution instead of only 180 x 180 DPI in XL24E mode, but I cannot find anyone who has written a RISC OS definition file for that mode - if anyone knows of one, please let me know.

Click on the chosen printer in the Printers application's selection grid, and then open a menu to open the 'Connection' window. In this, it will probably have 'Parallel' enabled as this is normally the default connection. You now simply change that setting to 'File' and delete any words such as 'Null', and replace with the required commands obtained by looking at Stefan's documentation. In my case it was:

RemotePrinterFS#proto=LPD:address=192.168.0.9;queue=auto;sendfirst=datafile:

Some of this may seem strange at first, but after reading Stefan's document again the light dawned. But you may need to experiment as I did with the last part of the statement. Obviously the IP address is that of your printer server, in my case the NetGear box on the LAN. Carefully note which are semicolons and that the last one is a colon.

I experimented with the configuration settings for the XL24E; I found that 180x180 in mono-halftone with near letter quality gave reasonable results. The 360x180 option won't work for me - the printing just stalls. As I mentioned earlier, I have old machines still giving good service but lacking the later Boot sequence which contains the networking and TCPIP settings. I overcame this problem by using the ANT Internet suite which has been on my Acorn machines from since I can remember. It's used for email in preference to a Windows PC any day as I can switch it on, look for mail and turn it off in about 30 seconds, while a PC is still thinking about booting.

One tip: make use of the 'ping' to check your network connections - it's usually a good way to sort out connection problems, and it works from Acorns and PCs - you'll find it from the command prompt.

So when I start a machine, I activate the ANT InetSuite, followed by the Printers application which brings up my configured network-based printer on the icon bar ready for any work or emails to be printed - it's as simple as that. No swapping leads or wondering what's wrong. After over 50 years in computing I'm still learning a few new tricks, so there is hope for you all yet.

Screenshots

The printer control window into which you can drag printer definition files



Configuring the printer to 'print to file', for RemotePrinterFS



The network printer configured and ready to go


Links

Stefan's printing software - and other work by him

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