Mac IT Guy: the phantom printer

We currently have two Intel iMacs and two MacBook Pros connected by an Ethernet-and-wireless network. We’ve also had a G5 PowerMac (running OS X 10.4.11) that was connected to an HP 5MP printer using an Asante Ethernet-to-Appletalk bridge. When we upgraded one of the iMacs to 10.6, it could no longer connect to the printer via Appletalk, so we set up the HP 5MP as a share from the G5 and printed that way.

Then the G5 died and we took it off the network. However, the 10.6 iMac that was printing to the shared printer still thinks it and the G5 server are there, and it searches for them whenever we reset any printer options (such as duplex printing or save as PDF). We then have to wait a minute or more until the “The server G5 can not be found” message appears; we can then choose new printing options. However, the iMac doesn’t remember those changes and will repeat the process the next time we print. The MacBook Pros that were upgraded to OS X 10.6 have no problem. I have cleared iMac’s caches, re-installed the OS, reset PRAM, started in Safe Mode. Nothing has helped. Any suggestions?

For something that is conceptually simple, printing is the tech version of the Bog of Eternal Stench. I can only suggest a few things you might try.

First, make sure all of the Macs on your network have printer sharing turned off. Mac OS X loves to share printers, but that can wreak havoc on networks. My printer setup scripts have lines to explicitly make sure printer-sharing is turned off.

Second, on the iMac that is still seeing the printer, open the Printers preference pane in System Preferences. Is the printer listed there? If so,click on Options and Supplies: What kind of connection protocol (LPD or IPP, for example) is listed there? That can give you a clue as to where the problem might be.

Finally, check the printers.conf file in /etc/cups/. Does it have an entry for that printer? If it does, then try removing it by opening Terminal and entering the command lpadmin –x printername .

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I work in a state agency that has only two or three Macs; after years of begging, one of them is mine. The trade-off is that I have to provide my own technical support. My biggest challenge has been connecting to network folders. The path I use for personal folders is something like this: smb://SRV-NAS01/User Data/allan.jones. However, on a PC the path looks more like this: T:agency data/user data/allan.jones (where T is the mapped drive). The problem is that the network administrators move the target for the User Data folder between two different servers (SRV-NAS01 and SRV-NAS04). I don’t know which one is active until I try to move a file to one of them then switch to Windows 7 and can’t find it. Any suggestions?

The first thing to figure out is whether your network is using Microsoft’s Distributed File System (DFS). DFS is a way of making multiple file servers—such as your SRV-NAS01 and SRV-NAS04—look like a single file-share. Admins can add or remove servers, and users never need to know—it just works and it’s really awesome.

The problem is that out of the box, Mac OS X doesn’t support DFS, so you have to connect directly to the specific servers. However, because of the way DFS works, files can move between servers with little to no warning: One day, the file is on this server, the next day it’s on the other.

The easiest way to deal with DFS from a Mac is with ADmitMac or DAVE from Thursby Software. Since you’re talking about connecting just a few Macs, that would be the way to go. But again, you’ll have to check with your sysadmins. If it turns that DFS isn’t the issue, you’ll have to work with your sysadmins to find out what is.

John Welch is IT Director for The Zimmerman Agency, and a long-time Mac IT pundit.

Have a question about managing networked Macs, at work or at home? Write us at macitguy (at) macworld.com.

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