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Mac IT Guy: sharing printers, storing e-mail

I’m getting ready to purchase a new iMac and MacBook Air. I already have a Windows PC from Dell and an HP LaserJet 3030 printer. The two Macs and that PC are all going to share that printer. Do I need to get a print server? I’ve heard that many of them work only with Windows PCs or only with Macs. Can you recommend one that will work with both?

Connecting multiple computers, with different operating systems, to a single shared printer isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. I don’t think you need a print server. What I would do is just connect the LaserJet to the Windows box, then configure Windows to share it. It’s far easier for Mac OS X to connect to printers shared by Windows than it is to do it the other way around.

First you need to connect the printer to the Windows machine and then install the HP software; Windows should then be able to see the printer. Once that’s done, you’ll need to share the printer so the Macs can use it. Microsoft has a good step-by-step guide to doing that. You don’t need to do anything more than steps 1-3, then click OK in the dialog.

Now, on each Mac, open System Preferences -> Print & Fax, click the plus sign to add a printer, and select Windows in the resulting dialog. Assuming the machines can all see each other over your network, the LaserJet should appear in the list of available printers.

One caveat about this set-up: The Dell will need to be running in order to print from your Macs.

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I read your article about choosing an e-mail service provider and have a similar question: I’m looking for an e-mail service, but I have two requirements. First, I want to store my e-mail messages on my computer, not on the provider’s servers. Two, I’d like those messages to be stored in a way—perhaps as plain text files—that will let me read them in a variety of apps. Do you know of an e-mail provider that can do both?

The first part of your question is easy: find an e-mail provider who supports POP. Then, when you set up the account in your e-mail client, select POP instead of IMAP. Your mail will then be stored on your own hard drive (and be at the mercy of your own backup strategies).

As for storing e-mail messages as plain text, you can use Apple Mail for that. It stores each message as its own text file in your user directory’s Library/Mail folder. Be aware that, if you use a program that doesn’t understand e-mail files to read them, you’ll see a raw text dump of each message—headers, source and all.

However, keep in mind that, with this setup, you won’t really be able to read your mail on the Web or from multiple devices; you’ll have just one machine that can easily access those files. Twenty years ago, that was the way most e-mail worked. Nowadays, many users find it more convenient to use IMAP, which stores messages on your provider’s servers and, so, makes them accessible from almost anywhere. But to each his own.

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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