Mac IT Guy: printer problems and DFS

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Two more questions this week: one about finding missing printer drivers, the other about accessing Microsoft DFS shares from a Mac.

Where's the driver?

We have several Macs of mixed vintages (most of them running Mac OS X 10.6.4). They share an old HP LaserJet 4000TN over a wired Ethernet connection; we gave that printer a fixed IP address and set up IP printing on the Macs using the JetDirect option. It all works pretty well except for one thing: Our newest Mac, a brand-new 13-inch MacBook Pro, often refuses to print. It just stalls, saying it can’t connect to the printer. Turning the printer off and on clears the hang and it immediately prints. Interestingly, when I set up the printer on the MacBook Pro, giving it the printer’s IP address, the laptop apparently sees the printer on the network but can’t tell what kind it is. I have to manually select the driver software; the other Macs automatically detected the printer model. What the heck is going on?

Oh printing, so simple in concept, and yet, so bizarrely annoying and fragile in practice. If I had to guess, I’d say that printing problems make up at least one-third of my help-desk calls.

Given that you’re running Mac OS X 10.6, what you may be running into is Apple’s change in philosophy about printer drivers. Rather than installing every available printer driver, Apple now installs only the ones it considers major; the rest you have to download on your own. So the first thing I would do is go to Apple’s downloads site and search for HP. The first or second link in the list of search results should lead you to the full HP printer driver package. Try installing that, and see if your printing problems go away.

DFS from a Mac

Our company is mostly Windows-based, with an Exchange Server, and we’re currently migrating from Novell Netware to Windows Server. Prior to that migration, those of us who use Macs were able to mount network shares via the Finder, using an smb:// URL. But now that the servers are using Microsoft’s Distributed File System (DFS), we can’t do that anymore. (We get a “Connection refused” message instead). Any suggestions?

DFS is indeed pretty cool: It allows multiple file servers—even if they’re in different physical locations—to appear to users as a single share. DFS also allows system administrators to have servers replicate their data on each other, which helps with reliability: if one DFS server goes down, users who were using files on it just have to reopen them (which actually opens one of those replicated copies) and get back to work.

The bad news is that, while DFS is really cool, it’s also unusable on Mac OS X without a third-party product. The good news is that such third-party products do indeed exist.

If you want to do implement Mac access to DFS at the server level, your best option is ExtremeZ-IP from GroupLogic. ExtremeZ-IP is an Apple File Protocol (AFP) server for Windows that not only gives your Macs full DFS access, but does so via AFP, thus avoiding some of the limitations of the Mac OS X SMB client.

If you'd rather manage DFS access on the client instead of on the server, go to Thursby Software and look at either DAVE or ADmit Mac. Both packages support Windows file sharing and DFS for the Mac. The major difference is that ADmit Mac is targeted at Macs in an Active Directory environment, and has a lot of other features that can help you with Macs and Active Directory, whereas DAVE is more for standalone Macs that aren’t really trying to be a part of Active Directory.

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