The Practical Mac

Printer Sharing for Mac OS X

A 'Best of the Practical Mac' Column

- 2002.05.21 - Tip Jar

If you have a home network and are still lamenting the loss of Printer Sharing after your upgrade to OS X, it's time to cheer up. The Linksys WPS11 Instant Wireless Print Server ( currently $114 at Amazon.com) offers an easy way to share that printer again, although you will have to part with some cash to make it so.

Ever since our household upgraded to OS X, printing to our shared printer at my wife's PowerBook G4 has become a challenge. I have to either email her the file to be printed or go down there, retrieve the file from my iMac via the network, and then print it. This was getting to be a pain, so when I saw this wireless print server for $119 at the Atlanta MicroCenter, I decided to give it a try.

The WPS11 is interoperable with IEEE 802.11b (DSSS) 2.4 GHz networks. In the Macintosh world, this is better Linksys WPS11known as AirPort. It also has a 10/100 ethernet port for connection to wired networks. In fact, the WPS11 can connect to both wired and wireless networks simultaneously.

Setting up the WPS11 is relatively straightforward, though the initial setup can only be done via the ethernet connection. Configuration is accomplished through your Web browser. The print server comes with a default IP address of 192.168.x.x, so you may have to adjust the network settings on your Mac accordingly in order to establish the initial communication.

A CD with a Windows installation program is also included. I loaded the installation program on my Mac through Virtual PC and gave it a try. However, I found the Web interface to be much cleaner and simpler. This is a good thing, because if you have only Macs, the Web interface is your only option for configuration.

Enter the print server's IP address in your browser to bring up the configuration menu. You may need to change the WPS11's IP address to match your network. The WPS11 is also able to get its TCP/IP information from a DHCP server. The wireless settings may also need adjustment to work with your existing AirPort setup. In testing, I only had to enter the name of our AirPort network and change the channel setting to make everything communicate. The unit supports both 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption.

In Mac OS X, the printer appears in Print Center. In OS 9, it is available through the Chooser.

The WPS11 has a nifty Internet Printing feature. Set it to monitor a particular email account, and it will automatically retrieve and print any email that arrives there, as long as the message is in plain text format. I have not found a practical use for this feature yet, but it is cool nonetheless.

...their Web site says they do not support their products "in a Macintosh environment."

Linksys claims that the WPS11 works with virtually all major operating systems, and at least as far as Mac OS X and OS 9 are concerned, this proved to be true. The company offers free 24/7 technical support, although their Web site says they do not support their products "in a Macintosh environment." This is a shame, because the installation CD also contains some Mac-only Postscript utilities, so there is apparently some Macintosh knowledge in the company.

It appears the problem is not that they can't support Macs, it is that they don't want to. I wrote the company and encouraged them to do more to support Macs. If you want to add you voice to mine, send an email to mailroom@linksys.com.

The major drawback of the WPS11 (other than the vendor's attitude toward Macintosh) is the fact that it only supports parallel printers. In our test, I used an HP LaserJet 1200, which has both parallel and USB connections. If you have a printer with a parallel interface, you're in luck. If your printer is USB only, the WPS11 won't be much help. I am hopeful that future models of the WPS11 will add support for USB printers, though the Linksys Web site is silent on this issue. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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