The Practical Mac

Wireless Printing Revisited

- 2002.08.27 - Tip Jar

My recent article on wireless printer sharing with the Linksys WPS11 continues to generate email. In an effort to address some of the most frequently asked questions, I am writing "Printer Sharing for Mac OS X: Part 2."

The content of these two articles applies primarily to the Linksys WPS11 Instant Wireless Print Server (currently $119.99 at Amazon.com). Although the print server supports Apple environments, Linksys technical support does not. However, several readers report that Linksys tech support, while clearly not Mac experts, have been willing to help as much as they could.


Here, in the order they are likely to be encountered, are pointers on the most frequently reported issues.

1. The WPS11 is fully configureable via your browser. First, however, you must determine the IP address of the print server and possible adjust your Mac's IP address in order to connect to the WPS11. Several readers have told me that a call to Linksys technical support has answered this question for them. There is another way to determine the IP address without calling Linksys. Unfortunately, I don't have all the pieces at this time, but there are programs that will scan your network and report the IP address (among other things) of all connected devices. I have found one for the Mac, but it costs almost $500. I am sure there must be shareware programs out there that will do the same thing. If anyone is aware of any, please let me know, and I will pass along the information in a future article.

2. If you have an existing network, you merely plug the Linksys in to your network hub or switch to begin the configuration process. The WPS11 must be configured through a wired connection before it can be used as a wireless server. If you do not have a network in place, you will need to connect the Linksys directly to your Mac's ethernet port. In order to do this, you need an ethernet crossover cable (as opposed to a standard network cable). Any computer shop should stock this or be able to make one. Generally, it should not cost any more than a standard network cable of the same length.

3. The next trick is to make your Mac and your WPS11 talk to each other. In order to do that, they must be on the same IP subnet. The intricacies of IP configuration are well beyond the scope of this article, but we can look at some basic principles.

This example assumes that the Mac's subnet mask (in IP settings) is 255.255.255.0. If it is anything other than this, someone has done advanced configuration of the Mac, and you will hopefully have access to that person to help you though this setup.

If are not part of an existing network and the WPS11 will be the only other piece of equipment on the network other than your Mac, you can probably safely change the Mac's subnet mask to 255.255.255.0.

Figure 1 shows the TCP/IP tab of a browser setup of the WPS11. The IP information shown is from my own network, so this is not the default of the WPS11. In this illustration, the address of the Linksys is 10.0.1.40. For purposes of our discussion, the remainder of the information on this tab, with the exception of the subnet mask, is irrelevant.

figure 1
Figure 1

In order to allow your Mac and your WPS11 to communicate, they must both be on the same subnet. This essentially means that, with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0, the first three numbers of the IP address of each must be the same. In this example, if I set the Mac's IP address to 10.0.1.41, they would communicate. In fact, if there is nothing else on the network, I could set the Mac's IP address to 10.0.1.(any number from 1 to 254, except 40-the number already assigned to the WPS11).

In addition to being on the same subnet, any IP addresses you use must not be in use by anything else on your network.

In practice, you would find out what the WPS11's IP address is (most likely from Linksys), then set your Mac's IP address so that the first three numbers are the same as the IP address on the Linksys. For simplicity, set the last number to either one above or below that of the Linksys.

4. This point assumes that you are setting up the WPS11 to operate wirelessly with an existing AirPort network.

The bottom section of Figure 2 shows the information you need to get about your AirPort network. In particular, you will need the AirPort network name and the channel. You can get this information by going to AirPort Admin Utility and selecting your base station from the pane that appears (see Figure 3).


Figure 2

Figure 3

Next, go into the "Wireless" tab on the Linksys web-based setup and enter the AirPort network name at the "SSID" box and make sure the channel matches that of your AirPort base station. Select "Infrastructure" from the dropdown menu. Be sure to save your settings to the device before exiting.

For setup purposes, I recommend turning data encryption off. This is an advanced function that you can experiment with later, after your network is set up and functioning properly.


Figure 4

5. Go to the "Advanced" tab of the WPS11 setup as shown in Figure 5. This is where AppleTalk settings are entered. Unless you have an existing AppleTalk network, complete with zones, leave the default "*" as the zone. Setting the printer object type as "LaserWriter" and the communication protocol to "Binary" should work in most settings.


Figure 5

6. In most cases, the printer driver must be installed on your Mac prior to setting up the printer. In many cases, OS X will already have the printer driver. If not, use the one provided by your printer manufacturer. Make sure it is an OS X native driver; OS 9 drivers will not work. You may need to go to your printer manufacturer's website to download the latest driver.

7. AppleTalk must be installed on all Macs that are going to use the shared printer. The printer will show up in Print Center as an AppleTalk printer, not "LPR using IP."

8. Not all printers will work a print server (any print server, not just the WPS11). Some require direct communication with the computer on a level that is not possible using a network print server.

Most of these printers only function under the Windows family of operating systems, but there are some that will work with Macs. Generally, a laser printer is more likely than an inkjet to work with an external print server. This is a very general rule. There are some laser printers that won't work with a print server and likewise there are numerous inkjets that will.

If you are in doubt, contact the manufacturer of your printer and ask them if the particular printer will work with an external print server. The most common and well-known print server is the Hewlett Packard JetDirect. Occasionally, you will encounter a technical support representative who does not know what an external print server is. If you tell them is like a "HP JetDirect," most of them will realize what you are talking about.


These pointers are a summary of many email exchanges I have had with readers. The vast majority of them have eventually gotten their WPS11 to function flawlessly. I have heard from very few who were not able to make it work or who gave up. I know in at least one case the person had a printer that would not work with an external print server.

Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" has once again given us the USB printer sharing that many of us relied on in OS 9. For some users, particularly those who need to use a shared printer only occasionally and only for light printing, this may be all that is needed to do simple printer sharing. For heavier users or those who don't want to have to keep a Mac powered up and connected to the printer in order to share it, the dedicated print server remains the better option. 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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