Nagios and XP Printing Troubles

Well, since I posted my troubles with Linux installation last month, a lot has happened in my life. I’ve accepted a position with the LDS church to work on open source software projects. Seemed to be a nice fit and, while I loved working at Novell for 16 years, it was time for a change.

The project I’m currently working on is called DNX, which is an acronym for Distributed Nagios eXecutor. DNX is a Nagios plugin that evenly distributes the network checks traditionally done by a single Nagios monitoring system among a group of worker nodes. DNX has the potential to add incredible scalabilty to Nagios.

In the process of moving, I’m now back on a Windows machine – the Church ICS department standard is Windows XP Pro. It’s a sad, but true fact that if your company has a number of OTS software products that are used in its daily processes, then you will have trouble running Linux. I love Linux, and we code to it, and use it on our servers at work – Nagios itself is a Linux/Unix network monitoring tool – as far as I know, it’s never even been ported to Windows (although that would be an interesting project, but I digress… I’ll have more to say about Nagios later, I’m sure).

The short story is that I now have to run Windows on my laptop. With the setup they gave me, I can do most of my work from home. Using the Cisco VPN, I’m able to access all of the resources I need behind the firewall at work. I’ve used VPN’s before, but frankly, I never really needed it like I do now. Most of the services I needed at Novell were actually outside the firewall anyway. I mostly used it to access my linux box on my desk at work from home.

The only real problem I’ve had so far is printing from my new laptop to my home machine’s networked printer. It’s an HP Laserjet 1200 which is shared by my home XP Pro machine. I’ve never had trouble getting to it from any of my other home machines, nor from my wife’s Dell Inspiron laptop. But I just could not connect to the printer from my Dell D830 from work.

One significant difference between the two laptops is that my work machine (not a little ironically) is running the Novell client – something I hadn’t done at Novell for over 7 years!

I spent a couple of hours this morning googling for the error message that Windows was giving me when I attempted to add the printer:

“Operation could not be completed. Either the printer name was typed incorrectly, or the specified printer has lost its connection to the server. For more information, click Help.”

I finally found a single entry on one of the Microsoft tech forums where someone was having a similar problem, and he was persistent enough to figure out a work-around for this issue. Interestingly, the issue is not in Microsoft’s own knowledge base.

The work-around was to treat the printer as a local device, but specify its port as a UNC path. It appears that the Windows network printing subsystem has problems with networked printers that that the local printer subsystem does not have. Here’s what you do:

  1. click the Add Printer wizard icon in the Printers and Faxes pane of explorer.
  2. add a *local* printer (even if it’s not on the local machine)
  3. on the next screen choose “Create a new port” and leave the default “Local Port” in the drop down list.
  4. when you click Next, you’ll get a dialog asking for a port name – type in the UNC path for the printer (eg., \\home-machine\hplj1200)

This actually works. Apparently one valid type of port in the local printing subsystem is a UNC path to a remote printer! You gotta love those Microsoft engineers – they thought of everything when it comes to integration. Too bad they didn’t work together a bit more on the actual implementation of their versions of these subsystems.

To be clear, I can print to my home printer now from my laptop when I’m working at home. It’s amazing how you miss something that you take for granted when it works.