Network Discovery Doesn’t Always Confer Network Access

In the last week, I’ve reinstalled Vista on my primary production PC. Over time, this has led me back over ground that I’ve crossed many times before. It’s also helped me to recognize some differences between Vista and XP behavior, in all kinds of interesting ways. Take printing, for example: I’ve got an old but incredibly reliable HP LaserJet 4M hooked up to my wife’s Windows XP PC, which is available to machines on our household LAN.

On Windows XP, all I have to do to access that printer is click onĀ  Printers and Faxes in the Start menu (which leads to a control panel item of the same name), click on Add a printer, access the print share on my wife’s PC, and I’m ready to start printing. Using the Printers item in the Vista control panel appears to work the same, but instead of obtaining print output after going the aforementioned exercise I obtained only print error messages in the print queue window for that printer. My PC could see that printer just fine, and sent print jobs at that printer, but it apparently couldn’t insert them into the print queue on her machine across the network.

Windows Firewall has to enable file and print sharing

To access a networked printer, your firewall must allow File and Printer Sharing (this example shows the default Windows Firewall Exceptions tab).

Time for troubleshooting. I started off by checking to make sure I had File and print sharing enabled in my firewall (this checked out OK). Next, I checked to make sure I could access the Properties window for the HP LaserJet on my Wife’s PC. Instead of accessing properties directly, Vista prompted me to provide an account and a password on that PC, after which I was able to access the properties information. And now having establishing a “legit” connection to that machine, I am now able to print to it as well.

Properties window for LaserJet 4M

On Vista, the Properties window for the networked LaserJet 4M printer won’t open until I provide an account and a password for the machine to which that printer is attached.

On XP, accessing a shared printer doesn’t require this step. On Vista, it apparently does, even though the security tab in the properties window clearly shows that Everyone is allowed “Print” permission. Fortunately, establishing credentials for a remote printer connection on a LAN is simple enough to do, but figuring this out requires some investigation–and some knowledge of how Windows does things over a network–to make network printing work.

LaserJet 4M Network Permissions

Even though Everyone gets Print permission for this printer, it’s still necessary to establish a credentialed connection to the Windows XP machine to which this printer is attached, before Vista lets me print anything.

With this initial login exercise behind me, I’m now able to print across the network to the other machine.And when I try logging out, then logging back in to see if the connection will persist over time, network access to the HP LaserJet keeps working. It looks like Vista is smart enough to cache those credentials so that once a working connection to the printer has been established, it keeps working after that. If you encounter problems printing across the network after a Vista install, this approach should also work for you. Give it a try!


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