Yikes! A Positive Encounter with Dell Tech Support

I bought a Dell All-in-one (AIO) 968 printer a little over a month ago, to replace the aging Brother fax/printer I purchased almost 10 years ago for my business. Some of the vendors for whom I work require me to fax contracts back to them to get paid, so I’m quite naturally eager to retain fax capability. Alas, however, Vista sent me a “Print Filter Pipeline Host” error every time I tried to use this device, and despite uninstalling and reinstalling the driver, I was not able to make it go away. Each time I re-tried my print job, however, the output would be produced, despite this initial error. Now that I know what the cause was, I’m pretty impressed that anything worked at all.

I hope I’m not dating myself by confessing that this AIO 968 is my first USB-attached print device. My “other printer” is even older than the Brother unit I just replaced: it’s a 1993 vintage HP LaserJet 4M that still works like a charm, and uses a parallel printer cable to attach to a host PC. Why am I telling you this? Because it helps to explain the source of the error–namely, my ignorance–that caused the problem in the first place.

It seems that when you open the Printer properties in Vista after adding a printer, it defaults to LPT1 as the printer port for any such device, as it has done since time immemorial with Windows. I incorrectly assumed that Plug’n’Play would recognize that the attachment is USB and override this default, but my assumption was wrong. You actually have to go into the Ports tab on the Printer Properties and manually select USB001 (or whatever designation shows up in your Ports list) as a “Virtual printer port for USB.” Never having set up a USB printer before, I was blissfully unaware of this small contortion, and thus cheerfully neglected to complete this manuever as well.

 Dell AIO 968 printer port setup

It’s essential to select the USB port to which the printer is attached so as to set up a virtual printer port for the device!

When I called into Dell, I explained the error message to my technician, a very nice guy named Deepak from Chennai, India (which some readers may recognize as “The City formerly known as Madras”). After figuring out that indeed the asset tag number for my printer was part of my account–by far, the most time consuming part of our transaction–he asked my permission to install a remote control ActiveX widget on my desktop so that he could take over my PC across the Internet and do some sleuthing on his own.

This whole process took about 30 seconds to complete, after which he found my problem as soon as he saw the device identifier that I had set up for my default printer in Vista. It was named “Dell AIO 968 Printer XPS ” when in fact I wanted the “Dell AIO 968 Printer” instead. It seems that XPS is the Microsoft XML Paper Specification that Microsoft has created as a platform independent document exchange format, and isn’t really the device to which I wanted to print anyway. Nevertheless, the configuration of this virtual device inside the Dell drivers was such that even though I couldn’t access the printer directly through this device name, it would still relay my print jobs to the physical printer anyway.

We even rebooted my computer and the Dell remote control widget, GoToAssist, started back up after I established a logged-in session, so that Deepak could confirm the configuration persisted past the next Vista reboot (it did). I was completely surprised and pleased to find this technology so user-friendly and fast (it consumed only 1 MB of disk space, and consumed only 4 MB of RAM, as reported in the Processes tab in Task Manager) and that it enabled the technician to complete steps in seconds that would have taken minutes to relay to me for a different type of “remote control.”

Not only am I glad to have my problems fixed, and to have learned about how to set up and configure a USB-attached printer properly, I’m also tickled to see how effective use of remote access technology can make tech support a more positive (and less time consuming) experience. Now, if only we could do something similar to reduce telephone wait times to talk to a technician in the first place!


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