Let me start by telling my brother Mike, my friend Mike, and another friend Aliza, NO I WAS NOT TALKING ABOUT MY SEX LIFE! Okay, with that out of the way, let me tell you about my latest computer fun tonight.
For my home setup, we have three computers and three printers. The computers are (a) desktop for me, (b) desktop for Andrea, and (c) laptop mainly for me in the basement for TV. They are networked with wired connections to our modem/router.
Two of the printers are straightforward –a DYMO label printer about 10 years old and an HP Photosmart from about 7 years ago (just before the wedding, although it sat in a box for a year). Neither get heavy use, but they were relatively cheap and are for niche uses.
The real printer is an HP LaserJet 4L. I bought it in 1995 when I left DFAIT the first time and thought I was going to be a full-time consultant. It cost me almost $600 (on sale from $800), and it was a step above what I probably could afford at the time. But if I was going to be doing professional consulting, I needed a decent laser printer, and I couldn’t afford the real workhorses they had in government. This machine has been a beast. It’s not the fastest, 5 or 6 ppm, but I’ve had it repaired twice at a cost of about $100 once and $125 another, yet 20 years later, the thing just keeps chugging along.
My consulting career was somewhat short-lived, or at least it changed direction and form about then and I felt that it had been a bit of a wasted expense, but the printer has handled just about everything I have thrown at it over the last 20 years. Okay, I confess, it cannot handle detailed i.e. large photos, but most other things are fine. My masters work, now Andrea’s masters work. Plans for the wedding, updates for doctors, everything.
But here’s the kicker. It’s 20 years old. It connects not through a USB port like the other two printers, but through a, wait for it, parallel printer port. Yep, they still make them. I had them put one in my latest computer a couple of years ago and the tech wasn’t even sure the motherboard and port would connect properly. But a few tweaks in my setup and it was fine (it’s basically a separate card, and should work with everything, but there were some potential compatibility issues with some other configs).
The fun comes when we do our home network. That printer is directly connected to my PC — it has to be. It needs a parallel port. The others are not wireless, although future ones would be, or at least run off the network hubs, but they at least are relatively full plug and play USB devices. Since it is directly connected to my machine, that means my machine has to be on all the time if we’re going to randomly print, but I run my machine that way anyway. The 4L printer though requires special manual drivers to be downloaded and installed, which I have done for Win95, 98, XP, 7, and 8.
Two months ago, I went ahead with the update for Windows 10. I wanted the latest and greatest version of MS Office 365, and so went ahead and bit the bullet. I also did the laptop, but left Andrea’s computer as Win 7. The update went fine. I only had one real issue, which you can guess — the legacy printer.
The printer driver for the HP LaserJet 4L was not auto-migrated successfully — it was there, but wouldn’t print. No biggie, did a quick search to find out what to do, ran a separate driver install, added it as if it was a “new” printer with latest driver, called it the HP 4L (copy), got it going, no real issues. The laptop and Andrea’s computers couldn’t print at first, and then realized two things. When I installed the new driver and called it “copy”, their setup no longer matched; equally, I hadn’t updated the homegroups so that we were actually able to see each other again. Simple fixes, more or less.
The two hours of frustration bit
Two days ago, my computer ran some sort of auto-update on me, which I know I specifically disabled, and it wouldn’t close out without rebooting and running the update. It looked like the regular run of the mill update, so I said sure, and then waited. And waited. And waited. And finally went away. It took as long as the full upgrade had taken two months ago. It was not a simple update, this was major.
Everything seemed fine, no worries. Andrea says to me today, “By the way, I can’t print for some reason”. I thought it was likely just a reboot issue, i.e. she hadn’t rebooted since my PC was updated, so didn’t have the right permissions, but should have been simple enough. Nope, she couldn’t print from MY computer either. Wait, what? She wasn’t in a giant rush, so she didn’t dump it to the colour printer which would have handled it okay for the small doc she had, but just after the cub went to bed tonight, I started working on the print problem.
By now, she had rebooted, tried a couple of things, no go. I thought, “Okay, well, it probably needs the same update again”, so I searched and the instructions were not as simple this time for some reason — whether I searched better last time, or I was being too specific this time, it didn’t seem quite as obvious. Four methods to choose from, none of them were working.
I tried blowing off the printer entirely, rebooting, reinstalling, tweaking, updating, all the configurations I could think of, but no joy in Mudville. All of the methods looked fine right up until I told the software to print a test page, and then it would give me an error and bail.
So I would then run the troubleshooter program. Some people think that this program is some sort of wizard, but it is exactly what it is called — a program. It can’t magically figure out the problem, it runs through a list of common issues and sees if they are happening. Printer not responding. Printer offline. No printer at the port. No port. Out of paper. Another doc stuck in the queue. A long list of big and small things that could be causing problems trying to print. Each time, the printer would say “Hey, I can’t print, but by the way, I checked everything I know to check, and it’s all good.” I felt like it was the classic joke about the computer-programmer-turned-sharpshooter missing a target, getting in trouble from his sergeant, putting his hand in front of the gun, pulling the trigger and blowing off some fingers, and saying, “it works on this end, the problem must be at the target end”. Everything works, except well, it doesn’t. Oops, sorry.
Two hours of pain in the patootie frustration.
Ten seconds of satisfaction
So I’m scouring tons of posts and forums online seeing if ANYONE has the same problem. Sure, lots did. Six months ago. But all those old techniques which worked before were NOT working anymore. It just wouldn’t print.
I saw an old solution for someone who was using a special cable, basically, one where they had a parallel-to-USB converter cable and instead of saying “LPT1” which they had been doing, or even USB 1, they now had an option for a “virtual USB port” and they made that small change, and people were In Like Flynn. I was happy for them, but I have a direct parallel port connected, no “virtual” option for me.
So I went on to the Microsoft forum to type a plea for help, and I wrote three paragraphs of what I had done and tried with no luck. I started into the fourth paragraph where I was talking about the virtual port when something deliciously devious occurred to me.
What if the problem WASN’T my printer, but my port? What if it wasn’t the printer driver but the PORT driver? Maybe because it was an old thing — parallel printer ports for LPT1: — the setup messed something up in the ports? Didn’t make a lot of sense, but worth checking out. I said, “Hmm” out loud to Andrea, and said, “One small thing I can check.”
- I opened the CONTROL PANEL;
- I did a quick search for “DEVICE MANAGER” (it’s not as easy to get to as it was under Windows 7 and before) and opened it; and,
- I went to PORTS and clicked on LPT1:.
There in the driver setup for LPT1:, I found this little tiny checkbox labelled “Enable Legacy Plug and Play” which sounded good.
Literally, I clicked the checkbox, and my last test print in the queue started to print.
Son of a fig newton. 2 hours of other options, plus 4 paragraphs to type a plea for help, I have a small but completely off the wall brain wave, and 10 seconds later it was fixed.
Which is why I’m blogging about it. Just in case anyone out there goes searching for it and has the same problem. It’s already on the MS forum, I finished the post and changed it from Question to Discussion, and left it there for posterity.
I was ready to give up on the printer and start looking into a new one, something I fully expect to do the next time it dies. But for now, the beast lives.