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Sharing a Printer Between Windows Machines

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Sharing files

It’s no longer as rare as it used to be to have more than one computer in a home. That means that home users are going to need to run networks—which is no mean feat for Windows machines. Getting two newly-installed[1] Windows machines to see each other is relatively easy.

  1. Just right-click a folder, select “Sharing” and tell it the folder is available.
  2. Users on other computers will need to log in with a valid account for that machine in order to access the folder. If you have the same user name/password on both machines, Windows even logs in automatically[2].

Enabling “Sharing”

If “Sharing” is not available on the popup-menu when you right-click, you have to install the “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” Service first.

  1. Go to “Control Panel” => “Network Connections” and select the adaptor for which you’d like to enable sharing. Most modern laptops have two adaptors, a “Wireless Network Connection” and a “Local Area Connection”.
  2. Right-click the adaptor over which you’d like to share and select “Properties”.
  3. Click the “Install…” button.
  4. From the resulting dialog, click “Service” in the list at the top, then “Add…”.
  5. Select the “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” network service and click “Ok”.
  6. Let Windows do its thing—it’ll probably ask you to reboot—and you’ve got sharing enabled.

Sharing a Printer

One resource that you also want to share is a printer. Most home printers can be attached only to a machine, so only that computer has access to it.[3] Note that the service for sharing files also supports sharing printers. That means you can share a printer in the same way.

  1. Install the printer on one machine.
  2. Right-click the printer icon in “Control Panel” => “Printers and Faxes” and click “Sharing”.
  3. Click “Ok” to share the printer.

The machine to which the printer is attached is now advertising that it has a printer. How can the other machine use this printer?

  1. Go to “Control Panel” => “Printers and Faxes” on the other machine (the one without the printer).
  2. Right-click in the empty space and select “Add Printer”.
  3. Select “A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer” and click “Next”.
  4. Click “Next” to browse for a printer[4].
  5. Select the printer and click “Next” to install it (you may have to click “Ok” to accept the driver installation and you will have to log in with a valid account for the other machine to use it—see above for more information).

Logging in to the Printer

Now you can print to the shared printer from any of the applications on the second machine. Remember, during the printer installation, when you had to give a user name and password to log in to the printer? Windows will forget this name and password the next time you restart the machine sharing the printer. That is, if you restart the machine without the printer and then open a document and try to print it, Windows will refuse. It doesn’t ask for the password or anything—just gives you one of several reasons why it can’t access the printer.

That means you need to log in to the printer somehow every time you start the computer. This is best done by double-clicking the shared printer to force Windows to ask for a password.

  1. On the machine with the shared printer, go to “Control Panel” => “Printers and Faxes”.
  2. Drag the printer to the desktop, holding down “Control” and “Shift” on the keyboard. Let go over the desktop and it will create a shortcut to the printer.
  3. When you double-click the printer there, it will ask to log in if you haven’t already. You only need to do this once per Windows reboot, but you can’t print until you do.

[1] Machines that are not newly-installed are likely to suffer from “Windows entropy”, an affliction that causes them to fail in completely mysterious ways at what would seem common tasks.
[2] Sometimes.
[3] If your home network has a router to provide internet access, you may be able to plug the printer directly into the router to allow access from all machines. The printer must support this with its own network card—generally a feature only on higher-end laser printers.
[4] The Windows network browser is notoriously slow and unreliable (it also tends to freeze the whole rest of the system while it searches). If you know the name of the printer (which you should … it’s on the other machine), just type it in and click “Next” to use that.