Giving users the print(er)

By Paul Murphy, author of The Unix Guide to Defenestration

In my dreams every device out there has both a high voltage enclosure keeping helpful users away from it and a network port so I can access it remotely. In real life, however, stuff like the "high speed" bar code printer runs off a parallel port and ends up in the data center with me because of the connectivity problem - while the ticket printers in the warehouse run off serial lines connected to the network via a PC print server that doesn't let me interogate the printers without physically going over there.

There's a little company with a great solution - Lantronix makes semi-inteligent print servers and, more importantly, a nifty little time machine that connects almost any kind of port to a network - not just serial and parallel, but stuff like the RS422 port on a ten year old Eagle concentrator the guys in upper timbukto insist they can't possibly do without.

To get your bosses to sign off on getting you a dozen or so you'll need to show them what the thing does. Of course you can call a reseller and go the commercial demo route, but on stuff like this I usually get away with just buying a used product and charging it as an expense.

Today, for example, there are several Lantronix single port print servers on offer at ebay in the $20 to $40 range. These are old, but they run current software so you can just download the most recent stuff from the Lantronix site, and then transplant that noisy old bar code printer from your neighbourhood to the user's office while maintaining "local" access to the thing's interface.

Your life gets quieter, someone else changes the ticket rolls, and best of all you are doing this entirely as a selfless service to the user - and not as a proof of concept demo at all.