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New Use for Old Hardware: A Network Copier

By Edgar Howell

A couple of months ago, the combination fax/printer/scanner/copier stopped using black ink. Right after I bought a new color cartridge, rats!

This happened about the time the network color laser printer arrived, so printing was not a problem. And faxing is not particularly common, certainly not the receipt of something unannounced.

Actually, now that I think about it, it isn't clear whether a fax is even relevant any more. For me, attachments to e-mail are vastly more common than anything by fax. I can't even remember when I last sent or received one.

But it is amazing how dependent one can become on the ability to copy all kinds of stuff. And the last thing anyone wants to do is to rush into buying something. What to do?

Well, as it turned out, all the components of a copier were available, although perhaps not obvious at first. There was no reason to assume that the combo device suddenly couldn't scan any more. And the new laser printer works beautifully. We also have: a network, Samba, and OpenOffice.org. All we need to do is set things up.

Basically the plan is to configure Samba on a PC under GNU/Linux such that another PC with some flavor of Windows can access a share on it. Then, the software that came with the combo device can be used on the Windows machine to scan a document, and save it on a Samba share, in a directory on the Linux machine. And from there OpenOffice.org can access the result of scanning, and print it over the network to the network printer.

Setting up Samba involved nothing more than adjusting a couple of entries in the configuration file, /etc/samba/smb.conf, and enabling the user — all of this and the following as root, of course.

This is the configuration file. Basically it is the file as included with SUSE's 9.2 distribution. I added a couple of entries, and turned into comments others that weren't relevant in the current context. Worth noting are

"encrypt passwords = No" for the Windows 95 client


"hosts allow = 192.168.0."

to allow access over the network — the space before "127." is relevant.

Under Linux, I then issued the following commands:

On the Windows machine, it was necessary to configure the network to access the Samba share, something I had done a couple of years earlier. (This partition on that machine gets almost no use and no modifications.) For details on that see section 6 of my article, Quick-Start Networking, in Linux Gazette 87, February 2003.

Having done the above, copying is slightly more complicated than in the past. The combo device and the network printer both must be on, and the two participating PCs must have been booted appropriately. I also have to start Samba, since that doesn't happen on boot, although it would be quite easy to set that up.

The combo device always had been able to copy brief texts, ca. 2~3 pages, directly. Any more than that required the software and memory of a Windows machine. So now, copying is initiated as in the past, but not stand-alone, but rather through the Windows PC. And then, instead of printing or filing locally, the file is written out to the Samba share — a folder under Network rather than Desktop. At this point OpenOffice.org on the Linux PC can read the file, and send it off to the network printer.

Extremely satisfied with the results, I originally had no intention of doing anything more, particularly given that Windows is such a pain to navigate, and it is so difficult to keep keep track of and document what one has done. But this was easy enough, as has been my experience with Samba that I decided to create a printer share in order to print directly from the Windows machine without having to use OpenOffice.org on the Linux machine.

In well under 30 minutes, the scanner software under Windows was printing directly to the network printer — well, through Samba on the Linux machine, but without the steps required with OpenOffice.org. Essentially, this is exactly the same situation as in the past, when copying multi-page documents too large for the modest amount of memory in the combo device.

All that was required was to un-comment the printer share in smb.conf, and install a network printer under Windows, the same procedure as described in the article referenced above. It is interesting to note that the CD-ROM that came with the network printer included a driver for Windows 95, although I did have to hunt around a bit. So now we have Samba on SUSE's next-to-latest distribution (9.2) providing a network printer to a version of Windows that must be something like 10 years old.

'95 boots about as fast as the network printer can warm up. Perfectly adequate for a couple of quick copies, when scan quality and color are not high priority. But an unanticipated consequence of all this is that the print quality of copying has improved dramatically! The scanner part of the combo device still works fine, and the laser printer is just cleaner than the ink-jet ever was.

Let there be no misunderstanding: I'm not suggesting this as an ideal solution for the need for a copier. But a couple of hours of effort with the tools that Linux provides and some obsolete hardware and software (a Pentium 166 with '95) — and no additional expense — provided a perfectly viable means to copy documents occasionally. It also bought me the time needed to research the best way to replace the copier function with a scanner that works well under Linux.


[BIO] Edgar is a consultant in the Cologne/Bonn area in Germany. His day job involves helping a customer with payroll, maintaining ancient IBM Assembler programs, some occasional COBOL, and otherwise using QMF, PL/1 and DB/2 under MVS.

(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be rejected.)

Copyright © 2005, Edgar Howell. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 118 of Linux Gazette, September 2005

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