Let me give you a simplified overview of printer terms, then offer a tip that might save a few seconds someday. (This is basic stuff. If you can tell where I’m leaving things out, then this isn’t for you.)


A local printer is connected to your computer with a USB cable.

  • Installation: almost always, the software for a local USB printer is installed before the USB cable is attached to the computer – insert the CD or download and run the installation software for the printer before hooking it up.


This term has become ambiguous.

When you’re looking at printers in the store, the term network printer means the printer is connected to the network with a CAT5 network cable; it does not use a USB cable and it is not connected directly to any computer. 

  • Installation: almost always, connect the printer with a CAT5 cable to a router or switch and turn it on, then insert the printer CD in each computer. The installation software finds the printer on the network automatically.

When you’re working in Windows, the term network printer is also used to refer to a shared printer – the printer is connected to another computer on the network with a USB cable, and shared so other computers can use it.

  • Connecting to the shared printer from another computer: Windows XP and Vista both have wizards to add a network computer in the Printers folder, but there’s another way that is frequently faster and less quirky. You’ll need to know the name of the computer sharing the printer. (Click on Start, right-click on Computer, and click on Properties.)
      • At your computer, click on Start / Computer and type in two backslashes followed by the name of the computer sharing the printer, like this:


      • Hit Enter. If the other computer is set up correctly for sharing, you’ll see the shared printer, probably along with some shared folders.
      • Right-click on the printer and click Connect. You should be set up to print to the shared printer in just a few seconds. Often I find that works more reliably than using the wizards.
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