August 10, 2005

Keyspan USB Print Server

About a week ago, my doorbell rings, and before I can get to the door I can hear a large truck driving off, and on the doorstep is a small box. It really irks me when delivery drivers just drop stuff on the porch, but when I found out it was a new goodie to review, I quickly forgot all about that and tore into the packaging.

Behold, the Keyspan PS-4A USB Print Server! Not to be confused with the older US-4A model, which looks identical, the new PS-4A model is bi-directional (printers that can report back ink/paper status can now do so), and includes full USB 2.0 connectivity.

So, just what is a USB print server, exactly? Basically, this will turn your USB based printer into a networkable TCP/IP based printer, sharable to every computer on your network. I know, some of you are probably thinking, hey, I've got a Mac, I can share my printer already. And of course, I was thinking the same thing, until I decided to take this little box for a spin.

The first thing I thought that would be handy is that you wouldn't need to leave a system running to keep your printer shared. The second thing I thought of was that you could print to your printer from an entirely different network over IP, either from a separate subnet in a corporate environment, or to your home system from elsewhere through your home router, something that Rendezvous, er, Bonjour, doesn't do. So, I set about to set things up and see how it all worked.

The box included a CD with software that installed easily on my Mac, and basically this will let you configure your Print Server, set it up with a static IP or use DHCP addressing, etc, etc, and will essentially make it appear to be a separate USB port on your Mac. A connected printer will immediately pop up in your Printer Setup Utility as an available printer with no configuration necessary, assuming you have the necessary drivers already installed for that model, very nice.

The PS-4A directly supports attaching 4 USB devices, but according to the documentation devices that happen to supply extra USB ports for pass-through (internal hubs) will let it chain up to 8 devices total off the one server. Personally, I don't see folks having that many USB printers all in the same spot, but still, nice to be expandable.

First thing I tested was a HP Deskjet 5550 at the office, plugged everything in per the directions, installed the software, and after launching their config utility, sure enough, the printer popped right up. One thing that I didn't care for was that the default setup must have the user 'connect' to their printer in this utility to make it available for use (basically make it unavailable to other users), they can then print, and finally free it up for others to use. Didn't seem very Mac-like, must be a Windows thing. Fortunately, they also include an auto-connect option, which just as it sounds, lets the Mac connect on the fly without checking out the printer first, and releases it once finished.

The big advantage of the new model printer server is that it is bi-directional, meaning that the printer can communicate back to the Mac, for things like paper and ink status. I was able to use HP's utility to get the status of my ink levels and other info, worked just like it was there on the USB bus.

I tested with a few other model printers at the office, several HP models, both Inkjet and a Laser, all worked as expected. So, I packed up my trusty HP 5550 and the PS-4A and brought them home, hooked it all up here, installed the software, and again things worked as expected. I then set up my router's firewall to port forward the particular port I had assigned the print server to the print server's IP address. I connected back to my work system, entered the IP address of where the print server was now located, and in a few moments had again established a connection to the server, but this time across the internet from my office to my home, through my router, and finally to the print server. As before, the HP 5550 popped right up, and another print job came through just fine.

This last test wasm for me, the most impressive. My particular router doesn't like my IP printer at home, or probably any standard IP printer. The router included an option on some models to hook a parallel printer up and print to it via IP, my model didn't include this port, but the router still hogged that port assignment just the same, making printing to a standard IP printer impossible through the router, so I could never print to my home printer from the office before. At last, I was able to send jobs through to a printer here, basically because the Keyspan server uses a non-standard port (reassignable by the user) for printing.

All in all, I was very pleased with this product. In addition to supporting printers, it also supports scanners, multi-function printers, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, etc., but no audio/video type devices. I hope to get my hands on one of the newer HP multifunction printers soon and give that a try with this server, HP sells ethernet adapters for several of their printers, but the price on those is much higher than the cost of this little box, and if it works just as well, why spend the money?

Keyspan is well known for their great products, and this looks like another winner for them.

Posted by Jim at 4:17 PM | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

Movable Type 3.2 Beta

Tonight, I just found out that Movable Type 3.2 is now beta. While reading up on this, a call was made for feature requests for future versions, so here's mine.

Some time back, I wrote in their support forums for some help in finding a way to better control the default number of entries displayed in a blog. Currently you can either have a set number of entries, or entries from a certain number of days, but there was no way to combine these two the way I wanted.

A problem I've had is if you set up a blog to display the last 10 days worth of entries, and go out of town for two weeks, you come back and there are no entries listed on the blog's main page. Or you can set it to display the last 5 entries, but if you hit a busy day and put in 6 entries, the earliest entry for that day drops off the main page.

What I wanted was a combination of these two options, to be able to display the last 10 days worth of entries, and to display a minimum of the last 5 entries, and a maximum of 10 entries. At present, there's no way in Movable Type to handle this, but I'm hoping that something like this could be implemented in the future.

Posted by Jim at 9:06 PM | TrackBack

Spring Forward, Fall Down

Thanks to an act of Congress, the United States will gain an extra month of of daylight starting in 2007, when Daylight Savings Time begins three weeks earlier, and ends a week later. There are a number of positive askects to this, but for tech types, there may be cause for concern.

Daylight Savings Time was last changed in 1987, since that time, a number of devices have incorporated built in clocks that automatically reset for DST automatically (VCRs, etc), not to mention computers with built in clocks. So, in less than two years, these devices will no longer function properly (during those 4 weeks), which for some might be problematic. It is a given that software updates for the latest operating systems will be updated within that time to include fixes for this, and that most likely previous OS versions may also have minor patches released. But older systems may not receive updates, and devices such as VCRs won't be updatable.

Schools in particular tend to keep older computer equipment running as long as possible, and they are likely to be hit hard by this, but at the same time, the clock being off by an hour in a school lab is likely to be much less critical than a mission critical server in, say, a nuclear power plant.

Posted by Jim at 8:45 PM | TrackBack

August 4, 2005

Windows Vista Viruses

Just days after Windows Vista was made available to developers, the first Windows Vista viruses were already on the loose. Apparently this next-generation platform really delivers on the breakthrough basics and end-to-end experiences promoted on the Microsoft Windows Vista web site. If virus development continues at this pace for Vista, buyers may well find the shrink wrapped CDs already fully loaded with them by the time the product ships, saving customers the time of having their systems infected over the internet...

Posted by Jim at 11:25 PM | TrackBack