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  • Why is printing so hard to get right?

    Home » Forums » AskWoody blog » Why is printing so hard to get right?

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    #2402838

    ISSUE 18.45 • 2021-11-22 Look for our special issue on November 29! ON SECURITY By Susan Bradley I work in an industry that keeps promising we are goi
    [See the full post at: Why is printing so hard to get right?]

    Susan Bradley Patch Lady

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    • #2402870

      A pedantic point on terminology: “… an industry that keeps promising we are going paperless …” I grew up with this, and the common press articles at the time, used “paperless” as a synonym for “paper-free”, but “paperless” can mean “less paper” (than was used before). We have certainly achieved that goal, especially with the rise in online banking/debit/credit cards and online newspapers.

      Paper-free we are not, and are unlikely to reach since contract law and program specifications alike share the maxim “If it ain’t written down, it don’t exist”. I detest telephone conversations about what is expected of a computer  program, unless the conversation is followed by an emailed document.

       

      That said I read that, like me, you are probably printing to PDF (“let’s just print everything to PDF because that should be more secure, right?”) and this turns out to be extremely useful as an extra level of proof-reading. I continue to be puzzled as to why I can pick up glaring errors in a PDF of a DOCument I have proofread repeatedly.

      I understand too that printing anything to anything is printing, and must conform to whatever rules of interface have been set up, and will suffer from any shared vulnerabilities.

      I suspect that printing vulnerabilities will never be resolved, that they can never be resolved, that it is logically impossible for them to be resolved because operating system program code for printers (printer drivers, printer spoolers and so on) has now grown to a level of complexity that outstrips human management processes.  I suspect that operating systems passed this threshold sometime between Win3.1 and Win95.

      Automobiles show the same pattern; The Ford Model-T could be fixed by the above-average farm hand, but today even diagnostic computer packs (the size of a 1970s portable casette tape player) cannot cope with all-that-can-go-wrong.

      In this sense, I believe that we can be “less vulnerable”, but never entirely free of vulnerabilities.

       

      For the record, I got rid of my three printer devices when I retired and now get by with emailing PDF files to the local print shop and then walking down the hill to have a chat with Kim or Peggy; also to collect the hard-copy.  I am no longer plagued with laser cartridge supplies, blocked jets and so on. Paradise!

      Chris Greaves

      Unless you're in a hurry, just wait.

      2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #2402886

      I read these type articles here and scratch my head. I got my first computer 22 years ago. I printed a lot at first. I still have my original printer…an HP Deskjet 882C. Over the ensuing years, I printed less and less …I guess partly because I was/am a home user? I don’t need to print …I just bookmark or copy/paste portions of articles to various folders. I rarely need to write a snail mail letter and that is the only thing I find a printer absolutely necessary for.

      Since my printer uses the large, older HP cartridges (cannot use any other brand as it will not print) and the tri color one, that runs out of one color quickly, and that ruins the entire expensive cartridge, I stopped printing in color years ago. These days, I rarely print anything and I am fine with that. Printing is VERY EXPENSIVE.

      So, I find these type articles confusing as I can’t relate to them at all. I recently updated to Windows 10 21H2 and I haven’t yet printed a page to check to see if my printer works ok…it has in the past with updates and probably will still (thanks to it being HP and it using native built in Microsoft drivers). It is the most trouble free piece of computer hardware I have ever owned. In my naivete, back 22 years ago, I did not realize when I purchased it with my first Dell computer with Windows 98 on it that it was tied by HP to Windows 98 in such a way that much of its functionality would be missing when I moved to XP but by then, four years later, I realized I didn’t need all that fancy functionality (printing on both sides, etc) and that I could do without a printer entirely if necessary. It is the least important piece of hardware I have.

      Again, I guess that is because I am a home user. I get confused with this site more and more these days as it used to be, when Woody was here, focused on home users …but now seems to be for mostly for business users which, of course, would be very concerned if their printers did not like some security update, etc.

      • #2403017

        I still print even at home.  Insurance cards to stick in the glove compartment as an example.

        Susan Bradley Patch Lady

    • #2402922

      Lots of interesting information in there.

      For home users, maybe they could create two scripts:

      create a .bat file called “start spooler.bat”, insert the line net start spooler in it and create another called “stop spooler.bat” with the line net stop spooler in it. Add the line “pause” to both file just so you can see the result in case you forget to use admin rights to run them. So it would look like:

      net start spooler

      pause

      You need to run those as an admin, so right-click on them, run as an administrator.

      So if you don’t print often at home, leave the spooler disabled and only start it when required, then disable it after. I am doing that now since I’m mostly paperless at home anyway. Print to pdf doesn’t work though when you disable the spooler, so that can be annoying if you do that a lot.

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      • #2402929

        Hi Alex.

        For the faint-of-heart (me!) these two commands can be run from the command print as a trial.

        As another trial I stopped the spooler, then tried printing (to PDF) the web page with your response. The only difference I noticed is that the PDF printer (PrimoPDF) seems to have switched its command button to “Save”; I am sure the command button used to read “Print”.

        Perhaps my first “net stop spooler” diverted attention away from Printing, and  towards Saving.

        Regardless, I was still able to create a PDF on my hard drive and read it bock with Foxit reader.

         

        Perhaps one could be more secure by abandoning printing with PrimoPDF, but whether the command button reads “Print” or “Save”, I suspect that there is still something there that does the printing.

        Stopping the spooler might be an extra level of security for rabbits like me! Especially if it is specifically The Print Spooler that is vulnerable. That means that folks who no longer use physical printers are a little more secure.

        Thanks

        Chris

        Unless you're in a hurry, just wait.

        1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #2402927

      The print spooler on my PC often goes berserk and starts using more and more of the CPU. I’ve “solved” this problem with a little program called ServiceTray (https://www.coretechnologies.com/products/ServiceTray/). It allows you to choose one service to turn on and off with a click to a system tray icon. (I believe they also make a version that can do this for multiple services.)

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    • #2402930

      I suppose Microsoft could answer why it is not doing a complete rewrite of its 20-year old print spooler?  Printing is yet another blot on Microsoft’s software design and engineering capabilities.  There are others, too.  Hardware blind spots and just plain ignorance, all glossed over by a “Nothing to see here” attitude and a PR organization that rivals the Kremlin politburo for competence.

      2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2402940

        Follow up question – – why isn’t Microsoft putting it’s programmers on this issue, especially for the shiny new Win 11, instead of messing around with the User Interface (and removing capabilities at that.) Enterprise customers and serious users would probably prefer that, and MS doesn’t seem to care about simple home users anyway.

        Win 7 Pro, 64-Bit, Group B ESU,Ivy Bridge i3-3110M, 2.4GHz, 4GB, XP Mode VM, WordPerfect
    • #2402949

      Follow up question – – why isn’t Microsoft putting it’s programmers on this issue, especially for the shiny new Win 11, instead of messing around with the User Interface (and removing capabilities at that.)

      Because Microsoft’s programmer don’t know how to fix the bugs as the original programmers left long ago and there is no proper documentation ?

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      • #2403569

        Also, Chris Greaves wrote:

        I suspect that printing vulnerabilities will never be resolved, that they can never be resolved, that it is logically impossible for them to be resolved because operating system program code for printers (printer drivers, printer spoolers and so on) has now grown to a level of complexity that outstrips human management processes. I suspect that operating systems passed this threshold sometime between Win3.1 and Win95.

        I agree. There are so much dependencies and new functions built on “old interface”, that this goal cannot be achieved. We are living in amazing era, but at the same time, simple things/electronics are not made anymore. The more fancy and complicated, the more customers it attracts. Why not to unlock your car with a mobile phone, for example? Hah! Now you are trapped – Tesla servers temporarilly down.

        If we do not re-design printing protocols and simplify things, printing will never be 100% bulletproof. But thats in contary with attracting users with shiny new toys.

        Dell Latitude E6530, Intel Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, W10 20H2 Enterprise

        HAL3000, AMD Athlon 200GE @ 3,4 GHz, 8GB RAM, Fedora 29

        PRUSA i3 MK3S+

    • #2402952

      “Print Spooler is more than 20 years old and dates to Windows NT.”

      That is technically correct though I was say closer to 30 years old.

      Back in 1994, I was working for a Fortune 10 company and had the “pleasure” of doing the first rollout of a Windows NT 3.1 server. Print Spooler was a nightmare. For people not old enough to remember, the original Print Spooler was not even a service. It ran as an internal process and when it crashed, you had to reboot Windows NT to restart it. We were working with printing over TCP/IP so it constantly crashed and required rebooting. It was not until the Windows NT 3.5 “Daytona” release where it became a service. It still had issues but reboots were no longer required to get it going again.

       

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    • #2402992

      I work in an industry that keeps promising we are going paperless, but we still find ways to kill trees.

      Do you consider it killing lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, etc. to eat a salad?  The trees that are harvested to make paper are a sustainable crop.  They were planted in rows to make harvesting easier, and harvested in strips in order to preserve the surrounding environment for the native wildlife.  More trees are lost to insects and disease every year than to being cut for paper.  I’ve run out of ink plenty of times, but I don’t ever recall having any other issue with printing.

       

      Create a fresh drive image before making system changes/Windows updates, in case you need to start over!
      "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns
      "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware

    • #2403113

      Susan [To patch this vulnerability, you need to ensure that the printer driver you are using is up to date. Visit your printer vendor’s site to see whether there are newer printer drivers available.]

      With my IT Expert certification being awarded from knowing Red is Pos, Black is Neg, I read this with painful humor. The HP Driver page [ MFP M227fdw] shows the most current Basic Driver is Ver 44.xxx – the Universal is Ver 7.xxx. My DevMgr Printer Driver (HP indicated) showing is Ver 8.xxx From 2019 — and the Update button says it’s the Correct Driver. Never a dull moment for us experts.  Staying As Is…..

      W10 Pro 21H2 / Hm-Stdnt Ofce '16 C2R / HP Envy Desktop-Ethernet/ 12 GB / 256G SSD + 1 TB HDD / i5-8400 CoffeeLake-S / GP=2 + FtrU=Semi-Annual + Feature Defer = 1 + QU=0

    • #2403153

      Why is printing so hard to get right? I think a lot of it is that printing is a lot more complicated than most of us appreciate. There are a lot of moving parts, and at several levels. Part of it is the mechanics of getting ink or toner onto paper, some of it is in all the possible options of paper handling, plus multiple interactions between printer spooler in the operating system and printer drivers, and for most of us, there is usually a networking element, as well as the differences between wired and wireless. Plus things like printer manufacturers adding “call home” spyware elements, and other ways of trying to force continued purchases of consumables from authorized sources.

      However, I do want to offer a defense for hard copy printing. There may be plenty reason for output to electronic content, not all output is suited to that. I recognize that there is some measure of personal preference, as well as established policies and procedures that require hard copy, but it’s important to remember that every communication media has strengths and weaknesses, and none is infinitely preferable to everything else. And this even applies to the difference between hard and electronic copy.

      There are plenty of reasons to output to PDF (or for that matter, HTML), and I won’t try to recount them here. However, PDF has limitations, including that it’s a proprietary format, and depending on how you’re creating PDF, there can be problems that may not turn up until much later.

      However, there are other problems problems with electronic copy (whether PDF or anything else). One significant problem (especially with PDF) is that it’s still page-centric, and on modern 16:9 screens, you can’t see a full page of output without scaling the display so small that it’s barely possible to read. This is especially true if you’re working on a small (e.g., 13″) screen. If you have several pages of output, hard copy can allow for seeing much more content than is possible from a screen. The electronic capacity for searching (assuming it hasn’t been disabled in a PDF doc) should not be discounted, but there are occasions where it’s a lot faster and easier to find certain things with visual scanning than trying to do searching to locate something specific.

      Furthermore, electronic copy does not easily lend itself to the simple markup that can be done with a pencil.

      And just because something is in a PDF file doesn’t mean that at some point, you’ll need to produce hard copy, anyway.

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    • #2403226

      I am writing this here because: (a) this site is not only for Windows-related issues; (b) because it was not at all clear from the title that this is about a problem only Windows people may have (I found a link to the most recent comment in this thread in “New Posts: Last day”, clicked on it to see what this could be all about, and voila!)

      So: I have a Mac and this neither is now, nor ever before has been a problem for me. First time I hear about anything like this, in fact. Print like crazy, day and night and throughout the holidays and, if you are using a Mac, I am sure you’ll have no problems whatsoever. Unless the printer conks out first, and that would be on you and the printer’s makers, not on the Mac. Nor have I had a security-related issue with some printing software, and be it noted that this thread is not really about printing as such, as I can see now that I have read the Blog, but about a Windows’ printing software vulnerability to cyber attacks.

      Besides that, never in more than four years, since I bought my Mac, I’ve had any trouble with any of the patches that Apple kindly has been sending my way maybe three or four times a year.

      So I think the title of this thread is not specific enough. It would have been more to the point if it had read:

      Why printing with a Windows PC is so hard to get right?

      And then I would not have come here and read what people have been writing in this thread, which actually is not about any Mac printing problems of mine, which are zero in total.

      But even so, Windows users, you all have my deepest and most sincere sympathy for your recurrent printing problems.

      Ex Windows user (Win. 98, XP, 7) since mid-2020. Now: running macOS Big Sur 11.6 & sometimes, Linux (Mint)

      MacBook Pro circa mid-2015, 15" display, with 16GB 1600 GHz DDR3 RAM, 1 TB SSD, a Haswell architecture Intel CPU with 4 Cores and 8 Threads model i7-4870HQ @ 2.50GHz.
      Intel Iris Pro GPU with Built-in Bus, VRAM 1.5 GB, Display 2880 x 1800 Retina, 24-Bit color.
      Waterfox "Current" and (now and then) Chrome. also Intego AV and Malwarebytes for the Mac.

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      • #2403572

        TBH, I had no trouble during last 4 years with printing under Windows, until Microsoft started patching the vulnerability, then problems occured lots of times.
        At home I do not print at all. If I want write something, I still use the paper and pen. Even things like “Power of Attorney” is accepted when written by hand, and every post office verifies it without problem, its not rocket science.

        Dell Latitude E6530, Intel Core i5 @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, W10 20H2 Enterprise

        HAL3000, AMD Athlon 200GE @ 3,4 GHz, 8GB RAM, Fedora 29

        PRUSA i3 MK3S+

    • #2403505

      See what is using spoolsv.exe

      Download Windows Firewall Control (Malwarebytes) from Older Geeks.
      Under either Manage Windows Firewall rules or Rules Panel (they both get you to the same screen), click on the Programs to sort by programs
      Look for C:\windows\system32\spoolsv.exe

      I like to do the following:
      Right click, Block
      Right click, Enable

      I have disabled all programs accessing spoolsv.exe and of course you can’t print until you enable it. I can see the Spooler SubSystem App, File and Printer Sharing (Spooler Service – RPC) and others applications.

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