Welcome to IT Made EZ where we take you from zero to proficient in information technology focused on a helpdesk position.
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Let’s start with Printers. In our second episode, we talked about the two main types of printers, so now we’re going to break down all the different ways a printer can be connected.
A wired ethernet connection is the best and most reliable method of communication in a network environment. This gives you the ability to install the printer with a TCP/IP port that uses an IP address or hostname. Just make sure it’s a static IP address or a DHCP reservation has been made.
Open Devices and Printers from Control Panel, or Devices from the Settings app and then choose Printers & Scanners from the menu on the left. Click “Add a printer” in Devices and Printers or “Add a Printer or Scanner” in Settings. Always select “The printer that I want isn’t listed” to manually enter the information. More on that in a moment.
Wireless printing also gives you the ability to use an IP address and TCP/IP port, but some Wi-Fi printers will randomly disconnect from the wireless for no apparent reason. Then you’ll find yourself on YouTube or the manufacturer’s website trying to walk someone through how to reconnect the Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, there is no standard across brands and sometimes there is no standard across models from the same brand. If a long Wi-Fi password with a bunch of special characters is used, it’s going to be a huge headache for the end-user who has to type all that in, especially if there is no touchscreen containing a full keyboard. Sometimes there is only a number pad that must be used to cycle through several characters per number. All that to say – if you can avoid wireless printing, do yourself and your customer a favor by wiring your printers if possible. Fortunately, most wireless printers also have wired network ports on them.
One thing to look for when suggesting a small, multi-purpose printer for a customer to buy is the terminology used. If it says All-in-One, it’s geared more for home users. If it says MFP, it will have the extra features they want, but can more easily be integrated into a professional network environment.
Next up, we’ll discuss WSD ports. This is what happens when you don’t click the button that says, “The printer that I want isn’t listed”. Windows will pretty much always use a WSD Port. It might work well for a little while, but I’ve seen it randomly stop working even though the printer is still connected to the network. The professional thing to do is to find the IP address and use a TCP/IP port. In a home environment, you might not be able to create a DHCP reservation on the person’s router. If that’s the case, try to acquire the hostname of the printer and enter that in the TCP/IP port. If the IP address changes, the hostname will still work. If you can’t avoid it, a WSD Port is not the end of the world on a home network.
Sometimes, the official driver for a network-connected printer will install a proprietary network port. It doesn’t let you configure the port once it’s installed, but these usually work pretty reliably. It’s pretty much the manufacturer saying, “Nothing to see here, but trust me; I got this.”
The next connection type we’ll talk about USB. It’s pretty straightforward. You plug it in and the computer will often recognize it automatically and sometimes even install a basic driver for you. It’s always best to install the official driver even if the automatic one prints a test page successfully. You might run into problems down the road with certain software if you don’t.
A much less common connector nowadays is a Parallel Port. You’d be hard-pressed to find one on a modern computer. Fortunately, they make parallel to USB adapter cables that work pretty well if the printer cannot easily be replaced. You might also be able to find an expansion card with a Parallel Port that can be installed into a PC as well.
The last connection method we’ll discuss is called a LocalPort. This would be used if you need to install a shared USB or Parallel printer directly onto a Terminal Server or a shared PC. A LocalPort is simply the full UNC path of the printer share. You could then download the official driver for that printer and reference the LocalPort during the installation. In our second video, we mentioned that you can install a shared printer onto a PC by simply browsing to the UNC path, right-clicking the printer name, and choosing Connect. It’s important to note that if the computer is shared and multiple users log in as themselves, any printer connected this way would only show up for the first user. In this scenario, it’s best to install the printer manually via TCP/IP port or a LocalPort so it’s available for all users on the computer. Or, you could always use Group Policy to deploy the printer to all necessary users.
There’s another really cool trick when installing printers onto a computer when the official installer claims to not support the OS, such as a printer that supports Windows 10, but doesn’t mention any server Operating Systems. Download the installer anyway as well as a free program called 7zip. After you install 7zip, right-click the print driver setup.exe, choose 7zip from the context menu, and then click “Extract to setup”. This will export the software into several folders, and some of its contents will be inf files. An inf is the file type needed to install a printer manually with a TCP/IP port. Browse to that folder when installing the printer on the Terminal Server and it in most cases, it will install without issue.
Let’s say a user remotes into their work PC from home and they want to print to their home printer from their work computer. Printer redirection makes this possible. Just make sure the setting is enabled in the RDP config and not disabled on the server.
Remote Desktop Easy Print works well in Windows 10, but not Windows 7. If the printer doesn’t automatically redirect, install the official driver for the printer in question and assign it to the LPT1 port just so the system has the driver installed. Disconnect/reconnect the RDP session and the printer should appear. If it doesn’t, you can manually assign the driver to the TS Port that gets created when the RDP session is active. There’s no way to know what TS port correlates with the correct home printer, so it’s a game of guess and check. Hopefully they won’t have a ton of printers on their home computer and the list of TS ports will be short.
There is also free web-based software called PaperCut that allows your printer to communicate over the internet. A print job would be sent from a remote computer to a piece of software that presents itself as a printer, which then sends the job over the internet to someone’s home printer.
When all else fails, someone could print to a PDF and then simply copy and paste the file from their remote session to their local computer, or just email themselves the file.
Now let’s talk about fixing printers.
If it’s a network printer, your first step is to make sure you can ping the IP address. If you can’t, power cycle the printer. If it still doesn’t come back online, make sure the IP address didn’t change due to the lack of a DHCP reservation. If you still can’t get it online, trying plugging the printer into a PC with a USB cable to make sure the rest of the printer is still functional. It is possible for a printer’s network interface to die, and on some models, it can even be replaced. If that’s not an option, you could always plug the printer into a third-party print server which will get it back on the network.
If the printer is online but simply won’t print or won’t print correctly, uninstall the printer and/or delete the driver, and then download the latest version from the manufacturer’s website.
If issues persist, it’s probably a mechanical failure.
It’s worth noting that the average printer is not worth fixing if there is something physically wrong with it. Most of them cost between $100 and $400 and a serious repair that involves replacement parts will probably cost between $100 and $200, so you’re better off replacing the printer itself.
If the customer insists on fixing the printer, most general IT companies don’t fix the mechanics of a printer. Don’t be afraid to recommend a third-party company for specialty repairs.
Expensive printers like copiers are often easier to fix and actually worth fixing due to the higher cost. These machines are usually leased instead of purchased which often includes a service plan anyway. Sometimes your only job will be to call the leasing company to report a problem and schedule an on-site repair.
Our next section is all about Email.
There are three main types of email accounts: POP, IMAP, and Microsoft Exchange.
POP accounts have one-way communication. Mail can be downloaded to your device, but changes to the mail are not pushed back to the server, such as whether or not it’s been read, replied to, forwarded, or even deleted.
If you’re setting up a new PC that uses a POP account, you will want to grab the PST file from the old computer. A PST is an email storage container that holds email, calendar items, and contacts. If the Outlook POP account settings were configured to retain mail on the server once it’s been downloaded, the new computer will download a bunch of duplicates and mark them as unread. A helpful tip I can share with you is to take the contents of the Inbox on the old PC and place it in a subfolder called “Old Inbox”. That way, you can delete everything in the Inbox on the new computer and only keep the most recent items. Then you can put the contents of the “Old Inbox” back into the regular Inbox folder. If that sounds like a lot of trouble, it’s because it is. POP accounts are the oldest form of email and should be avoided if possible.
Next, we’ll talk about IMAP. There is some two-way communication for default folders like Inbox and Sent Items, but contacts and calendars do not sync from your computer to your phone or even to another computer.
Worst of all, recent versions of Outlook have forced users to store contacts and calendars in what’s called an OST file. An OST cannot be easily migrated to another computer like a PST can. You would need special third-party software to convert an OST to a PST. Then you could simply click on File > Open & Export > Open Outlook Data File, grab the PST file in question, and then drag-and-drop the contents as needed.
Another issue with PSTs is how frequently and easily they can become corrupted if the size becomes too large. There used to be a 2 GB size limit in older versions of Outlook, but now it claims to support up to 50 GB. However, the performance of a 50 GB PST file would be lousy even on an SSD drive. A PST file is basically a database and databases need to be reindexed from time to time to maintain consistency and performance. Fortunately, every version of Outlook comes with a small utility called ScanPST that’s sitting in the same directory as Outlook.exe. If you ever have trouble opening a PST file in Outlook, you will have to repair it using ScanPST multiple times until it says no errors have been found. If the file works after multiple scans from the software, count yourself lucky, because some files are beyond repair. If that sounds hopeless, take heart in the last email account type called Microsoft Exchange.
Exchange offers full synchronization of all folders and functions across multiple devices.
Your contacts, calendars, tasks, and all email folders will be available on all of your computers, tablets, and smart phones if you have an Exchange account.
Some companies run a server inside their network that hosts Exchange, but many are switching to Microsoft 365 which uses Microsoft servers to host their email in the cloud. Microsoft 365 is also convenient for Office licensing. Its subscription-based monthly fee gives you access to the latest version of Microsoft Office. Otherwise, someone would have to pay a lump sum of money that only gets them the current version at the time of purchase.
In our network video, we mentioned MX records which are used to determine where mail should be delivered. Another thing worth noting is a third-party spam filter. Some companies will point their MX records to a third-party service that filters mail before passing it along to the mail host. Anything marked as valid will be sent to the mail server, and anything it suspects as spam will be left behind.
Nothing is perfect, so sometimes spam will get through and sometimes valid mail will be held. There is always a way to whitelist a good address or sender and blacklist bad ones. Sometimes filtering can even be done using keywords or IP address ranges. Recently, identity protection has become a common feature as well. This will block anyone pretending to be someone else unless their email address is correct. Microsoft 365 has a built-in spam filter, but most of these advanced features are not available.
Another important DNS record for Exchange is an Autodiscover record such as Autodiscover.contoso.com. It can be either an A record or a CNAME. Outlook 2013 and newer requires Autodiscover to be working in order to connect to Exchange. In a domain environment, Active Directory helps you accomplish this automatically. If it’s a laptop that’s not on the domain or you’re trying to configure Outlook on a computer outside the network, Outlook requires a publicly accessible Autodiscover record hosted in the registrar such as GoDaddy or Network Solutions.
If you can’t easily access the registrar, here’s a quick workaround. Open a run box, type drivers, and hit Enter. Open the etc folder and then double-click the hosts file. Open it in Notepad to see its contents. Most companies will have email available on the web through what’s called Outlook Web Access. For inhouse Exchange, autodiscover.contoso.com has to resolve to the same IP address as mail.contoso.com assuming that is the URL for Outlook Web Access. Your hosts file is where you can make this happen for one specific computer. Find a blank line at the bottom of the file and type the Outlook Web Access IP address, hit Tab on the keyboard, and then type Autodiscover, put a period, and then the domain name. When you try to save the changes, you may be prompted with a Save As prompt depending on the computer’s UAC settings. If that happens, temporarily throw the new hosts file on the desktop, show file name extensions in Windows Explorer, remove .txt from the filename, drag-and-drop it into the etc folder, and click Yes to overwrite. Outlook will give you a certificate warning, but clicking on Yes will allow connection to the Exchange server. Once the Outlook profile is created, go back into your hosts file and delete the new Autodiscover line you just added. Otherwise, the user will receive that certificate warning every time they launch Outlook.
Now we’re gonna dive a little deeper into Microsoft 365 as it’s quickly becoming the most common mail host as it’s free for non-profit organizations and reasonably priced for everyone else.
The two most common license types are Microsoft 365 Business Basic and Microsoft 365 Business Standard. Basic is just for email hosting and other web apps such as OneDrive and Microsoft Teams while Standard allows the users to install the full Office suite on up to 5 devices.
All licensed users will appear in the Global Address List. If someone wants to add an external email address to the list, it must be added to the Contacts area of Microsoft 365.
There are also a few different kinds of Groups. A Distribution List is a very basic email address that simply forwards mail to one or more recipients. A Microsoft 365 Group gives the users the ability to collaborate in Microsoft Teams along with a shared calendar and a mailbox. A Microsoft 365 Group also gives new users access to past content whereas a basic Distribution List does not. A Shared Mailbox is another group type. It’s convenient for generic accounts that multiple users need access to. Its best feature is that everyone in the group can see if a message has been replied to and can see all correspondence in every folder. The best part is…all groups and shared accounts don’t cost anything, because they cannot be logged into directly. They are only accessible if a user already has their own paid license. If an employee leaves the organization, their mailbox can be converted to a Shared Mailbox to keep it active just in case a subscription wasn’t transferred over to their replacement, or to monitor it for anything else that may have been missed. Once an account has been converted to a Shared Mailbox, the license can be removed and reassigned. It’s also best practice to hide former employees from the Global Address List so it’s always an accurate representation of the current employee list.
If the company synchronizes users from Active Directory, hiding them from the Global Address List can only be done from the Attribute Editor in Active Directory. Scroll down to msExchHideFromAddressLists and change the value to True. You also need to make sure the mail and mailNickname fields are correctly filled in as well. Otherwise, the name won’t disappear from the Global Address List. Also, Azure Active Directory syncs every 30 minutes, but you can force a sync by opening the Synchronization Service Manager and re-running all recent tasks.
It’s also important to be mindful of the Offline Global Address List which is the default view for most users. The Offline Global Address List is a cached view that doesn’t update right away, but the Global Address List is a live view. To force a refresh of the Offline Global Address List, close Outlook and navigate to %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Outlook\Offline Address Books from any Windows Explorer window. Clear the contents of the entire folder and relaunch Outlook. The Offline Global Address List will then be accurate.
There are also items in Exchange called Resources. These are used to reserve conference rooms or equipment like a TV or projector when meetings are scheduled. If someone sets up an appointment in Outlook for 10 AM and chooses Conference Room A from the Global Address List, the next person that tries to schedule something for that same conference room at the same time would be notified of a conflict. If the company is large enough, using Resources is a necessity to avoid the frustration of not having a certain room or piece of equipment available when a large group of people were expecting to use them. Resources are great as long as everyone remembers to select one when creating the meeting invitation.
Now let’s talk a little more about Outlook in conjunction with Exchange or Microsoft 365.
If someone’s Outlook refuses to fully launch or won’t connect, there are a few things you can try.
Delete the OST file and try to launch Outlook again. Remember, this is only an offline cache and won’t affect any mail in the cloud if you delete the file. The OST can be found in %localappdata%\Microsoft\Outlook.
If that doesn’t work, open up Control Panel and launch Mail. Click “Show Profiles” and hit “Add…”. This will allow you to attempt a profile recreation.
If that doesn’t work either, you could try a repair of Microsoft Office.
Another Outlook tip if someone accidentally deletes a bunch of email is to check out the Recover Deleted Items area. If it was recently deleted and not permanently deleted, open the Deleted Items folder, right-click a column heading, and select “Field chooser”. Click the dropdown arrow and select “Date/time fields”. Find the “Modified” field and drag it after the subject field in the main Outlook window. The modified timestamp will be the same for a large group of messages if someone accidentally deleted a bunch of mail all at once.
Something else worth noting is the size and contents of an OST file. Starting with Office 2013, Outlook gives you the ability to choose how much mail you would like to cache locally in your OST file. Click on File > Account Settings > Account Settings again > and then Change. If someone frequently receives a lot of big attachments, their mailbox could be very large, and you won’t want to cache all of it. Drag the slider underneath “Download email for the past” to an appropriate time period if 1 year is too much mail.
It’s also important to know that Shared Mailboxes will follow this setting as well. However, if you scroll to the bottom of the main account, there will be a button to view more mail on the server. In a Shared Mailbox, that option isn’t there and it won’t let you view mail that isn’t cached. The best option for this is to disable caching of Shared Mailboxes altogether. That will make performance of Shared Mailboxes a little slower than the main account, but it’s your only option in some cases due to the volume of mail in some accounts. Go back into Account Settings, click Change, and then hit More Settings at the bottom left. Under the Advanced tab, there will be a checkmark to download shared folders. Uncheck it, click OK on all of the windows that are open, and close Outlook for it to take effect.
Another drawback of Shared Mailboxes is the default location for Sent Items and Deleted Items. If everyone needs to see everything going on in a shared account, changes need to be made in…the registry…on every user’s computer. If the user access list is long, Group Policy should be used to deploy the following changes.
To place Sent Items in the correct folder, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER \Software\ Microsoft\ Office\(the version number) \Outlook\ Preferences and create a new DWORD called DelegateSentItemsStyle without a space between any of the words. Double-click it and enter a decimal value of 1.
To place Deleted Items in the correct folder, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Software\ Microsoft\ Office\(the version number) \Outlook \Options \General and create a DWORD called DelegateWastebasketStyle without a space between any of those words as well. Double-click it and enter a decimal value of 4. Honestly, we have a script that we run every time a new user logs into a computer that sets all our best practice Office settings automatically which saves a bunch of time.
The last Outlook thing I’ll mention is how someone’s email address is displayed at the top left of the program. It shows up as the default email address on the account at the time the Outlook profile was created. If someone changes their last name and therefore the primary email address gets updated, this change will never be reflected in Outlook unless the profile is recreated. If they have a lot of mail cached in the OST file, most people will just tell you to let go as re-downloading everything would be time-consuming.
Now we’re going to talk about Backups.
Nothing lasts forever, so if it’s important, back it up.
If someone doesn’t have much software installed on their PC and only has important data, you could get away with running a script that simply copies their files from their main hard drive to an external source such as a USB thumb drive.
The simplest way to automate a backup is with a batch file containing a command called xcopy. From command prompt, type xcopy followed by a space. Then type in the full path to the source followed by another space and then the full path to the destination. If your source or destination path contain a space, you will need to put quotes around the whole path. The best parameters to use are easy to remember: C-H-R-I-S-D-Y as it is a unique way to spell Chrisdy. These are known as command line switches and do things like copy subfolders, suppress prompts, and only copy files that have been updated since the last backup which will shorten the length of the backup process.
It’s also important to make sure that the command prompt has the proper elevated permissions. Do a search for cmd on the Start menu, right-click and choose Run as Administrator, so you don’t get any access denied error messages when you run the command.
You also need to make sure your user account has full permissions to both the source and the destination.
It would be wise to make the destination an external drive or another computer in the event of a hard drive failure.
Once you test your batch file, you can use Task Scheduler to run your backup automatically on schedule however often you’d like. If files change frequently, it would be best to run it daily. You will find Task Scheduler in Control Panel under Administrative Tools.
If backing up data and software on a computer is important, there is affordable software that can be purchased and installed on a computer that stores data on an external hard drive or network share.
Windows also has backup software built-in that can backup files as well as a full system image. This is sufficient for most PCs, but servers require professional grade software that sends backup data across the network to a dedicated backup device.
There are also convenient and affordable web-based services that automatically back up your data to the cloud, such as Carbonite, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive, but they are exclusively web-based, so a full restore of a lot of data will take a while. Fortunately, Microsoft OneDrive gives you the option of downloading data as needed instead of all at once and that’s actually the default setting. All of the files will look like they’re ready, but won’t actually download until you double-click on them.
Another backup worth mentioning is called Volume Shadow Copies. This is the list of file revisions that appears when you right-click on a file or folder and choose “Restore previous versions”.
This is a great way to give end-users the ability to restore a file or folder without getting IT involved.
Another perk is how little space is required by all the versions. Only incremental changes are saved each time, compared to a full copy that would be on an external USB drive, for example.
It is important to note that these revisions are stored on the same hard drive as the files themselves in most cases, so there is no added redundancy. If the drive fails, all data would be lost without another backup in place. Needless to say, this should not be the only backup in-use by a company as there is no way to restore the entire system in the event of a disaster.