October 27, 2005

Public Service Printers

Glenn Reynolds asks:

But what I'd really like is a wireless printer that will show up on any laptop in range, and print from any laptop in range, without having to load any software or drivers. That way guests, etc., could use it with a minimum of fuss. I don't think that's even possible with current operating systems. Am I wrong?

Glenn, you're wrong. You can do such a thing for your most likely laptop targets, Mac and Windows OS ones. It's not necessarily a bright idea though. Your only security would consist of the transmission strength of your wireless network. If it were too strong, you could have random strangers printing things to your network. If that's what you want, though, you certainly can do it. Whatever print server you're using would just have to have drivers loaded for all the OS targets you want to support. Computers routinely ask the print server if it has drivers for a strange printer and will load those drivers if they can.

What's really fun is the legal conundrum that you've set up. Setting up a system as a public service like this is supposed to be impossible. Let's say that somebody randomly came up to Glenn Reynold's front door, got a signal, and printed an advertisement on Glenn's printer. Right now, that would be a pretty stiff crime if the printer owner didn't want that print to happen but it would be just fine if the owner was ok about it. There is, however, no recognized way for the guy at the front door to examine the open network and determine whether he can use the network resource or not. You've essentially got a property that isn't posted against trespass but there is no reasonable way to knock on the front door without risking some pretty severe legal penalties.

Posted by TMLutas at October 27, 2005 09:24 AM