My wife and I continue to get settled into our new home. My home office has been pretty much fully operational for a while, but we’ve only recently gotten my wife’s home office space setup. My home office is upstairs, and I have all my equipment concentrated in that space. Her home office is in the first floor study, and features a beautiful built-in desk and shelves (although we had to drill in holes for grommets to run power cables). Her iMac G5 is set up in that space, as is her Epson RX580 printer. We were able conceal the printer in one of the two slide-out cabinets under the desk. During the day, she prefers to telecommute on the couch with her ThinkPad X31, with her favorite cat, Kona, curled up next to her.

I have been enjoying a networked OfficeJet Pro 7680 for many months… it’s set up on my home network via wired Ethernet. I put drivers on my wife’s work laptop so she could print to it while she’s on Wi-Fi. But the problem is that she’ll print something from downstairs, at a distance from the actual printer. So I typically take her printed output, walk over to the second floor landing, and flutter the pages down to her. Not ideal.

She’s been wanting a new printer, as her Epson just doesn’t print photos with the quality she wants. So we researched it, and decided to keep her Epson for everyday document printing, but to get the network capable HP PhotoSmart C6380. Although I sometimes go nuts because of the size and complexity of the HP printer software, I do think they make excellent printers. So when I got an HP promotional e-mail with a discount code, I figured it was time to buy.

After the new PhotoSmart printer arrived, we unpacked it and were pleased to discover it just barely fit into the other slide-out cabinet area under her built-in desk. I leveraged the printer’s built-in Wi-Fi capability and joined it to my wireless network within just a few moments after powering it up. So far so good. Next, I set up the HP software on her iMac, and it recognized the printer and that setup went off without a hitch.

The only issue I had was getting her work laptop to see the networked printer during the HP software setup process. No doubt, this was due to her work laptop’s security setup and firewall configuration. Not wanting to really mess too much with the laptop’s settings (I’m in corporate IT, I know how tough it can be to support corporate laptops when people mess with them), I gave it some thought. I recall having to do something sneaky when I loaded the OfficeJet Pro drivers, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it was I did. Then it came to me — I should set up the HP software on a direct USB connection, then go back and change the port properties to the TCP/IP port after the drivers are loaded. And that worked… once I pointed the port to the IP address of the printer, it was able to print on the network. No more dropping pages from the second floor landing. She can even scan documents without having to connect directly to the printer.

It’s pretty amazing to see how many low-cost printers have networking built-in now. While many of these printers aren’t really suitable for the heavy usage in a true office environment, they offer a degree of flexibility for the home user that was mostly unheard of just a couple years ago. Yes, you could always share a printer via peer-to-peer, but that meant you had to have a PC attached to that printer and always powered up… not to mention it posed challenges in a multi-OS household.

My next home network related project will be to introduce some kind of dedicated network shared storage device, although I’m not sure what direction I’m going to go. There are a ton of inexpensive NAS drives positioned for the SOHO market. The Drobo NAS drive has got some buzz going for it, and they’re offering extended functionality via community developed apps called “Drobo Apps“. I’m leaning towards the HP MediaSmart server, based on Windows Home Server. It’s pricier, that’s for sure, but it has a really nice feature set. When I do something in that space, I’ll be sure to do a write-up.