Like many other private schools, there have been rumblings at my workplace about going one-to-one (that is computers to students). At the moment, those rumblings point towards a pilot program rolling out iPads in the Middle School. We have a lot of smart teachers doing interesting things with iPads in their classrooms already, and I think that an iPad program could have a number of benefits in the classroom (though it will require a thoughtful digital citizenship curriculum), but that’s not what I’m most concerned with at the moment. I’m concerned with how the kids and teachers will print to all our legacy printers from their shiny new tablets.
A week or two ago, I was asked to research a product that is supposed to simply and seamlessly solve the problem of using legacy printers for AirPrint. The idea, which is a decent idea, is that you plug this box into your network and it discovers all your printers and makes them available for AirPrint. The problem, which I’ve heard from other sysadmins at schools in the area, is that this particular product doesn’t scale well–one of the boxes costs about $100, and each of them is “good” for about 7 printers, but even then, they apparently have a tendency to lock up and require frequent hard resets. There are software solutions available, but they cost money and run on Macs, and I don’t want to make us get a dedicated Mac to act as an AirPrint server if there’s a way to get the system running for free on open-source software.
Well, it turns out there is a way. At this point, I’ve only done a small-scale proof-of-concept, but as of this writing, I have printed a document from my iPad to my office’s HP 3505n, which is certainly a step in the right direction, and in the future, I’ll probably do a scaled-up test and then hopefully put the system into full deployment. In my test case, there was no noticeable lag between my submitting the print job from my iPad and the printer firing up compared to printing directly from my computer.
To get this running, I used my Linux workstation, which is running Ubuntu 12.04.1. Ubuntu comes with Avahi pre-installed, which is great, because you need that, too. (You may remember my mentioning Avahi before.) After installing your printer or printers, you need to make sure that they’re shared, then edit your CUPS configuration and create a configuration file for Avahi. Full instructions are on gyttja’s blog, though the original article referenced seems to be down, so you’ll want to go here to get it on the wayback machine.
You’ll want to restart CUPS and Avahi after you’ve put through all the changes, otherwise, you probably won’t get any results, and some swearing might ensue. To do that, just run
sudo service cups restart
sudo service avahi-daemon restart
Look for another post on this subject here once I get a solution working on our campus.