OpenPrinting keeps old printers working – even on Windows
Or, how to make an unsupported printer work on Windows 11 with Ubuntu and WSL2
Ubuntu Summit The OpenPrinting project – together with Windows Subsystem for Linux – enables printers that Windows no longer supports to work on Windows 11.
We know that some Reg readers still actually prefer Windows. Maybe it's like those hardcore users of Vi and Emacs in the 21st century: some sort of software-induced Stockholm Syndrome. If you are one of them, it's OK. The penguin is here for you. It can help and can aid Windows 11 users, in particular.
Finally Windows is starting to lose some of its legacy support: no more support for 32-bit hardware, for example. You're not even allowed to have a vertical taskbar any more (unless you use Explorer Patcher, that is). And some old drivers are disappearing. Maybe you have some ancient laser printers – old enough to vote – or an all-in-one device that still prints fine but doesn't have a driver for Windows 11.
Linux is notably better at supporting really old hardware – and that includes really old printers. If the driver will still compile, it won't be removed. And the CUPS printing system is still being maintained, even though owner Apple walked away from it in 2020. It's now under the aegis of the OpenPrinting project.
Project manager Till Kamppeter gave a short talk about one of the project's interesting new features: printing from Windows via OpenPrinting running inside WSL.
The OpenPrinting developers have converted all the project's old drivers into new-style Printing Applications and packaged them for the Snap store, in preparation for Canonical's planned modernization of Ubuntu's printing subsystem.
Kamppeter's slides [PDF] show how it works, complete with a demo video. Canonical has put significant effort into supporting WSL, as The Reg has noted before. This is in stark contrast to Red Hat's approach, where the first member of the IBM subsidiary's extended family to appear on the Windows Store was Oracle Linux.
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In brief, how it works is this: you install WSL from the Microsoft Store, then install Ubuntu in it. You add the Printer Application "snap" (the term for a bundle of an app and its dependencies) and the snap with drivers for your old-but-still-functional printer, then point Windows at the WSL VM's IP address. Presto – you can add, and then print to, a printer to which Windows itself can no longer talk.
The new app works because WSL2 supports systemd, and Snap requires systemd. Now that Ubuntu inside WSL can run systemd, you can install snaps on it, and that means you can install the new OpenPrinting tools and drivers and get things working in a few clicks, with no scary command-line stuff needed.
Which means that even some of the most hardcore Windows users might benefit from a taste of Ubuntu. ®