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Here at MUO, we’ve always looked for ways to conserve printer resources. Karl covered PrintWhatYouLike, which helps to save paper and ink. Tina also offered an excellent article filled with tips to extend the life of your print cartridge.
One of the most effective ways both businesses and families limit wasted resources is by trying to find alternatives to using printed copies. One of the strategies to accomplish that is by assigning a value to every page printed, and limiting each user to a certain number of printouts over a certain period.
Any application that does this is essentially print server software. While it might be possible to find free printer server software, it’snot always easy to find an app that effectively manages print volume by specific users or groups. One application I found that does this well is PaperCut, available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
PaperCut is actually a high quality, professional print server application, but it offers a fully-functioning free version if you have no more than five users configured in the system. If you’re setting it up for your family or have a small business, then you can use this app for absolutely free.
The setup routine configures your print server for you and you set it up by accessing http://localhost:9191 in your browser. Your first option is whether you want to install the app on your PC as the primary print server, a secondary print server, a web print server or as an Internet proxy server.
Set up your administrator account and choose a good password. If anyone can get into this account, they can pretty much modify the account balances to whatever they like, which would defeat the entire purpose of having the server.
In the next step, when you set up default costs per page, remember that this doesn’t necessarily have to be real money. If you’re setting this up in some public spot where patrons do pay, then this would reflect a real cost per page. But, if you’re setting it up in a home, this simply defines how many pages per “dollar” that your user can print.
So, if you want to limit your kids (or staff) to something like 50 pages a month, you would set the default cost per page to $0.10 and set the user credit in the next step to $5.00. However, if you’re only using it strictly as a print server that you can use to monitor and log printer activity, then set it up with all zeros.
The final step is to import users from your network. If the software is running in a corporate environment, it has the capability to import from a system using Windows Active Directory or LDAP. Most home users will just use Windows Standard.
Using The Software
Once you’re set up, you’re ready to start exploring the system. User management is pretty simple and straightforward. The User List displays a quick history of all balances and a tally of print jobs for each user. In one glance you can spot your heavy hitters.
If you’re interested in identifying peak printing times of the day, week or month, just click on one of the user names and scroll down to “Statistics & History” where you can review a historical trend for the last 30 days of print jobs.
If you want, you can also group multiple users into one account with a shared balance. This is probably most common for businesses where printing costs would come out of the department budget.
You can add as many shared accounts as you like and assign a shared balance per account. Just keep in mind that with the free version you’re allowed 5 users, so the shared account many not be quite as useful in the free version. However, if you wanted to be creative you could use one user per department and have employees log in under the department “user” account.
Finally, you’re going to want an overview of all of the printer activity. The best place to do this is in the “Reports” tab. On this page you’ll find a list of all sorts of summary reports like per-user activity, a list of the most frequent users, and a lot of other summaries sorted by account or group.
You can export all of these reports as either CSV, HTML or PDF format. Overall the application is probably the quickest and easiest way to set up a print server that not only monitors all printer activity, but also gives you a simple way to limit users from “over-printing.” Hopefully this will lead to your users coming up with more innovative and creative ways to use data rather than printing it to hard copy.
Give PaperCut a try and let us know what you think. Do you know of any other similar or better free print server apps available for multiple platforms? Share your ideas in the comments section below.