In the last week I've received separate calls from my mother and aunt. After the usual "How's the family?" chit-chat we got down to brass tacks--each had lost the ability to print and let's just see how smart you really are, Mr. Mac 911.
And so we followed the usual routine. A typical transcript follows:
Me: Is the printer plugged in to both the power outlet and your computer?
Them: I didn't touch it.
Me: I know. But it's plugged in, right?
Them: It worked last week.
Me: Good to know. Is it plugged in? Do you see some kind of light glowing on it, indicating it has power?
Me: Could you trace the other cable to your computer and make sure it's plugged into both the computer and printer?
Them: It's plugged into the wall socket.
Me: Okay. That's the power cable. Try the other one.
Them: What other one?
Me: The one that...
Them: Oh, wait, here it is.
Me: Okay, so it's plugged in on each end?
Me: Good. Now shut down your Mac, turn off the printer, unplug the cable that isn't the power cable on both your Mac and the printer, plug it back in, turn on the printer, and restart your Mac.
Them: Okay. [Time passes and family gossip ensues.] Got it.
Me: Now from the Apple menu, choose System Preferences. When that's open, click on the Print & Fax entry in the second row.
Them: Apple menu?
Me: In the upper-left corner. The thing that looks like an Apple with a bite taken out of it.
Them: Oh, I thought that was just a decoration.
Me: No, it actually does something. So, choose System Preferences and then Print & Fax.
Me: Do you see your printer listed in the Printers list?
Them: Where... oh, yes.
Me: Is there a green dot next to it?
Them: No, it's yellow.
Me: Okay, double-click on the printer.
Them: Nothing's happening.
Me: Try again.
Me: You're double-clicking on the printer's name in the Printers list?
Them: No, I'm clicking on the big picture of the printer where it says Share This Printer.
Me: Do me a favor and launch iChat.
Them: Why? I thought we were going to fix my printer.
Me: We are. Just launch iChat. It's the fifth icon in the Dock. The one with the blue word bubble.
Them: I... okay.
Me: Remember when I said I was going to set you up with an iChat account so I could control your computer remotely? I'm going to do that now. When you see a message that I want to share your screen, click on that message and then click the Accept button.
Them: My computer's making a noise!
Me: Right, that's me asking to share your screen. Click on the message.
Them: What message...? Oh, wait. Here.
Me: Great, I can see your screen now.
Me: Please let go of your mouse.
Them: But what are you...?
Me: Seriously, let go of the mouse. I can't do anything when you....
Them: See, over here I....
Me: For the love of Pete, let go of the damned mouse!
Them: That's no way to talk to....
Me: I'm sorry. Please, just don't touch the mouse. I can fix this but I need to have control of the mouse so I can do things with your computer.
Them: You can move my mouse? How?
Me: Magic. Don't worry about it. I'll tell you what I'm doing.
Them: My mouse is moving!
Me: I know, that's me. Okay, so you see your printer in the list, where I'm pointing the cursor?
Me: I could try to troubleshoot this printer by clearing out the print queue but the fastest way to fix it is to just delete the printer driver and install a new one.
Them: I need a new printer!?
Me: No, you probably just need a fresh copy of the software that helps the printer work. I'm going to do that now. Watch. I select your printer in the list and click the Minus button. When the Mac asks me if I want to delete the printer, I click OK.
Them: Are you sure, because I really need to....
Me: Yes, it will be fine. Now I click the Plus button and a window appears. See, in that window there's your printer telling me that it's connected to your Mac via USB--that cable running between the printer and your Mac. That's good because it means the Mac sees your printer.
Them: Through the camera?
Me: No, it metaphorically sees it. The system can tell the printer's there. Now I just select your printer and click Add.
Them: Oh, the printer's back in the list!
Me: Right, it is. Now I'll open TextEdit and try to print something. You tell me if it prints.
Them: It's starting up. It's... hey look, it's printing! You're a genius! How did you do that?
Me: This is pretty common. There was an issue with the printer driver and although you can sometimes clear these things up by deleting a preference file or mucking with the printer queue, it's just easier to do what I did and replace the driver.
Them: How can I ever thank you?
Me: Don't worry about it. I can use this in the column.
Them: You're not going to make fun of me again are you?
Me: What? Me? Never.
This story, "Remotely Fixing the Family Printer" was originally published by Macworld.