In order to truly understand printing, we have to be precise with our terminology. Just as the first-year med student must know about the lateral meniscus (it's in the knee) even if he or she is planning on becoming a brain surgeon, so too a Windows expert must understand basic printing vocabulary in order to proceed to more advanced printing tasks.
We have to be clear, for example, whether we're talking about a piece of software (the printer) that prepares electronic words and images before they're translated into ink dots, or the piece of hardware that applies ink to the page (the print device). What follows is a quick overview of the terms used in a Windows XP print environment:
Printer. A piece of software that provides the necessary translation so that Windows can send information to a print device. The printer is there to provide access to the print device on your desk.
Print device. What is normally referred to (before this section, anyway) as the printer. This is the piece of equipment that turns your electronic files into readable output on a sheet of paper.
Print driver. A part of the printer installation that translates document formats into a language that the printer can understand. In other words, because of printer drivers, all documents look the same to the printer, no matter what application they are sent from. Each different print device usually ships with its own unique print driver, although many print devices can at least function with drivers that have not been specifically designed for it.
Print server. A computer that has made the printer software resource available on the network by sharing it. It has nothing to do with the title of the OS. All Windows 9x and later computers, for example, can be print servers because they have the necessary components to make printers available to other computers.
Port. A printer needs a way to send its translated information to the print device. It accomplishes this through a specifically defined pathway, known as a port. These information pathways can be of several varieties, as you'll soon learn.
Print spooler. A print spooler is an area of buffer storage (usually an area on a disk) where documents wait to be serviced. The printer pulls the waiting jobs off the buffer at its own rate. This line-up of print jobs is also known as the print queue, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Because the documents are in a buffer where they can be accessed by the printer, you can perform other operations on the computer while the printing takes place in the background. Spooling also lets you place a number of print jobs in a queue instead of waiting for each one to finish before specifying the next one.