Like other operating systems, Windows XP supports print spooling. Rather than print directly to the printer, applications send translated, ready-to-print jobs to an area of disk space. The print spool is managed by Windows XP, which in turn takes care of sending the print job to the physical print device. The advantage of spooling a print job is that you don't have to wait for the document to finish printing before you can continue using the application. As far as the application is concerned, once the document is in the spool, it's printed.
For most people, the default settings for print spooling work just fine. In some cases, though, you might need to tweak the settings or turn off spooling. To do so, access the Properties dialog box of the desired printer, and on the Advanced tab, choose the "Print directly to the printer" option, as shown in Figure 8-12.
Figure 8-12. Spooling is configured on a printer-by-printer basis.
The default setting, which spools the print job and starts printing it immediately, offers two advantages for the average user: one, control is returned to the application more quickly. Two, the spool file uses less hard disk space, and therefore requires fewer system resources.
Changing the setting to "Start after the last page is spooled" means that Windows spools the entire document to hard disk before starting the print operation. This could be an advantage when printing very large print jobs, as the entire print job is available to the printer at once. This can help alleviate certain bottlenecks caused, for example, when the printer is waiting for the spool file to ready the print job. If you're not printing huge print jobs, this setting would not be an advantage.
You can also choose to eliminate the spool file altogether by "Print(ing) directly to the printer." With this setting, the print job prints in the foreground rather than the background and does not return control to the application until the print job is through. Thus, your application will be busy throughout the entire printing process.