OfficeBasic Wireless G, by Axis Communications
Posted: 18-Jul-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Axis Communications Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

Overview
Photo-quality USB printers are very common these days, but sharing a USB printer is not as simple as sharing an ethernet network laser printer. To share a USB printer, it must first be connected to a computer, the computer must have software that allows sharing the printer, and the computer must be on to provide access to the printer from other computers. It also means that the printer must always be connected to the sharing computer. Mac OS X comes with software that supports sharing a USB printer, but that's only a partial solution. To provide the flexibility of having a printer located in a remote location where no computer exists, and to allow the printer to be shared without dependency on a computer server, you will need a print server. With a USB print server, you can connect your USB printer to your local network, making it accessible just like an ethernet network printer. For the maximum freedom, using a wireless print server lets you connect to the network without having to be near an ethernet port.

Axis Communications offers a solution to this need by way of the OfficeBasic Wireless G, a wireless USB print server. The OfficeBasic USB Wireless G Print Server shares USB 2.0 printers in IEEE 802.11b/g wireless networks. It ensures safe and secure printing in Windows and Macintosh environments by supporting the latest wireless encryption standards such as WPA, WPA2 and WEP encryption.


Features

  • Wireless pocket USB print server: increased flexibility with reduced cabling
  • Reliable printer sharing in 802.11b/g wireless networks: access your printer from your wireless LAN-equipped laptop or easily share a printer with your colleagues over a wireless network
  • Secure wireless data transmission: with WPA, WPA2 and WEP encryption
  • Easy installation: AXIS OBW Wizard for Windows and support for Bonjour (a.k.a Rendezvous) in Macintosh environments
  • OS support: Windows, Macintosh
  • Multilingual support: User's Guide and internal Web pages available in English, German, Spanish, French and Italian


Setup
Axis wireless print servers work with any USB printer and any 802.11b/g access point in any network. Once the wireless print server has been installed and connected to a printer, it can operate in one of two modes: ad hoc and infrastructure. In both modes, you setup the print server by connecting the server to your USB printer using the supplied USB cable. Once the print server is connected to your printer and to a power source (using the included power supply adapter), you can then access the print server directly from a wireless computer (ad hoc mode), or through a wireless access point, such as a wireless router (infrastructure mode).


Setting up the print server in Ad Hoc mode

Most people will use the server in an infrastructure mode, and for the purposes of this review, that's the mode that I will be using. I have the print server connected to an HP Deskjet 970Cxi printer, and my local network runs on a Microsoft wireless router.


Setting up the print server in Infrastructure mode

Configuration
Once you have the hardware setup, you then need to configure the print server. Most of the default settings for the print server are fine, but there are some that you will need to set to get your printer working on your network.

The print server is configured via the web, so the first thing you need to do is determine the local IP address of the server in order to access the configuration page. This is probably the biggest hurdle in the setup process, since you are starting out blind. Well, at least that's the feeling that most Mac users may have initially, since we are a breed that has become spoiled on everything being obvious or intuitive. To determine your server's IP address, you will need to consult the
installation guide to figure out how.

Once you find the information you need in the installation guide, it's a breeze from there on. As the guide states on step 6 of the Hardware Installation section, "Press the server's external reset button for 5 seconds. A test page will be printed on the connected printer, displaying information about the print server's IP address, firmware number, etc." I printed the test page, and learned that my print server had a local IP address of 192.168.2.29. It's probably a good idea to read through the installation guide anyway, but once I had the IP address, I was off to the races.

From any computer on my local network, I simply launched a web browser and entered the print server's IP address into the location field. This displays the print server's web page, with several options for viewing and configuring different settings. Before you get started on the configuration, however, I strongly recommend ensuring that your firmware is up-to-date. I needed to update the firmware on my server in order to fix a particular problem (which I can no longer remember the specifics of the problem).

The test page printed earlier will show the current firmware number. To find out if you are current, go to the
Axis OfficeBasic Firmware web page and check the latest firmware.


Downloading the latest AXIS OfficeBasic Firmware

For some reason, this page is password protected now, but it's easy enough to create an account and get access to the page. If your firmware is not up-to-date, then download the latest flash file (usually ends with ".bin"). Place the file in an easy place to navigate to, such as your desktop, and then pull up the Wireless Print Server configuration page (using your print server's IP address). Click on the Maintenance tab, and then click on the Firmware Upgrade sub-tab. Use the Choose File button to navigate to the flash file you just downloaded, and once set, click on the Firmware Upgrade button. Then you just wait for the upgrade to complete, and if all went well, the next time you access the page it should show the updated firmware number.


Upgrading your OfficeBasic Firmware

There are a few other things you will want to configure on this Print Server page. Click on the Setup tab to access all of the configuration options. These options include setting up the primary system settings, the wireless settings, TCP/IP settings, AppletTalk settings and SNMP settings.


Establishing the Sytem Settings


Under System settings, you can name your print server, as well as enter your name and location. This is also where you setup the administrator password. NOTE: The user guide states that the initial password is "pass", while the installation guide states that the password is not initially required. It may be that when the password is "pass", the password is not required. In any case, once you have changed your settigns, click on Save & Restart to save and activate the changes.


Establishing the Wireless Settings

Under Wireless settings, you can change the server mode (Infrastructure or Ad Hoc), the SSID, channel number and a number of other settings. The channel number is not used in Infrastructure mode, and the SSID is the access point (which, in this case, is my wireless router which is named "Mists of Avalon").

I left all of the other settings as the defaults. Under TCP/IP, the IP address is assigned by DHCP (aka, the wireless router assigns it). The instructions recommend changing it to a fixed IP address so that you reduce the problems of having the IP change on you. If you want your print server to show up in your AppleTalk list under Printer Setup, you can also specify your AppleTalk Zone under AppleTalk settings.

What is not covered in the documentation is how to set up the print server if you have a WEP password on your wireless router. I had to contact the vendor, Axis, and was told that if your wireless router has WEP encryption enabled,
you would either need to disable it temporarily until you can go thru the configuration of your print server, or set it up in Ad-hoc mode, referred to in the installation guide as "Setup in Diagnostic Mode". Given that more and more people are protecting their wireless networks with WEP security, it would be a nice feature if the print server could have the WEP password entered via the web configuration. In the very list, I think configuring this type of setup should be clearly explained in the documentation

Printer Setup
Once you have the print server configured correctly, you can now go into the Printer Setup utility in Mac OS X to define the printer. There are a number of ways you can add your print server attached printer to your printer list. It can be added via IP address, AppleTalk, or Rendezvous. The easiest way, and the method I chose, was to use Rendezvous. This was actually my first time using anything Rendezvous, so this was an interesting adventure.

Under Panther, when you are adding a printer, you get a drop-down menu that includes several options, such as USB, IP, or Rendezvous. Under Tiger, the print server automatically shows up in your browser with "Rendezvous" as the connection type. The default server name is AXISxxx Wireless Print Server (where xxx is the serial number), but I renamed mine to "Avalon Print Server". With the print server selected, you specify which driver to use for printing (this would be the driver specific to the printer that is connected to your print server). Once the printer is added, you are done.


While the entire process from setting up the print server to setting up your printer may, at first, seem like a long and complicated process, in practice, I found it to be relatively simple.


In Use
Once the Print Server is setup in your printer list, printing to the device is no different than printing to any other printer in your printer list. For whatever document is being printed, simply choose the Print Server as the printer in the printer dialog.


Printing to the Print Server


Click on Print, and Mac OS X sends the job to the print server. The print server, in turn, sends the job to the connected printer. Just like that, you are now printing to a USB printer in a remote location via wireless connectivity.

Using the Print Server web page, you can also monitor the device. Click on the Status tab, and you have options to view system settings, printer settings, the current print job, wireless settings, TCP/IP settings, AppleTalk settings and SNMP settings. The System status is basically the information that was entered for the print server under Setup. This includes the server name, contact name and location. It also displays the server up time, firmware version, MAC address, and operation mode.


Status of the printer connected to the Print Server

Under the Printer status, you can see the specific printer that is connected to the print server. It displays the manufacturer, model, languages and current status. It also includes the printer usage stats.

The Print Job status basically displays information about the current job being sent (if there is an active job). The Wireless status displays information about the wireless router, as well as signal information, transmit mode and rate, and so on. TCP/IP status shows your TCP/IP settings as well as your Rendezvous settings. AppleTalk and SNMP status show settings associated to both of those protocols.


TCP/IP Settings for the Print Server


I was very impressed with the simplicity as well as the control over configuration offered by this product. I never had any problems with print jobs over several months, so it rates very high in terms of reliability as well. Best of all, by turning my USB printer into a wireless device, I was able to place the printer in the most convenient location within reach of my wireless router. The print server is small enough to tag right along with the printer without causing too much clutter. You just have to be aware that both the printer and the print server both require their own power, so that is two power outlets that need to be available. I also noticed that the print server got a little warm after extensive use.

For those with PC's and Macs in the same network, you can access the print server from any PC as well. There is PC software that comes with the print server to help with that, as well as a PC-only setup wizard that also allows you to setup the configuration of the print server from a PC. I found that the web configuration pages provided all the settings parameters that I needed, so I didn't mind that there was no Mac setup wizard.

Docuementation
The OfficeBasic Print Server comes with both an Installation Guide as well as a Users Manual in electronic PDF form. For the most part, these guides provided excellent information and help on getting setup, and were well organized. The only thing noticeably missing from either guide is any discussion related to wireless routers with WEP passwords.

Summary
The Axis OfficeBasic Wireless G is a wireless USB print server that allows you to use any USB printer from any location within range of your wireless network. This print server is both compact and stylish, and is easily connected to whatever USB printer you decide to use, in whatever location you choose. This is great for placing a printer in a location where a wired connection is not practical, and it also makes it convenient if you frequently relocate your printer among various locations. The OfficeBasic provides secure printing by supporting the latest wireless encryption standards, albeit, there is not very good documentation on setting up the print server when you have a WEP password. The web configuration of the OfficeBasic is easy to use, and provides many options for customizing your setup. The OfficeBasic also comes with a standalone setup wizard, but this only runs on the PC. The good news is that it isn't needed. It was relatively easy for me to setup my HP USB printer on the web, and even easier to print to it! Under Mac OS X, the printer automatically shows up under Rendezvous, and you print to it just like you would to any printer. The quality and speed of printing through the print server is comparable to printing to a device directly connected via USB. This is a great product for any Mac user looking for a wireless print option for their USB printer.

Pros

  • Locate and use your USB printer anywhere within range of your wireless router
  • Highly customizable through easy remote web configuration pages
  • Stylish and compact design
  • Printers show up under Rendezvous
  • Comes with USB cable


Cons

  • Documentation is not clear how to handle routers with WEP passwords
  • Setup Wizard is PC only (wizard is unnecessary, but still a light slap to Mac users)
  • Not obvious how to determine initial URL for web configuration (without referring to installation guide)
  • Print server uses a 2nd power outlet (USB printer using the 1st), and runs a little warm


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice