Replacing XP and Vista with Ubuntu

Conclusion 3/10/2017

Any cheap Epson will be okay if you can't find the model I recommended below. Just buy extra ink with it when you buy the printer because nowadays printers come with either no ink or a tiny amount of "starter ink." Other models aside from Epson might be fine, but I am an Epson buyer, so that's what I'm recommending because you asked. I am not a printer expert.

Just make sure it's wireless. Most all of them are, but make sure. That way you don't have to plug it into any of the computers. Instead, it will be able to connect to the router wirelessly, and all the computers will be able to see it.

Once you have it, I'm sure you have someone who can put the password in for you on the front panel. I am done, as I don't do ongoing maintenance and support.

Comments on the Dell 2330dn Laser Printer

  1. It's not a network printer. Because you have no ethernet jack in the lab, you can only use this printer by plugging it directly into one of the computers. This could still be do-able because everyone would be working in the cloud, so if they want to print something, they just have to get on that one computer to use the printer.
  2. This printer takes one toner cartridge instead of ink cartridges. The toner cartridge costs $57.00. 
  3. Toner cartridges don't dry up after disuse the way ink cartridges do, so it could be okay, but I'm less familiar with laser printers than ink printers (and I'm no expert on either). Also I don't know how efficiency compares between laser and ink when the laser printer is old. 
  4. This printer is at least eight years old, and while it may have been a good printer for its time, that's pretty old technology.
  5. This is not a color printer. It's monochrome.


You could try plugging it into one of the computers if you have a printer USB cable handy. But even if it works, it might not be worth it. Here are some considerations:

  1. Due to its age, it could break at any time, and that would be a waste of money if you've now bought a new toner.
  2. It might be more helpful to have a network printer than a USB printer, so that it's shared across all the computers.
  3. There may be some unexpected downsides to not having a color printer that you we can't think of off-hand.
  4. You might have access to someone with more printer expertise who might advise you differently, but if you want to know my opinion, it's not worth it.  I recommend getting a new printer. The computers were definitely worth breathing new life into, but printers often are not.

    How to Evaluate a Second-Hand Printer

    This is a somewhat good order in which to evaluate the printer. There is no perfect order to the steps, though, as all of these criteria may matter, and are interconnected.

    1. Google the make and model to determine if it has all the functionality you need, such as print, scan, fax. Also find reviews to see how economical this printer is with its ink. Also determine its age as best you can based on the model. If it's very old, or the ink is hard to find online or in the store, or if the reviews are disagreeable, pull out the ink cartridges (I recycle them, thank you) and toss the printer out.
    2. Make sure the power cord is with it.
    3. Check to see if it has any ink in it and find out if possible how long it has been sitting unused.
    4. If there's ink, plug it in and use the maintenance function on the printer panel to run a test print. You don't need an internet connection to do the test print.
    5. If you don't get a good print, try running maintenance several times from the front panel. If you still don't get a good print, it could be because the ink cartridges are dried out from disuse. Or it could be because the print heads are dried out or damaged from disuse. This second problem can happen in as little as a month of disuse. My hit rate is low with repairing dried print heads, so now it's a decision of you're going to find someone who is handy with fixing print heads. 
    6. If there's no ink in the printer, or if you think the existing cartridges are dried out, now there's a decision of whether to buy ink, not knowing if you'll get a good print after purchasing the ink. It's a risk because after replacing the ink, you could discover that the print heads are dried out or damaged. Remember that opened ink cannot be returned. And the ink can cost more than a new printer.
    7. If you decide to continue, and before buying any ink, now use the front panel of the printer to hook it up to the wireless network.
    8. Buy any needed new ink but don't stock up too much -- an old, second-hand printer that was idle could fail at any time.
    9. Please continue reading below.

    If you determine that this is not a good printer

    It's possible that your lovingly donated printer needs to go to printer heaven. You might decide to buy a new printer instead. I am partial to cheap Epson Printers. The Epson Expression XP-330 is bare bones but may be all you need. Here's an amazon link, but you can get it lots of places. It runs around $45.00. It comes with very low capacity "starter" ink cartridges, so you'll want to make your ink cartridge purchase at the same time that you buy the Epson Printer.

    Something else to consider is that printers are so much cheaper nowadays that it can easily be more cost effective to get a new, more ink efficient printer, even if you find the donated printer to be working.

    User and Administrator summary notes: (see further below for deeper information)

    1. On the Dell Inspiron laptop that lacks a battery, the boot process requires that you press Enter to complete the boot. There is nothing wrong.
    2. On the Dell Vostro 360, the boot process throws a message about the power adapter. It asks you to press F1 to complete the boot process. There is noth.


    Recently I had the privilege of breathing new life into six old computers so that they can be used for people in special need. Their only requirement is access to the cloud so they could use Google apps, which meant I could stomp on Windows (stomping on Windows is fun) with Ubuntu (a flavor of Linux). It's open source, and therefore it's free. It also doesn't break easily.

    First, a mention about the future of the computers. Because these computers are quite old, I recommend replacement with a Chromebook if you see anything go wrong. They are probably not worth fixing in most cases. Two noteworthy failures that are likely to happen at some point: 
    1. Hard drives can fail at any time, causing any number of unusual symptoms
    2. Internal fans can fail at any time, causing overheating, which will lead to irreversible damage to the motherboard

    The donated computers include:
    1. Dell W03C Vostro 360, which had Windows 7 on it
    2. Dell Vostro 320, which had Vista on it
    3. Dell Vostro 320, which had Vista on it
    4. Dell Vostro 320, which had Vista on it
    5. Dell Inspiron, which had XP on it, and was ten years old
    6. Dell Inspiron, which had XP on it, and was ten years old

    I should mention that I did this as a team with Mike, but I'd like to play that down just a bit, as I find among my older generation (not the Millenials) it is common for people to assume that Mike was "in charge" and was the "tekkie" one. It is a personal mission of mine to keep attacking this when I can. The truth is he's more the marketing guy; I'm the geek. We both know some things, and we both know some different things from each other, so working as a team made this project go faster. So from now on, I will say "we," just to be fair.

    Here are some more notes.  
    1. We used Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS Desktop, which apparently comes with 5 years of free support
    2. To install Ubuntu, we created a bootable USB stick, using a windows computer, following these instructions which use Rufus: Create a bootable USB stick
    3. We turned on the setting that would download any future updates to Ubuntu
    4. We left the default browser as firefox
    5. We were forced to input a password, but disabled it in various settings. Still, if someone were to run terminal commands, they'd need the password. The person in charge has the passwords.
    6. One of the Inspiron laptops doesn't have a working battery, and therefore needs to stay plugged in.  Because of this, the Ubuntu GRUB (boot loader) gets cranky, throwing a message, and awaiting user input. Just press enter, and boot will complete
    7. This power cord was ordered for the Vostro 360: Dell Slim 150-Watt AC Adapter Charger with Power Cord for Dell Alienware M15x / Alienware M14x. This power adapter is compatible with the Dell Vostro 360. The Dell Vostr0 360 requires a 150 watt to 180 watt power cord. For some reason, this Vostro throws a message during boot that says 150 watts is not enough, but it is enough, especially because it's running Ubuntu (not Windows.) Just press F1 as instructed to complete the boot.
    8. Both the Inspirons required special handling because Ubuntu couldn't seem to identify the firmware needed for the wireless connection. After this list is a description of what needed to be done.
    9. We found that wireless connection using Ubuntu has a "gotcha" because we had to edit connection and permanently put in the wireless password in order for it to work
    For the special handling of the two Inspiron's wireless firmware, we followed these instructions: Askubuntu.

    In case the above link no longer works, I have reproduced the steps here:

    Download the file to a usb flash drive then drag and drop the file to your ubuntu desktop. Right-click it and select Extract Here.
    Open a terminal and do:
    sudo mkdir /lib/firmware/b43
    sudo cp Desktop/b43/*  /lib/firmware/b43
    sudo modprobe -rv b43 
    sudo modprobe -v b43
    if it does not come on reboot.