Ask HTG: Adding a PDF Printer, Hiding Windows Logins, and Sharing a USB HDD

By Jason Fitzpatrick on May 2nd, 2011

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Each week we dip into the Ask How-To Geek mailbox and answer your pressing questions. This week we’re looking at installing PDF printers, hiding accounts at the Windows Login Screen, and sharing a USB HDD between computers.

Adding a PDF Printer

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Dear How-To Geek,

In your rant article on Style Sheets, you mention Print to PDF:  “And of course, there’s loads of people that use print-to-PDF to save articles for later without wasting paper.”

Being basically CHEAP, I liked this idea so decided to try it out this morning.  I don’t have a Print to PDF option when I go to print.  How do I get this option?

Sincerely,

Looking for PDFs in St. Louis

Dear Looking,

There isn’t a default PDF printer built into Windows, so you’ll need to add one. It’s really simple to do so and once you’re done you’ll have easy-peasy access to a PDF printer for all your future print-to-file needs. While you could go the official route and pay for Adobe Acrobat, that’s overkill for simple access to a PDF printer. Instead we suggest you follow our guide to installing CutePDF under Windows Vista (the guide will work fine for Windows 7, also). You’ll be PDF printing in a matter of minutes.

Tidying Up the Windows Login Screen

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Dear How-to Geek,

Today I was wondering why I had to select my username on my laptop that’s only being used by me. Every time I need to click on the same icon after starting my computer. If you have one account on Windows Vista/7 you can just type in the password and start. But when you have 2 accounts (one is the administrator and one is the normal user) you need to select one. I don’t use the administrator-account, at least not in my daily use. I would like to have Windows 7 to ask directly for my normal account. I know it’s just one single click but it’s an useless click. What can I do?

Sincerely,

Give Me One Click or Give Me Death

Dear One Click,

It certainly would be nice if Windows had a built-in setting which allowed you to hide logins, wouldn’t it? While we’re sitting around waiting for that setting to appear, however, we can achieve the same end with a simple registry edit. You can check out our guide to removing user accounts from the login screen in Windows Vista/7 here. Other readers might be interested in our similar guide for Windows XP here.

Connecting Multiples Computers to One USB HDD

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Dear How-To Geek,

I would like to give four computers access to a single USB hard drive. There’s a big catch, though. None of the computers are networked and I would like to share the hard drive with all of them via USB at the same time. Is this possible?

Sharing USB in San Diego

Dear Sharing,

We’re sorry to inform you that there’s really no way to accomplish what you’re asking, at least not without some concessions that essentially amount to building a simple network. USB cannot be split in the fashion in which you desire. USB connects to a host computer via one controller and that controller handles everything. You can’t split a USB connection between multiple locations and have the HDD simultaneously mounted.

That said, you can easily accomplish the kind of connectivity you need very cheaply. Since you wanted to share the drive among non-networked computers we’ll go out on a limb and assume that they are close to each other (close enough for a USB cord to reach). With the computers that close together it will be absolutely trivial to set up a simple network. You’ll need a router, but not a very fancy one. Ask around to see if any of your friends have an old router laying around (you’ll probably find at least one or two friends with an old Wi-Fi B router they’d be happy to get rid of). Barring that, you can find plenty of cheap but dependable refurbished routers online like this Linksys router.

In addition to the router you’ll need four lengths of Ethernet cable to hook the PCs to the router. Once everything is hooked together you need to plug the drive into one of the PCs (pick the one that will be turned on the most) and share the drive with the network. Read how to share files between XP and Windows 7 here and how to set up simple sharing under Vista/7 here. Once you’ve shared the folder/drive on the network all the other machines will be able to access it with the host computer acting as the controller.

We know that’s not quite the answer you’re looking for but it’s the fastest and most functional solution to your problem.


Have a burning tech question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and you might just see your question on the front page.

 

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/2/11
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