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The CUPS System Interface

Despite its ubiquitous presence, printing, as a process, is not a simple or conveniently packaged application. The interfaces need to be universally available, flexible, and extendable, without that flexibility jeopardizing the software that relies on it. It needs to seamlessly operate over group of devices that range in sophistication from knowing how find a particular point on a sheet of paper and place a black dot, to having complete operating systems and internal programming languages, and it needs to present all of these to the user with a cohesive, consistent interface. This calls for a considerable amount of programming glue, in the form of little programs that live between larger applications, and between parts of the operating system itself, and which handle the job of ironing out printing process details so that everything thinks it's talking to a single, cohesive interface.

Most of the software acting as glue between the Print Center interface, the command line, and GUI applications is based on or related to CUPS. CUPS is a general printing solution that's been being developed on other Unix variants for several years, and now is available on Mac OS X. Because one of the goals of CUPS is to bring AppleTalk-like printing simplicity to Unix, and because the other Unix systems don't have the Print Center built in, CUPS itself has a nice configuration and control system of its own. This system is accessed through a web page interface that you should be able to find via the URL http://127.0.0.1:631/. As the Print Center/Printer Setup Utility matures, this interface becomes more and more redundant. It still, however, presents a few capabilities not available through the Print Center. Perhaps more interestingly, it allows GUI-based remote configuration and administration of printers via a web browser, so it's worth being familiar with, even if you don't use it regularly.


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