[buug] Printers (and Open Source, etc.)

Michael Paoli Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu
Wed Apr 8 06:08:36 PDT 2009

Quoting "Pewter Bot" <pewterbot9 at gmail.com>:

P> Being Linux compatible is no assurance that the printer will produce
P> pages even half as good as Windoze. I know from personal

Results definitely will vary.  In some cases, much better results will
be obtained with Linux / OpenSource.  E.g. my relatively ancient
Hewlett-Packard DeskJet Plus printer (about 1989 vintage) works great
with Debian GNU/Linux, ... not only does it work great with current
Debian, but it quite likely works much better with current Debian -
even after all these years - than it likely does (if it even works at
all) with most current released operating system from Microsoft.  I was
also very pleasantly surprised a fair number of years back, when I
discovered that with Debian GNU/Linux, I could print PostScript to my
non-PostScript aforementioned printer (thanks to gs(1) (Ghostscript)).

And (trying to avoid being too redundant with what others have already
said), whether or not it's listed as "compatible" with Linux isn't much
of a guarantee one way or the other.  I rather doubt these days that my
Hewlett-Packard DeskJet Plus printer shows up on a whole lot of Linux
compatible printer lists ... other than where it's mostly just been
carried forward from being put on such a list a long time ago.  That,
however, doesn't mean it doesn't and wouldn't work.  E.g., if there are
drivers/programs/methods that support the language(s)/protocols of the
printer (and do so rather to quite well), then it will generally work -
even if the printer isn't explicitly listed as supported.

Quoting "Rick Moen" <rick at linuxmafia.com>:

R> Indeed, a number of printer manufacturers decline to even minimally meet
R> the needs of open source developers -- which means they're not willing
R> to make technical specs and example code available except (perhaps)
R> under NDA, which of course precludes use of that information in open
R> source development.  Please note that this isn't just a Linux thing, but

Yes, ... "open hardware" - or at least making the relevant technical
information available - and preferably readily available without NDA or
the like - is quite important to OpenSource.  E.g. my quite old printer
came with excellent documentation on all the escape/control sequences
used by the printer (a version of Hewlett-Packard's Printer Control
Language (PCL)).  My genuine Hercules monochrome graphics card came
with information how to request - for free - technical details (for
programmers, etc.) for programming the hardware, etc.  I requested and
got that information (as likely did hundreds or more developers) - so
that information is rather to quite available - and hence that graphics
card is very well supported in OpenSource (much to my pleasant
surprise, years ago, I discovered xfree86 (now x.org) supports X on
that graphics card!  Something not even SCO did if one paid SCO the
extra dollars to get X11).  Okay, so 1 bit monochrome X isn't too
exciting ... but hey, it works, and I found it to be much more exciting
than no X at all (so exciting I decided that adding a mouse would make
my X more useable).  Anyway, point is (at least sufficiently) "open
hardware" is quite important to OpenSource.  It not only helps in
getting the hardware supported, but in helping to ensure it will
continue to be supported.  Binary only "blob" support tends to
disappear over time - this is quite commonly seen, e.g., with Microsoft
"drivers" (try to get your ten year old anything peripheral supported
on a current Microsoft operating system - not likely to be supported.
For OpenSource (e.g. Linux), if the information was ever there to allow
it to be supported, quite likely it's still supported - or at least
could be supported).

R> By the way:  Friends don't let friends buy cruddy injets.

Well, inkjets definitely have their disadvantages and (few) advantages.
I'd generally recommend avoiding like the plague any that have patent
encumbered inkjet cartridges (most notably ones that lock one in to
"forever" (okay, about 17 years or so) buying overpriced - and likely
ever increasing in price - inkjet cartridges from exactly one
manufacturer).  Fortunately my (quite) old inkjet printer at least
doesn't have the cartridge patent mess to deal with (so cheap(er)
cartridges from other suppliers, refills/refilling that works, etc. are
all very possible and generally rather to quite available).

R> The modern equivalent is the highly proprietary low-end inkjet that's
R> sold for almost no money and probably at a loss, because they know
R> they'll make a fortune from you on expensive proprietary ink cartridges.

Yes - they almost give away the printers (loss leader, anyway), but
with ink cartridge lock-in (often encumbered by patented circuitry in
the cartridges), and sell the cartridges at maximum profit sole source
provider levels.  There are exceptions, but that's typically the "rule"
and business model for most inkjet sales.

Quoting "Rick Moen" <rick at linuxmafia.com>:

R> You know, a person of limited means should favour either a well-chosen
R> used middle-of-the road laser printer _or_ a new, low-end, but equally
R> well chosen, laser printer.  I'd do that _regardless_ of OS.

Typically, absolutely.

R> I would eschew inkjet printers entirely, with one small exception, noted
R> below.  Why?  Because the overwhelming majority of them, and possibly

Yes, some (quite) limited exception(s?).

R> The usage exception:  There are occasions when you simply have an
R> arguable need to print in colour, e.g., to print out colour photographs.
R> If so, one can argue that you might want to save up for a _second_
R> printer, an inkjet, that you carefully avoid using on any other
R> occasion.  But having an inkjet as your primary printer is, alas, a
R> self-defeating economics error.

Well, ... if one prints quite to exceedingly rarely, inkjet might come
out lower in cost ... okay, might have to couple that with tossing out
and replacing printer and cartridges every few years or so ... but
that's just about the only area where inkjet will be less expensive for
printing.  (I print quite rarely at home - probably average of about 15
pages per year ... so - laser vs. inkjet - likely inkjet was cheaper
for me for the first few cartridges (they dry up anyway after a few
years - even if not used) ... so ... maybe cheaper for approximately
the first 5 to 7 years ... but likely more expensive sometime past that
point).  Anyway, for even slightly more modest printing (say >=70 pages
per year), laser very quickly (within one to three years) becomes the
much better buy.

R> If the store won't let you boot Knoppix or Sidux and print a test page,
R> you're in the wrong store.

Or at least let you bring in your laptop and hook their printer to it
to try it out.  Many stores don't want to boot their computers off of
something provided by the customer (they don't want a customer to be
able to stick malware on computer's hard or flash drive) ... but they
really should make reasonable accommodations on that ... if they want
to sell (more) computers (and some/many will, ... but many don't).

Quoting "Ian Zimmerman" <itz at buug.org>:

I> multifunction --- one box houses a printer, a scanner and a copier ---

Multifunction is quite handy - but there certainly can be "gottcha"s.
A friend of mine has one - it wouldn't let her send a FAX without
replacing (for about $50.00) the "empty" (or dried, or clogged, or
below the "replace me now" level) ink cartridge(s).  I picked up a
Brother multifunction (price was right - free giveaway at curbside) -
makes a nice scanner (thanks to sane(7)) - selftest color print seems
perfectly fine too, ...  haven't tried printing to it otherwise
(haven't yet found a real need to print color at home).  Hopefully it
doesn't refuse to scan if some ink cartridge goes empty/dry.

I> And then there are the power considerations.  Lasers are notorious power

Absolutely!  That's one of the reasons I (years ago, anyway) selected
an inkjet.  I could even power it up and use it running from my UPS
(not that I particularly needed to, but ...).  Since "way back then",
power management for laser printers has, however, gotten quite a bit
better (though, in some office settings, I often wonder about the
nickels/quarters per day/week saved on power vs. the multiple minutes
of worker's time waiting for the printer/copier to warm up - if there's
not an app for it yet, seems in many cases that should/could be solved
from desktop before getting up to use a printer/coper that's in
cold/standby mode ... heck, ought to even be able to tell you someone
else is in the middle of running their 700 copies).  I've not
read/heard much about it in quite a long time - but laser
printer/copier fuser technologies - there's hot (takes lots of power),
and also cold (greatly reduced power consumption).  They operate
differently and do produce somewhat noticeably different output.  Cold
fusion uses much higher pressure, and its output has a bit of a shiny
appearance to it - sheets also come out much flatter than the often
noticeably slightly wavy sheets output from hot fusion.  If I recall
correctly, the cold fusion method is also a fair bit more expensive to
manufacture - so tends to increase cost of printer itself - more
noticeable in lower-end lasers ... not as much of a price difference in
higher-end lasers, ... but cold fusion drums typically also have a
significantly longer (5 to 10x?) service life compared to hot fusion

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