Thursday, 26 August 2010

Why Do Printers Still Suck?

HP Printer
Image via Wikipedia

About an hour ago I wanted to do a very simple thing: Print a single page document onto a sheet of card stock paper.

Anyone who has ever used a printer will not be surprised at the result of my labors. Error messages. Frustration. Anger. Fury. Kicking inanimate objects.

No printout.

In the last two decades our computing infrastructure has changed pretty dramatically. The desktop PC I was using in 1990 had a 33Mhz CPU –today, even my cell phone is 25 times faster. Back then I connected to the Internet with a 2.4 kilobits per second modem –the ethernet connection I’m using now clocks in at about 30 megabits per second. That’s more than 12,000 times faster.

Back in 1990 I printed to a crappy black and white laser printer that frequently jammed, had an incomprehensible user interface, and never worked the way I wanted it to. Today I’m printing to a crappy color laser printer that frequently jams, has an incomprehensible user interface, and never works the way I want it to.

Yes, there are some legitimate reasons why printers haven’t advanced as far as the rest of our computing world. To be fair, these are complicated mechanical devices, forced to process physical objects, not just data. And in an office environment, one printer might be used by dozens of people. No personal computer has to deal with those sorts of stresses.

But my printing problems today have nothing to do with paper jams, low toner, or any other error caused by the actual putting of words on paper. Instead, it was all software –I couldn’t get the hateful thing (a Canon iR C3080/3480/3580 PCL5c, for what that’s worth) to accept a document loaded into its bypass tray.

You’ll have to trust me that it wasn’t user error. I’m no computing naif and I know the problem was the machine’s. What’s more, when I tried to print to another printer of the exact same model, I got a totally different error –one that subsequent web searches have revealed is due to the fact that the printer is not licensed to print Postscript files. Seriously — I can’t print a PDF because the printer wants me to pay Adobe for permission, first.

I have never used a printer on a regular basis and not hated it. And while image quality may have improved, they seem as unreliable and difficult to use as ever. Canon, Xerox, Lexmark, Hewlett Packard and their ilk should be embarrassed, because their printer units are the used car sales lots of the computing world. They churn out half-functional and often disposable junk, and haven’t innovated in years. (And I haven’t even gotten into the rip-off that is printer ink cartridges. PC World estimates that buying a gallon of printer ink over the lifetime of your device could cost $4731.)

This rant goes nowhere productive, but ends here: you suck, printer makers, and your products suck too. What does it say about your business when the most famous scene from one of the most popular cult comedies of our age looks like this?

David M. Ewalt
 
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