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2005/08/08 Dude, you should have bought the HP

© August 2005 Tony Lawrence

A few months back, a customer bought two Dell 3100 printers. I didn't know that she had done that, but I wasn't particularly concerned when her Windows guy called and asked me to add these printers to the Unix configuration. I sshed in, set them up as netcat printers and assumed that would be the end of that.

Simple enough, except that it didn't work at all. No print. I double checked my work, but the Unix box was definitely sending the jobs to the printer, so I said that it had to be the printers fault. I'm a lot of help, aren't I?

The Windows guy on site noticed that the default on these Dell 3100's is PCL6, so I added the set PCL5 escape codes and simple text now printed. OK, now we're really done, right?

Nope. A day later, the Windows guy called. He said that the programmer said that the users said that PCL overlay forms don't work. Only the text printed, not the form overlay. The Windows guy thought that the answer to that is to send the jobs through a Windows spooler. That makes no sense to me, but I can shoot the jobs out through Visionfs printing. I did so, but PCL overlays still didn't print.

The customer was now upset, and requested a Summit. The Windows guy and I were to appear on site and work with the programmer by phone to fix this problem. OK, we could do that.

By the way, the Windows guy had already spent considerable phone time with Dell. His summary of that effort was a muttered "Idiots", so it's probably safe to assume that they weren't a lot of help. I wasn't convinced that I could add anything useful myself, but I thought I could take a quick look. I figured an hour tops, and booked an afternoon job for after this.

Traffic was awful, so I tried a shortcut, got lost, and was fifteen minutes late. The Windows guy was already there when I arrived. That's always a great way to start the day, but I dove right in. The programmer had left some test files that he said would demonstrate the problem. I tried sending one to the first Dell printer, then to the other. I also sent the same file to an HP laser. As promised, the HP printed the overlay form correctly, while the Dell's printed only the text. The HP grunted and groaned, which is why the Dell's had been purchased, but it did print correctly.

I started flipping through the front panel configuration of the Dell. Under PCL, I found settings for "Add LF", "Add CR" and "CR-XX". I had no idea what this last meant - "Add CR" is obvious, but what is "CR-XX"? We tried Googling, but came up empty. What the heck; I turned it on.

The overlay now printed. Well, sort of. The background form printed, and the text printed on top of it, but every line moved down one extra line, so the alignment was completely off. I looked at the text portion of what we were sending and saw that it already had LF-CR line endings, so that extra CR was definitely messing things up. Hmmmm. How about if I take the CR's out of the text part? Great idea. Lousy results, though: back to no print at all.

At this point, I knew I was whipped. If Dell couldn't help us, there's nothing more I could do, and I stepped into the manager's office to tell her that I was admitting defeat.

"No", she said, "I need this to work". I showed her the misaligned form and explained that I had no more ideas. "What about plain text?", she asked. I said that the printers could produce all the plain text she wanted. "No", she insisted, "they don't". She then showed me that her application program wouldn't print to the Dell's even when she told it to.

As I knew that the printers certainly could print plain text, that had to be the programmer. We called him. "Right", he explained, "that's not implemented yet. I didn't want to do that until the overlay problem is fixed."

I understand both sides of this. The programmer's position made sense - it would either cost him more work to not offer that choice for overlay forms or the users would be confused by things mysteriously not printing. But the manager's point of view was that she had a dying HP printer and needed to route at least some jobs to the new Dell's.

The Windows guy asked a question: "What about the ImageRunner 330?" That's a combination fax/scanner printer that we had been walking by all day.

"No go", I said. "It only has an SMB interface and we've tried sending overlays to it - the driver messes them up, and we have no access to it - it's all hidden from us."

"It has a parallel port", the Windows guy said. "We can put it on a JetDirect and send it raw data." The programmer liked that idea, and the manager thought it was worthwhile.

Of course we didn't know that if it would handle the PCL overlay codes either, but it certainly sounded like it was worth a try. We liberated a JetDirect from another part of the office, hooked it up, and tried printing. No results. .Maybe the JetDirect was bad? We hooked up a PC and tried "DIR > LPT1". No printing.

The ImageRunner 330 has an awful touch screen front panel configuration interface that had both of us muttering, but we did manage to find a way to print a configuration page. That provided an answer: the parallel port was not enabled. OK, so we'll just enable it. But how?

Nowhere in the configuration screens does it even mention parallel ports. We found a manual. No mention of parallel ports. We called Canon and were told that the Network folks were all out to lunch. We left a message and kept looking. After an hour, we called back and after complaining bitterly, were finally routed to someone who explained that "Setup" can only be run by rebooting the machine, and we would be able to enable the parallel port within Setup. OK, we had the answer. We rebooted the machine, ran "Setup", and enabled the parallel port. We then tried to print, but it still refused us.

We wanted to print a configuration page again to see if we really had enabled the port. Unfortunately, the configuration page wouldn't print and only produced a PostScript error message as output. We tried rebooting again, but with full power cycling. No different, still wouldn't print from the Jet Direct. Just to see that we weren't chasing our own tail, we hooked up the HP to the same JetDirect. It happily printed.

We managed to get Canon back on the phone. They had us reboot again. No printing still, but something new: any attempt to print from the network, which had worked flawlessly up to this reboot, now produced an ominous "E677" error on the front panel display. The Canon guy was still on the line but went very quiet. "It's broken", he said. "We'll have to send someone out".

I went into the manager's office to break the news. Not only had all this time and effort not produced a solution, but we'd actually made it worse by breaking the ImageRunner. Fortunately it was still able to receive and print faxes, as well as scan and send, but we had killed it's network printing completely. Great day, and this all took so long that there was no way I could still make the afternoon appointment, so nobody was happy.

The manager stood up as I was about to leave. "Do you think I just should have bought HP's?", she asked.

Boy, do I ever. Six hours of my time, same or more for the Windows guy, and at least an hour for the programmer. That's at least two good sized HP's, I think.

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-> Dude, you should have bought the HP


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Mon Aug 8 14:43:29 2005: 941   BigDumbDinosaur

The manager stood up as I was about to leave. "Do you think I just should have bought HP's?", she asked.

Now, where have I heard that question before?

This story is a prime example of why you, the IT provider, should make sure that anything the client wishes to do technology-wise is run past you for comment, concurrence, etc. It has been my (long) experience that clients will make totally assinine technology decisions, confident with the presumption that the IT guy will be able to waltz right in, flip a switch or make an adjustment, and everything will work fine.

Most of my clients will call me when they get a notion to buy a new printer or other device to found out if I think they might run into trouble. Naturally, when it comes to printers I try to steer them toward HP if it's a page printer, or Okidata or Tally if it is a dot matrix (yes, Sammy, dot matrixes are still widely used -- try printing a multi-part form on a laser printer). I've had more than my share of grief with Canon printers (and their laughable tech support -- Moe, Larry and Curly seem to know more than the entire Canon tech support department), and as for Dell, it completely buffaloes me as to why people continue to buy that crap. Their computers are barely worthy of the name, so, dude, what do you think you'll get with a Dell printer?

Mon Aug 8 14:54:15 2005: 943   bruceg2004

I am wondering if the so called "tech support" lines are helpful at all for some of the people who read this site. Generally, the majortity of us, are fairly good at troubleshooting, and a call to tech support is usually one of the last things we try. Maybe we have come across something that is undocumented, or we have found a bug. Basically, tech support is a last case resort for myself, since usually they have no idea what I am talking about, and my problem has to be "escalated" to a higher support team.

I wonder what kind of calls these people get day in, and day out. The first response is usally: reboot, or power down the equipment. Beyond that, I have found these people to be useless. Beyond the fact that it usually takes about 45 minutes to get someone on the line that has some clue about the problem you are having. It is very frustrating. Also, the language issue, is another problem. It usually takes the person 10 minutes just to get my name, address, and phone number down. I usually have to spell everything for them. But, this is somehow saving the company money, but it is by far costing me more in time.

How many people out there cringe, and fear having to call any tech support number? I had a palm pilot go bad, and it was obviously a repair issue, since the screen was garbled, and then would turn blank. I spent 57 minutes, and 4 seconds (by my stopwatch) from the time I dialed the number, until I hung up. It would have been nice, if I could have just hooked up my video camera, and said "see, the screen is all garbled, then it goes blank". After trying to explain to the person, that I could not get into the setup menu, because my screen was bad, I was about ready to lose my temper.

After that phone call, I dreaded anytime I had to call them again in the future. Most of the issues we have, can be googled, and fixed, but some require that dreaded call to tech support, which seems to be getting worse, and worse. I remember when I could call Dell, and have an issue fixed in a quick amout of time. Now, you spend half your time trying to spell your name, and understand what the person on the other end is asking you.

- Bruce

Mon Aug 8 17:20:22 2005: 944   TonyLawrence

I have a lot of clients where I don't have direct control.. I'm the "Unix guy" only, so tech decisions get made by someone else - I just get called when something doesn't work.

Tue Aug 9 14:09:10 2005: 949   BigDumbDinosaur

Fortunately, only two of my clients are using another IT provider for their Windows needs. Much as I dislike Windows, I've gritted my teeth and developed a level of "expertise" (if there is such a thing with Microsoft crap) sufficient to support my clients who need it. The end result is that most of them will check with me before they do anything rash (like buy a Dell printer). Besides, according to my wife, I'm a control freak when it comes to computers and don't like sharing clients with other IT folks. I keep telling her it's not a matter of control, just one of incompatible methods. <Grin>

Tue Aug 9 14:32:16 2005: 950   TonyLawrence

For a lot of my folk, I charge too much. They'll put up with it for Unix, but they don't like it for Windows. Can't blame 'em, and I don't particularly like the work anyway. With most folks, I just get called when there's something unusual, which truly is the way I like it.

Sun Sep 25 13:00:39 2005: 1122   TonyLawrence

The guy doing the forms overlay reported:

"How I got it to work"

I forced a CR after each line via the application for the text portion only.

Then on the Unix side I sent in the following order the 3 files to merge them as a single file.

cat /FORMS/del_ordr.pcl 104448.del selectpcl5 > 104448.delout

With the option to set for PCL 5 at the end allowed the printer to print both the PCL form data and the text.

I did have to do quite a bit of moving the text around in order to lineup with the form.

Sun Sep 25 15:22:00 2005: 1123   BigDumbDinosaur

It still sounds like way too much hoop-jumping just to get a little toner correctly fused to a piece of paper.


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