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