Why I hate vendors, printers edition
August 16, 2012
(I was going to call this 'why I hate printers', but that turns out to not be quite accurate.)
Some people here need to buy a new printer, and they need it to hook into our general printing system. Our print system has what I think of as undemanding requirements; what we need is printers that will accept PostScript sent to them over the network (we would like for them to have ACLs and so on, but it isn't essential). We normally use HPs, and the people found a nice looking HP and approached us to ask if it would work with our print system.
This has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The printer has network support, lists itself as having 'HP postscript level 3 emulation', and it claims to require a proprietary binary driver in order to work on Linux. There are two interpretations of this. The optimistic one is that the printer will work fine if treated as a generic network Postscript printer, because that's what the specifications say it can do. The pessimistic one is that the binary driver is a big warning sign that this is actually some variant of what used to be called 'winprinters'; the printer doesn't actually natively support PostScript or anything fancy and all of that smarts is in the driver (which could be why the Postscript support is called an 'emulation').
The short way of putting this is that the combination of 'network printer', 'Postscript support', and 'required binary driver' is a contradiction; at least one of these three attributes must actually be false. Since the vendor specifications imply a contradiction, they aren't straightforwardly trustworthy; either I'm missing something or the vendor is obfuscating the true state of affairs for some reason. Unfortunately printer vendors have a long history of obfuscating their technical specifications in order to disguise things that would-be buyers don't like, one of which is 'some of these features aren't actually in the printer, they're in the driver'.
And that is why I don't like printer vendors today. They've managed to create a Schrödinger's printer, where we won't know what it can really do until and unless we buy one.
(I would say 'until someone buys one', but it's almost impossible to find real information from actual people about products in Internet searches any more. Search results are overrun by vendor pages (untrustworthy for the reasons discussed) or the pages of companies who want you to buy from them.)
(Of course the easy answer is to tell the people 'sorry, we can't guarantee that that printer will work with our print system'. This is not very satisfying because in practice it actually means 'do not buy this printer', which is a pretty strong thing to say about a printer that might well work fine.)
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