A new lease on old hardware

In 2003, I bought an HP OfficeJet 7110 all-in-one, a big, boxy monster that did (and still does) printing, scanning, faxing and copying. I’ve barely ever used it to fax, but the feature is there in case I need it. Now I’m using it over our wireless network with an Apple AirPort Express, and it works great.

HP couldn’t wait to retire this model. A year after I’d bought it, I had a hard time getting support for it, in spite of the fact that I’d bought an extended support plan. Less than two years after I’d bought it, HP had already discontinued it. They stopped developing the drivers for it sometime in 2003 or 2004. The development for Mac drivers stopped at 10.4 (officially) but more likely, at 10.3. I used their drivers on 10.4 and there were serious problems. Switching accounts, for example, disabled printing, and it couldn’t be re-enabled unless one restarted the computer. I complained numerous times to HP, via tech support, via messages to their executives, but no one cared. Basically, HP’s support is horrible, and my experience was no different with the OfficeJet 7110.

Fortunately, I found a way to get more use out of this dinosaur without needing to buy a new printer (yet). Back in 2005, I purchased an Apple AirPort Express, a small device that does quite a few things. One of them is printer sharing. You plug in a USB printer, and it will share it wirelessly.

I’d wanted to do this ever since I’d bout the AirPort Express, but there were no usable Bonjour/network drivers for the 7110. With the introduction of Leopard, however, the story changed. Quite a few CUPS drivers came pre-loaded with the OS, and one of those drivers was built exactly for the 7110.

A couple of weekends ago, I took a half hour to relocate our printer and its stand, plug it into the AirPort Express, and install it on both our Macs via Bonjour. This was after I’d joined the AirPort Express to our existing WiFi network through the AirPort Utility. The whole process is fairly easy to do, except changes to the AirPort Express may require a reset or two before they commit properly. This may only be a bug with the older version that I have (from 2005), and it may not affect the newer versions of this device, like the 802.11n that just came out.

Now our printer is networked reliably and it’s usable immediately from both our Macs, which is something that wasn’t possible before. It’s not tethered via the annoying USB cable, and we don’t have to deal with its bulk next to our desks. Although the drivers are print-only, when we need to scan something, we simply take my laptop over to it, connect it via USB, and scan to my Windows XP virtual machine, which runs on VMware Fusion on top of Leopard. This is because the XP drivers are the only ones that still work reliably for this printer.

What also satisfies me is that I get a new lease on old hardware. I don’t have to go out and buy something new to get the functionality I need. I already spent good money on working hardware, and thanks to Leopard’s built-in printer drivers and AirPort Express, I get to use it years after HP decided to discontinue it and force people to buy new printers.