How To

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.


Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-18


Meet LaserMonk in Chief

You wouldn’t think a monastery deep in the western woods of Wisconsin would be involved with re-manufactured laser printer cartridges, but there they are, a multimillion dollar business, up to their necks in profits… See, the monastery was in dire financial straits, and Father Bernard McCoy, now the Chief Operating Monk, struggled to keep it afloat. One day it struck him as he searched for a way to save on toner cartridges. Why not tell others about the great deal he got? And why not act as the middle man and purchase these cartridges for them?

The monastery’s initial investment of $2,000 turned into $2.3 million in sales in 2005, and is expected to double this year. The monastery is out of the pits, and can now afford a private plane and a horse stable, among other perks. How do they manage the profits? The monks are all volunteers working for the monastery, and take no salary. LaserMonks is a non-profit. To top it off, Father Bernard has high plans. He wants to take over the toner market. With this sort of a business model, they’re a real threat to their competitors. I have to wonder about the scalability and sustainability of their business, but only time will tell.


Bonjour for Windows 1.0.3

Downloaded Bonjour for Windows, tried it out, and I’m a little disappointed. All it does is to allow you to share printers across the network. True enough, worked very easily to allow me to install the shared printer from my iMac, but I expected it to allow me to see the shared Mac drives as well. See below for a snippet from Cult of Mac:

“Apple made Bonjour for Windows 1.0.3 available today. Bonjour is Apple’s implementation of zero-configuration networking — advanced auto-detection of other networked devices, basically, without the need for IP address knowledge. It’s also an integral part of sharing iTunes and iPhoto libraries, as well as networked printers. Apple’s been committed for a little while to making this truly cross-platform; the source is open, and Windows support has been out there for awhile. I don’t see this new Windows version as an indication of a product launch, just Apple placing its claim on simplified network creation — AppleTalk for the next generation. Plus, the more broadly Bonjour is supported, the better off Mac users will function in mixed-platform environments.”

Here is the link.


A better way to store and install printer drivers

How many of us have been irked by the fact that we had to always install printer drivers for our printing devices?

I think printers should store common printer drivers in on-board flash memory chips, and should be programmed to allow us to install the drivers directly from the printer, thus eliminating the need for driver CDs, which always have a way of getting lost. Along with the drivers, the printers would also install software that would check for driver updates on the manufacturer’s website, and would automatically install the updates to the computer as well as to the printer’s flash memory, thus ensuring that the drivers are kept up to date in both locations.