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In Praise of Canon Printers

Recently, I've experienced what you might call a paradigm shift. I've abandoned Epson and HP printers in favor of Canon printers. I didn't make this decision lightly. In fact, you might say I didn't make the decision at all: Epson and HP made it for me.

I've been using computers for 32 years and microcomputers for 30 years. When I think "printer," I think first of Epson, the company that created the first cheap, fast, low-maintenance dot-matrix printer. How wonderful it was to buy an inexpensive box that offered a Centronics interface and startlingly fast dot-matrix output! I loved the Epson MX and FX models at first sight. (I think I still have some listings of old 8086 assembly language programs that I printed on them.) Then, HP changed the world with its LaserJet printer. Good heavens, for only a couple thousand dollars—1984 dollars—you could produce hard-copy pages that looked like they came from a daisy-wheel printer. The LaserJet was quiet and speedy, and—inasmuch as the laser-printing process involved temperatures of about 180 degrees—offered output "hot off the presses." It was world changing and delightful.

But things changed.

Epson began an effort to create ink-jet printers that produced beautiful output. Sure enough, its Stylus line of printers did just that. With photo-quality printer paper, my first 1996 Stylus could produce photographs that were indistinguishable from an 8x10 created at much greater cost by my local photo processor's lab. However, because I needed to use the printer frequently, it became a bit annoying. Before every print job, I was forced to sit through 10 minutes of clunk CLUNK jik jik jik jik geeeeeeee clunk clunk activity while the printer fiddled with its ink jets and performed other preparations. The wait and the racket were particularly annoying when all I wanted to do was print my To Do list.

"No matter," I said to myself. "Epson will work this out, just as HP worked the kinks out of its ThinkJets so that they ceased their initially constant habit of inkjet nozzle-cleaning."

Sadly, Epson didn't work out its kinks. When the company offered a new photo-quality 11x17 printer, I thought, What the heck—it's inexpensive. This new printer can serve as my working printer for To Do lists, and when I need to print a poster once a year, it'll do the job. But nope, the new printer still exhibited the clunky, inkjet-fiddling nature of its predecessor.

And then there's HP, which makes impressive and inexpensive all-in-one printer, fax, scanner devices that seem just targeted toward small businesses. For less than $400, you can get an HP machine that prints, copies, and scans—with an integrated Ethernet connection. But wait, it gets better… this thing has a slot to insert a CompactFlash (CF) card so that you can print excellent-quality photos directly, without a PC, as well as a nice little color—yes, I said color—LCD display for menu options, error messages, and so forth.

All this functionality is pretty cool, right? I loved mine—that is, until I tried to connect it to my server. Believe it or not, the software (including the driver) refused to install because of the OS that my system was running. A bit of experimentation showed that the OSs for which it refused to install were Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 Server. Windows XP Professional, XP Home, and Win2K Professional were no problem.

I understood the problem: HP was trying to segment the printer market into business and home sectors. There wasn't a single technological reason the driver wouldn't or shouldn't load, but a more significant marketing reason kept it from loading. I have to wonder whether there's a version of my printer/scanner/copier that looks pretty much identical to mine but comes with a different model number and a heftier price tag—but with the notable difference that its drivers will load on a server. (I was too dismayed to verify on the HP sales Web site.) I did contact HP's technical support about my OS problem, and the representatives I spoke to claimed to have no idea what I was talking about.

(As a side note, the funniest part of this story is that, by forgoing the HP software installation disk and merely letting my system check Windows Update, I got—wonder of wonders!—a working driver for my printer that worked like a charm on my server!)

Anyway, the time recently came to retire my 11x17 Epson printer and replace it with something quick, cheap, reliable, and—just for good measure—not allergic to server OSs, on the off chance that I wanted to put this new printer on a server. So, I got the Canon PIXMA iP3000. I'm so glad I did.

First of all, at less than $100, it's cheap. It's fast. It's quiet. It's got solid printer-driver software. Even better, all the cool little diagnostic information, such as How much ink is left in the black cartridge?"—which, on other printers, you can get only by sitting at the server to which the printer is physically attached—goes to any user of that printer when it's shared. Which reminds me: When I connected the printer to my nearby file server, it did so with nary a hiccup. No server allergy. And, after a month's use, it never needs 6 minutes of that CLUNK clunk clunk nonsense. In short, this feels like a printer that its designer actually uses.

Now that I think of it, that's not a bad idea. From now on, every printer manufacturer might consider this simple, voluntary, and quite valid test. Whenever a techie designs a printer, he or she should have to use that printer for, say, 3 months. It would be reminiscent of the 1980s notion that manufacturing firms dumping into a river should drink the water from that river—downstream from the plant.

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