Saturday, April 11, 2009

Frustrated by Windows printing

I'm at home, trying to print out some materials - but I can't, because Windows won't recognize my Epson Stylus Photo 925 printer.

Seriously, it took me almost 30 minutes to get Windows to recognize the printer. When I plugged in the printer, Windows automatically loaded support for "SP 925 Storage" - but I have no idea what that means. It wasn't a printer driver though, because Windows then prompted me to run the printer setup wizard.

I'll save you the details, but the wizard failed to find a driver for my printer. I had to download the driver manually from Epson's web site. ("This self-extracting file contains the Epson Stylus Photo 925 Printer Driver v5.3eA for Windows 2000 and XP.") That still didn't do it, though. After I ran the self-extracting file, the printer setup wizard still didn't find the driver. I tried saving the driver files to a USB fob, and to a directory in "My Documents". No matter what I tried, the wizard just wouldn't recognize Epson's driver.

Some "wizard".

Ultimately, I had to run the Setup program that came with Epson's driver. That did it. But if that is how you add printers, why did Windows want me to run the wizard?

Maybe I shouldn't knock Microsoft too hard on this one. This might be a problem with a third-party driver. But isn't Microsoft supposed to have total control over "big name" business partners like Epson, at least with drivers?

When they installed Windows on my laptop, I immediately got connected to our network printers in the office, no problem. But if connecting to a network printer was so easy, why was adding a USB printer so hard?

Under Linux, connecting a USB printer is easy. In fact, connecting this same Epson Stylus Photo 925 printer under Linux was a breeze: I plugged in the USB cable, turned on the printer, and Linux instantly recognized that a printer had been connected. After less than a minute, Linux popped up a message box to tell me that my printer was now available. It was so fast and easy, and something I guess I took for granted.


  1. Dunno, I've always found printers to be miserable, itinerant devices, managed by kludgy best-effort software. Maybe like mail, printing is a hard problem, substituting the black-boxness of the printing hardware for the black-boxness of mail routing.

    Ultimately you have to rely on the printer vendors to simplify and support installation & configuration on each platform. Linux support has been surprisingly good in the past 5 or so years though that may not be saying much. Windows support has been flagging as TCP/IP supplanted Windows networking.

    My verdict is that it's a draw - printing is still a pain in the ass independent of platform. Process automation, configuration management, networking, security - those are all areas where Windows can only aspire to eat Linux's dust. But printing? It still sucks all over.

  2. I feel that I have to trash Linux (or at least Linux software somewhere along the line) here, because I personally have had untold problems printing from Linux.

    It usually works okay, but every so often I blink at it the wrong way and it seems to go wild. Some of the fun problems I've had:

    1. Printing fifty copies of a two-page document on a duplex printer, and walking away with twenty five pieces of paper with page one on both sides and twenty five pieces of paper with page two on both sides. (Shouldn't the right collate setting be default?! Who DOESN'T print collated anyway?)

    2. Printing multiple copies of a document with an odd length on a duplex printer, and having it put the first page of the second copy on the back of the last page of the first copy.

    (For both of these, I know it knows that it's printing duplex because I can tell it which way to duplex the pages.)

    3. Changing the orientation from portrait to landscape and having it print in landscape mode -- but as if you just took the contents of the page, rotated it 90 degrees, didn't adjust the size or layout or anything else, and then cropped the part of the image that falls off the page. (I think this was in Opera?)

    4. On many different occasions, having Firefox not properly wrap text, so that the right inch or so of each line was cropped. This is Firefox's problem, but I don't recall ever having it when running the Windows version of Firefox.

    5. On multiple distros, have gimp-print not installed when you install the Gimp, leaving you unable to print from the Gimp. And not having any indication that this is maybe something you might want, except that when I then did a Google search to try to figure out how to print from the Gimp, I found it out.

    The first four are all problems I've experienced on my work machine, RHEL 5, printing to a network Lanier printer/copier/scanner. (The 5th sort of is.)

  3. "But if that is how you add printers, why did Windows want me to run the wizard?"

    Also, Windows tells you to run the wizard because generally it works, at least when Windows has the driver.

    (You knock MS for not having it -- "but isn't Microsoft supposed to have total control over "big name" business partners like Epson, at least with drivers" -- but you may be being a little harsh there, too. XP was released Oct. 2001, which, near as I can tell, was before your printer was made. Arguing against this position is the fact that SP2 wasn't released until Aug 2004, which looks like it was probably at least a year after the 925 was introduced, so it would have been feasible to include drivers on the CDs pressed with SP2. I don't know if they included more drivers or not.

    And MS *doesn't* have total control over your "big name business partners". nVidia has long-released pretty high-quality Linux drivers for their cards, and ATi opened up their spec and, last I heard, was open-sourcing their drivers. The Old New Thing just covered a several-month negotiation MS had with probably a chipset vendor to get them to allow MS to distribute a driver update through Windows Update that fixed a security vulnerability. ( Epson is one of the manufacturers that likes to add a crappy extra UI to the printing process; this might have gone beyond what MS would have included as part of Windows (since there's usually a full-blown program along with the driver), and Epson could have decided it was worth it to just not allow MS to distribute drivers without that, at least for newer printers.

    MS's control tends to be much more indirect: everyone will write Windows drivers for their products because most people use Windows. They have some control over the driver quality because of the driver signing requirement in XP and forward, but it doesn't go much beyond that.)

  4. I have been using Windows since 3.0 and run many printers with it. The first printer was a B&W HP Deskjet 500. I've hooked Windows 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 95, 98, 2000 and XP to HP, Epson, other printers.

    I have yet to see plug and play work. Not once. I have yet to see the "wizard" work. NOt once. Never never never.

    Linux, historically, was not a lot better, but over the last two years, I've had almost all attempts to plug any printer or scanner (with one single exception) to Linux work out of the box without any tweaking. Every time. The one exception is one of the few scanners that is not supported by Linux and who has a poorly behaved company making it ... very uncooperative piece of trash company.

    Evan: Give me a break, man. You need to learn to select options correctly. You can't blame that on Linux or on Windows.

  5. gregladen: I've had the 'add printer' wizard work for my HP LaserJet 4 every time I've tried.

    As for the options, (1) why aren't the defaults sensible, (2) why is collate even an option I could choose when printing duplex, (3) why's there an option that lets me print the first page of a second copy overleaf of the last page of a first copy and what's that option called so I can turn it off next time, (4) what option was I setting wrong when it rotated the print 90 degrees then cropped it?

  6. Sorry for all the replies, but I'll also say that I'm not exactly a Linux newb. I've done multiple installations on my own computers of it (usually Gentoo), though admittedly it doesn't get used very much since the sorts of workloads I use my home computer for (read: games) works better with Windows. I use Linux extensively at 'work'. I even dabbled a bit with kernel module development back in undergrad.

    My goal here is not to promote Windows over Linux -- there are plenty of things that Linux does better. I just don't like to see people who are fans of either side get into the mindset where they fail to see problems with their system of choice, especially when they project similar problems on systems they don't like.

    My posts on this blog are almost universally in support of Windows or in opposition to Linux, but that's basically because the blog itself is the exact opposite. I don't have much to say in, for example, the last couple entries about rearranging icons because I don't really have much to add.

    As for myself, I tend to find that Windows "just works" a bit more than Linux does, but a large part of this is because I push Linux harder and in more strange ways then I push Windows (e.g. by using a tiling window manager, which BTW I whole-heartedly recommend trying; I use Awesome, which is a terrible name to Google for). Because of this, I tend to prefer Linux when I'm working and Windows when I'm not. (The main exception to this is if I'm working on a presentation, because IMHO PowerPoint '07 produces by far and away better presentations for most subjects than anything else except maybe Keynote, which I haven't had the pleasure of using since Apple apparently doesn't feel like catering to the sort of market I represent, on a number of different axes.)

    Anyway, in the end I tend to hate Windows and Linux about equally, but each for their own special reasons.

  7. I'm surprised some apologist hasn't crawled out of the woodwork with a third party printer manager for Windows that actually works...

    My only little anecdote about Vista where I worked. We had a modest network of about 15 Vista Home Premium machines (they were there before me, so I'm not to blame :P), one Windows Server 200something, and a Brother network printer. Getting that printer working in Vista involved knowing it's IP address. Vista could not find it on the network at all without knowing it's IP. We had to set the printer up with a static IP since if it ever restarted, the Vista machines would all lose it. We set, in Vista, to print all things black and white. You think that worked? Of course not.

    On the other hand, the Ubuntu machine I wormed into the network for miscellaneous tasks (simple file server, virus removal "clean room" for Windows machines' hard drives) found and set up that printer in three clicks (plus two to actually open the printer manager, so five total). There is no excuse for this disparity.

  8. Sorry, I meant to say "My own little anecdote", not "My only"

  9. Greg, would that scanner company be Visioneer by any chance? The asshats make a perfectly good scanner but then don't bother to upgrade the driver from Win98 to work with XP. And forget linux support or even opening the hardware spec so someone else can write a driver. Thanks for sending perfectly good hardware to the landfill, you miserable bastards. Visioneer is permanently on my Hostile Vendor List, may they go bankrupt and disappear ASAP.

  10. Evan: "Gentoo" ... Of course you will have trouble printing with Gentoo. Gentoo requires that you build the printer from scratch.

    Apthorp: Yes, Visioneer it is! The good news is that the scanner only cost like nine dollars.

  11. gregladen: read my original post again. The printing problems I mention (except for the last point, which is present on at least several distributions) were all experienced on my RHEL5 work machine, which is at least theoretically professionally administered and to which I don't even have root.

  12. The problem is that Epson refuses to write installers that work with the native Windows MSI format.

    I've noted the same bullshit from HP too.

    But under Linux, yes, CUPS just picks it right up and runs with it.

  13. Truthspew is right - that's what I'm seeing here too!

  14. Just a quick response to some of the folks here:

    I've used Linux since about 1993, when Linux was very much in its infancy. I used 'lpr' and 'lpq' commands all the time. It was usually plain text, but if you configured ghostscript for your printer, then you could print postscript documents to your dot matrix printer. This was a great step forward for me, especially since I was in college at the time.

    But in 1993, you didn't have much to compare against on the PC - and I was very much a DOS user then. It was easy to be impressed.

    Since then, Windows95 was released, and Microsoft got smart about "WYSIWYG" printing. In almost all cases, it was true - what you saw was what you got. So Linux had a bit of competition. Looking at it honestly, Linux was playing catch up.

    Over time, Linux printing has improved considerably. It used to be that you had to look VERY closely at the Linux printer compatibility matrix before buying an inkjet or laser printer. HP lasers were generally well-supported, and obviously any printer that supported native postscript, but that was it.

    These days, especially in recent years, I haven't had any problems with plugging in a USB printer, and having it "just work". Maybe I'm lucky - Evan claims a different experience. But I've tried a LOT of inkjet printers, and they all worked. I'm running Fedora, which is a leading-edge Linux distro (changes are tested there before Red Hat rolls them into the more professional RHEL.) If people like Evan are having problems with printing in RHEL, I wonder if it's already working in the Fedora proving ground?

    But that's why it's a huge surprise to me that Windows printing doesn't "just work". You have to really work at it. I've talked to others who are more expert at Windows than I am, and generally hear the same thing: Windows printing is a pain - expect to spend time getting it right.

  15. Eh, I've never been able to reliably get my POS canon printer to install under linux. I ditched windows before getting this printer so I can't speak to how easy it is to install under windows. Basically, canon does not supply a linux print driver for this model, and the printer does not conform to the standard print specs, so using a generic driver does not work.

    Granted, it's a cheap photo printer that I got bundled with a digital camera, so I'm hardly surprised that canon didn't bother worrying about linux. For what it's worth, the camera worked with linux flawlessly.

  16. "These days, especially in recent years, I haven't had any problems with plugging in a USB printer, and having it "just work". Maybe I'm lucky - Evan claims a different experience"

    It could also be something weird in my setup, network printing being more difficult, or any number of other things.

    I'm not saying that my Linux experience is *typical*, just that it's not terribly hard to get unlucky with stuff like this.

  17. Windows has the worst printer support ever. I used to work digital pre-press and every time we changed printers (like from the proofing laser to the plate printer) the document would repaginate and we'd have to check the whole thin all over again.

  18. That's a problem with the program (which includes Word, so MS is just as guilty) not with Windows. Something like PDF won't repaginate when you change printers.

  19. Sometimes you need to get "manual" with Windows, and tell it *exactly* where to look for the driver. If it gives you the choice, which sometimes, it does not. Why? Dunno.

    As to any company not packaging in a proper MSI file, all Windows should really need to find is an INF. If the OEM cannot provide either properly, why does MS allow their products on the HCL? Of course, almost no software installer behaves properly at some level. No one cares. Lame all the way around.


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