Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Old Stuff, New Stuff

June 2010

By Mike Gould

Every once in a while, I get lucky and a software update actually has an immediate effect, fixing an annoying problem that has vexed me for months. Case in point: Epson finally updated the software that enables Mac OS 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") to talk to my elderly (3 years) photo printer and even older scanner.

Earth to Printers
This is noteworthy in that manufacturers don't always re-write drivers for older peripherals when system updates make this necessary. Usually, older gear gets orphaned when the makers of system software (that would be Apple and Microsoft) issue major updates with new protocols for what plugs into the boxen they control.

It can cost a lot of programming dollars to re-write the code governing computer-to-printer communication, and most manufacturers would much rather have you buy new gear every year. Especially since they make very little money on their printers; the payoff is in ink sales, and newer printers, especially photo printers, usually use newer and more expensive inks.

In my case, it would seem that Epson is selling enough of their older inks to justify having new software written to support the older printers using it. The fact that my older scanner software now works again is just gravy. Thank you Epson!

I should point out that the above pertains to just about all inkjet printers these days. I use Epson, but lots of people like their HPs, Canons, and other makes of printers.

Working around
I wasn't completely printer-less after upgrading to Snow Leopard, but I had to go through an unending round of tweakage, fine-tuning, hissy fits and conniptions to get the colors right, and then print jobs would quit in the middle, complaining of lost connections. I could eventually get my print out, but it wasn't pretty (the process, not the print, which was lovely).

The scanner worked a little better. I used another app (Apple's free image getter) to scan my documents and photos, but I didn't have the controls I used to have with the Epson software. All better now.

The point here is that if some system update (say, to Windows 7 64-bit version) kills your ability to print, there may be a way to get it working again. Step one: go to the manufacturer's site and search on the model name of the item, looking for updated software. If found, you download it, install it, and if you are lucky, you are back in business.

If you are unlucky, there may be no available updates, or there may be some problem with the installer. Then you have to ask yourself: "Is it worth $100 to hire somebody to come over and fix this five-year-old printer, or has it had a long full life and it's time to buy a new one?" And forget about physically repairing a broken printer- unless it is a fairly expensive model, a replacement is almost always cheaper than a fix. This is because printers are built by robots, but have to be repaired by humans, like most of the machinery here in the technical vastness of the future. As my photo printer would have cost around $600 to replace, the arrival of the update was most welcome.

Also be aware that there can be alternate software for printing and scanning. VueScan is a popular third party software package that can scan from a variety of old machines. For printing, there is the Gnu suite of open software drivers, called "Gutenprint". If your old printer seems OK physically but can't talk to your new system, it is sometimes worth your time looking into these.

Auto Updating
Microsoft has traditionally had better updating abilities in the various flavors of Windows than Apple has had in OS X. But Apple has finally gotten their act together and will now auto-update third party drivers in addition to pieces of their own software.

All the above can come under the heading "The heartbreak of cascading updates". You do a major update, or buy a new computer, and then you find that various pieces of your old system no longer work or need updates of their own. Or, you buy a new printer and find out that it doesn't talk to your old system. As a Mac computer support guy, I see this all the time. My rule of thumb is that you should never be more than one revision behind the current version of your system.

For Mac users, the current system is 10.6, so you need to be running at least 10.5. Windows users face a more difficult upgrade path, as there are so many different versions out there. Here is where a good relationship with your friendly neighborhood computer store (or nattily attired local rent-a-geek) comes in handy.

I am often asked whether or not to do system updates when prompted to by one's computer. My answer is usually yes - such updates usually provide solid improvements and increase the mojo of your security, especially in the Windows world. There have been isolated incidents where an update broke something, but this sort of thing is rare these days.

Newest Stuff
And speaking of new, "Do I still like my iPad?", I hear you ask in passing. In the immortal words of savant Palin, "You betcha!". I am tapping out this article on it as I sit in repose at my wonderful mother-in-law Joan's house on Mother's Day. True, I can't type as fast as on a regular keyboard, but I can still use all my fingers and make just as many typos per second. I miss the word count feature of MS Word, but will do the final editing of this on my big rig at home later and will be able to shoehorn this into my usual 1K words then and there.

And, just as I planned, I use Padrick (as I have named him - one of my few foibles, perilously close to cuteness) every morning to read my email and what passes for newspapers around here. And I check my eBay bids (lasers and tripods these days - long story).

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