August 31st, 2006 • 4:10 pm
This is about a fresh first-hand experience that confirms what I was writing the other day regarding Dave Winer and his problem with a crashing Mac. This is what I wrote in that post:
HP’s software is pretty horrible at the best of times. For stand-alone HP printers, luckily, most of the time the drivers are built into Mac OS X itself and you don’t have to install anything coming from HP. But with all-in-one devices, you have no choice. You have to install the HP software. And it’s rather atrocious.
Well, my employer has just bought me a brand new HP LaserJet 1320n, and I installed it today.
I was pleasantly surprised with the hardware. The printer has a smaller footprint than the 10-year HP LaserJet 5 MP that it replaces. It has a similar 250-sheet tray, but the tray for manual feeding of sheets, envelopes, cards, etc. is a significant improvement. It now has two sliders that can be used to adapt to the width of the media, and it has a sensor inside that automatically detects when you insert something and sort of “sucks” it into position.
The specifications of the printer are of course significantly better than the HP LaserJet 5 MP’s specifications. It has 16 MB of RAM, and up to 1200×1200 dpi resolution.
The built-in networking option is a standard Ethernet port, so that I can finally get rid of that old AsantéTalk adapter that I had been using to connect the serial-only 5 MP to my local area network.
And the printer supports RendezVous. I had checked Mac OS X’s built-in drivers earlier on to make sure that it had built-in support for that family of printers, so I knew that I wouldn’t have to install any software from the CD-ROM that came with the printer. I just went to the “Print & Fax” preference pane, added the printer, which was automatically detected via RendezVous, and all I had to do was to specify whether I had any of the optional stuff (more RAM, optional tray, etc.) that could be added to the default printer configuration.
Then I was ready to go.
Out of curiosity, however, I did have a look at what was on the CD-ROM. It included the printer’s manual in PDF form, which was relatively easy to find, even though it had a cryptic file name (“LJ1160_LJ1320_use_enww.pdf”) and was located next to a folder called “Manuals” that actually contains a small HTML file and some stuff archived in Zip form that I didn’t even try to figure out. (You no longer get a printed manual these days.)
Where it became really interesting, however, was when I had a look at the Mac software installers that came with the printer.
First of all, it comes with an application called “hp LaserJet Screen Fonts” that is actually a Classic application made with InstallerVISE 6.0. Yup, in 2006, you still get Classic installers. Now, I am glad that HP still supports people with older Macs that cannot run Mac OS X. But this is the only version of the LaserJet screen fonts installer that is included on the CD-ROM.
I guess that if you have an Intel-based Mac, you just don’t need those fonts. (You don’t really need them anyway, but they could still have included a native Mac OS X installer.)
I didn’t bother to try and run the software installer for the printer driver itself, since the driver is included in the standard Mac OS X install, and is in all likelihood a more recent version anyway. But I did notice that it is a native Mac OS X installer made with Installer VISE 8.2.1. (Presumably it’s an application that runs natively in Mac OS 9 as well.)
The really atrocious stuff, however, comes in the shape of something called “HP Toolbox.” It’s a VISE-based installer again, and it’s the installer you need to run if you want to install the utility that lets you control a variety of things on the LaserJet 1320n, including the web server that is part of the built-in JetDirect card that provides the network connectivity.
I don’t really need any of that stuff at this point, but I was curious to see what HP had come up with. You need to remember that, for many years after the release of Mac OS X, HP continued to ship printers with an application called “HP LaserJet Utility” that was a Classic application only.
They have finally updated this and come up with a solution that can run natively under Mac OS X. But it’s not a plain-vanilla Mac OS X application. Oh no, that would have been far too easy. It’s not a standard web-based interface that you could access through your web browser either. Instead, it’s a horrible Java-based thing that you need to run within your web browser, but that actually consists of all kinds of bits and pieces that the “HP Toolbox 1320 installer” application installs all over the place in your system.
I tried to run the installer. It asked me for my administrator’s password, which I provided, because most installers do ask for it anyway. Then it asked me to quit all other applications before it could run. Yes, there are still installers that ask you to do this, in 2006. Then of course when it was done it asked me to restart the computer.
As soon as I restarted the computer, I got two error messages from Mac OS X telling that I had items in my “StartupItems” folder that didn’t have the appropriate security settings, and asking me if I trusted these items and wanted Mac OS X to fix them for me. It did fix them, and then kindly asked me to restart my machine again so that they could be loaded properly.
I also noticed that the “HP Toolbox 1320 installer” application had kindly put an installer log on my startup volume. It was called “MAC Etoolbox2.6” and it was at the root level of the hard drive, but hey, at least there was a log.
A quick look at the log confirmed my worst fears. It had not only installed stuff in my “StartupItems” folder, but also a kernel extension inside my system folder, and all kinds of stuff in the “Frameworks” folder
inside my main library, as well as stuff in “Application Support,” etc.
All this for a bloody printer utility!
So I restarted the machine, and then I was greeted with yet another error message from Mac OS X telling me that some component of Apache Tomcat 4.0 (which the HP installer had installed, among other things) had unexpectedly quit.
Out of curiosity, I double-clicked on the “hp Toolbox” file that the installer had put inside my “Utilities” folder. Strangely enough, it’s a “.webloc” file, even though the installer only mentioned support for Internet Explorer and Netscape, not Safari. (Of course not.)
It opened in Safari, tried to connect to the URL “
http://127.0.0.1:5225/ToolboxManager/deviceRegistry,” and, of course, failed to do so.
At that point, I had had more than enough, and proceeded to look carefully through the installer log and remove all the junk that HP had installed in various places on my system. I restarted, and was back to an HP-free computer experience—except for the printer-specific stuff that appears within Mac OS X’s Page Setup and Print dialog boxes, of course. (There is even a toner-level indicator within the Print dialog box for the HP LaserJet 1230.)
I don’t have any kind of utility to communicate with my brand new HP printer, but I don’t anticipate that I’ll really need one, so I am not going to worry about it too much.
But still… This is about as user-hostile and Mac OS X-hostile as you can get! And it’s not even for an all-in-one printer… It just for a very ordinary black-and-white LaserJet!
Do we really need more confirmation that HP’s Mac software should be avoided at all costs, and that there is more than enough reason to suspect that HP software might be playing a significant role in the lack of stability of Dave Winer’s machine?
I certainly was not going to take any chances with this. I already have enough trouble right now dealing with the instability that my third-party RAM appears to be causing on my machine. I am not going to add a kernel extension written by HP to my system. No thanks!
I guess we should be really glad that Apple is including all those printer drivers in Mac OS X itself, because it means that, in most normal situations, we don’t have to deal with HP software at all. The HP hardware might be decent, but boy, do they ever need to hire a couple of competent Mac OS X software developers!