New HP LaserJet 1320n: Great hardware, atrocious software

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
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 “,” 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!

9 Responses to “New HP LaserJet 1320n: Great hardware, atrocious software”

  1. ssp says:

    Couldn’t the Mac print on pretty much any PostScript printer without hassle since the LaserWriter 8 days at least? I have never needed any extra software to print on PS printers.

    When they put up a new HP (2200 I think) printer in our departement, I could see it via Rendezvous right away. And that printer even has a Rendezvous-advertised website to set it up which automagically appears in Safari’s Rendezvous bookmarks menu. In fact I never even had to ‘set up’ that printer because thanks to Bonjour it appears in print sheets without any clicking on my part…

    (As comfortable as Rendezvous gets, I still think that accessing a printer via AppleTalk / PAP is superior as that ‘old’ protocol usually gets all of the printer’s installed extras right automatically as well.)

  2. ssp says:

    Uh, this is 2006… so I should have written Bonjour instead of Rendezvous.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    Wow, you’re right! If I add RendezVous, er, Bonjour to my Bookmarks menu, I get to access my printer that way! Without installing anything!

    Which makes the software installers on the CD-ROM even more puzzling, obviously. What on earth are they good for? Networks that don’t support Bonjour, I guess…

    Well, if I had known, I wouldn’t even had tried to install the software! But anyway, it was an interesting experience to say the least.

    Thanks for the tip!

  4. ssp says:

    Actually all this reminds me of a fun story that happened to my dad when he got a new HP printer a few years back. No Bonjour back then, but AppleTalk, and a PS printer nonetheless, so I told him things should ‘just work’. But they didn’t.

    So he went through a lot of trouble installing that software as well, it was painful and it didn’t help a bit.

    In the end it turned out that the network guy at work had given him a crossed-over cable assuming he would attach the printer straight to the computer… but instead it was attached to a hub/router thingie which couldn’t automatically switch the twisting of the cable (the different cables are just one of the most stupid hardware ‘inventions’ anyway and Apple did a great job making them irrelevant).

    After figuring that out everything ‘just worked’ though ;)

  5. danridley says:

    It’s just as bad on Windows. HP’s drivers expect the Toolbox to be installed, and put an error in the Event Log every five seconds if they can’t talk to it. Even if the Toolbox is installed on the system the printer is attached to, remote drivers expect to be able to get to that toolbox via DCOM, and the default permissions don’t allow it in WinXP, so on a network with multiple shared printers you can end up with several HP print drivers writing their DCOM errors every five seconds.

    Don’t get me started on WebJetAdmin.

  6. haddy says:

    “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”
    A little tricky this statement..Classic only runs on MacOS X!
    Okay, I have a HP 1320tn and you are right it is a very good printer. I need to print Classic documents from some apps that only run under Classic/OS9. I have the last of the 20″ G5 iMacs 10.4.7 + Classic. To configure the printer to print these documents is a little tricky but once setup works just fine. Follow these instructions, if any one is interested, from HP…

    Network installation instructions for Mac OS 9.2back to top of page

    Use the instructions below to install the software on a Macintosh computer running Mac OS 9.2 that is connected to a network.


    The HP LaserJet 1320n and 1320tn printers have an internal HP Jetdirect print server for network connection. For a 10/100 Base-T network, connect a twisted-pair network cable between the printer and an active network port.

    At the printer control panel, make sure that the Ready light is on. Then press the Go button for 5 seconds to print a Configuration page, an HP Jetdirect page, and a Supplies Status page.

    If no HP Jetdirect page was printed, wait 30 seconds for the network card to initialize, and then try to print the page again.

    Locate the printer IP address on the HP Jetdirect page.

    Insert the HP LaserJet 1160/1320 series printing-system software CD into your CD-ROM drive.

    Run the installer CD.

    Run the Apple Desktop Printer Utility by clicking HD, opening Applications, clicking Utilities, and then clicking Desktop Printer Utility.

    Double-click Printer (LPR).

    Next to the LPR Printer Selection, click Change.

    Type the printer IP address, and then click Verify.

    Once the IP address has been verified, click OK.

    Next to Postscript Printer Description (PPD) File, click Change, and then double-click the appropriate printer description file from the list.

    Click Create, and then click Save.

    Click the desktop printer icon. On the Printing menu, click Set Default Printer.

    Print a page from any program to make sure that the software is correctly installed.

    If the installation fails, see the HP LaserJet 1160 and 1320 Series Printer Printing System Installation Notes on the HP LaserJet 1160/1320 printing-system software CD, see the flyer that came in the box with your printer, or go to one of the following Web sites for help or more information: for the HP LaserJet 1160 printer. for the HP LaserJet 1320 series printer.

    Good luck folks

  7. Pierre Igot says:

    dan: Very depressing indeed—for Windows users. We have to be very glad that Apple controls things in Mac OS X and makes HP’s own software irrelevant!

    haddy: When I say that it’s only a Classic application, I clearly implied that it runs natively on machines running Mac OS 9. That goes without saying… I am not sure I understand why it’s necessary to access the HP printer as an LPR printer from within Classic. I guess HP no longer provides AppleTalk drivers for Mac OS 9 for its printers…

  8. haddy says:

    Pierre: Well they don’t make PostScript printers anymore. The last one I had was the 4M. Be warned that the printer IP address changes and I’m not sure why. I couldn’t print one day,in Classic, and it took me for ever to figure out to print a new jetdirect page to find out that there was a different printer IP address and to put the new IP address in the LPR printer section!

  9. Pierre Igot says:

    I don’t think real Postscript vs. emulated Postscript has anything to do with it. As for changing IP addresses, this depends on your network set-up. If you are using the default configuration behaviour (DHCP), then a new IP address might be assigned after network failures / power outages, etc. The only way to avoid this and maintain a permanent IP address is to use manual config on the printer itself.

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