A bit of sleuthing: Spell Catcher X and Epson driver installers

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 27th, 2010 • 11:30 am

Yesterday, I got a call from a friend and fellow Mac user who was experiencing difficulties printing on her Epson Stylus Photo R2400 from her Mac running Mac OS X 10.6. She had had the Epson printer for several years, but only recently had purchased a new iMac running Snow Leopard.

During our conversation on the phone, I was able to determine, based on what she was saying, that she was actually using the open source Gutenprint printer driver for her R2400 and not a driver provided by Epson.

So we figured that the first thing to do was to try and install the proper driver from Epson and see if she would get better results.

I quickly found the support page for the R2400 on Epson’s site, and invited her to download the appropriate file (a disk image called “epson13113.dmg”), which was listed as being compatible with Mac OS X 10.6.

She said that she had done that already previously, but that it didn’t seem to work. She tried again, and confirmed that it didn’t appear to be working properly. I asked her to describe the symptoms more accurately and was able to determine that she was able to download the disk image and mount the disk just fine.

But the disk image contained a file with a “VISE” icon and, when she attempted to launch it, she was asked for her admin password and then the application would just quit altogether:

VISE installer

I was aware that Epson, among other hardware vendors, was still using this antiquated VISE-based technology for their installers, so I was not too surprised by this, but this gave us a few avenues to explore.

First of all, I verified that she was using her Mac in a user environment with administrator’s privileges. I had seen lousy installers before that were unable to function properly if they were not run in a user environment with admin privileges, even if they asked for an admin user’s name and password and were given them. But that wasn’t the problem here.

She then told me that her admin password was nothing, because that was the way the machine was set up by the reseller who sold it to her, and I thought that there might be some weird bug in the VISE installer that caused it to fail if the password was nothing. So I invited her to change her admin password to something other than nothing, and we tried again—to no avail.

She then mentioned a FAQ she had read on the Epson web site that mentioned the requirement that Rosetta (the emulation environment for older PowerPC applications) be installed. We thought that surely that was it, that the installer was simply failing because Rosetta wasn’t installed.

But then I was able to determine that she had been running Word 2004 on that Mac for many weeks, so that seemed to indicate that Rosetta was installed. But we ran the Rosetta installation from the Mac OS X install disk again just the same. Unfortunately, that did not help.

I then said I would download the disk image myself and try and see if I could reproduce the problem on my machine. Since the download was going to take a while on my low-bandwidth connection, I went away for my swim break at 12 pm.

During my swim, I remembered that Apple had recently released a large package of updated drivers for Epson printers for Snow Leopard. So when I came back, I sent my friend an e-mail suggesting that she try to install the drivers included in that package.

But then I checked the support notes in the Apple Knowledge Base about supported printers in Mac OS X, and saw that the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 was listed, but with the Gutenprint driver, not with a “proper” driver. So I suspected that the Epson drivers package from Apple would not include the proper driver from Epson after all. Unfortunately, my friend was able to confirm this.

By that time, I had downloaded the disk image myself and was able to verify that the installer was also abruptly quitting on my machine. So it was not an isolated problem.

Still, I figured that it was such an obvious problem that surely we couldn’t be the only ones experiencing it. I couldn’t find any references to it in Epson’s own various FAQs. I went to Apple Discussions and did a search for “R2400” in the Mac OS X forums. I only found a few things, none of which mentioned the specific problem we were experiencing. So it looked like the problem was not as common as it appeared to be.

The one thing that the discussions in Apple’s forums mentioned was that Epson’s tech support was actually quite responsive when you submitted a request to them via their web site. So I figured that it was time to give that a try.

I submitted a request detailing the problem, and sure enough, I got a first answer within a couple of hours, which was quite impressive.

Still, the answer itself was not very useful, as it simply attempted to guide me through the process of eliminating all traces of Epson drivers on the Mac and trying to install the appropriate driver again. I knew that this was not going to work, and I asked my friend to do it, and it didn’t work. Eliminating existing Epson drivers in Mac OS X before running the VISE installer didn’t prevent the VISE installer from crashing during the installation process.

So I wrote back and soon got this answer:

You must be experiencing a system issue because these instructions bring your computer a state where there are no Epson drivers on your system prior to installation.

I was starting to get a bit frustrated and was preparing to write a salty response, especially in light of the fact that I could reproduce the problem on two different and unrelated Macintosh machines both running Snow Leopard.

But then for some reason I thought of checking the system logs and more specifically the crash logs. I figured that, if the VISE installer was crashing abruptly, even without giving me the usual “This application has unexpectedly quit” dialog, there might be a trace of the crash in my logs. And sure enough, I was able to locate a file called “EPSON_IJ_Printer_2010-05-26-142104_localhost.crash” in my main library folder.

I was preparing to attach the log to my slightly salty response to the last e-mail from the Epson representative, stressing that the crash was not just my imagination and that there was clearly something wrong, since we had the same crash on two different machines—when, out of curiosity, I took a closer look at the contents of the crash log.

I am not a developer, and I don’t know much about how to read these logs, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were multiple lines starting with “com.apple.HIToolbox.”

Because of my long experience as a user of Spell Catcher X and more specifically as a beta tester of early builds of new versions of the application, I was somewhat familiar with the fact that there was a connection between the several files with names starting with “com.apple.HIToolbox” in my preferences folder and occasional problems with the Spell Catcher X application. (I have had to trash those preference files a few times over the years to help identify problems with early builds of Spell Catcher.)

And I also knew that my friend was also a Spell Catcher user!

So suddenly I had a new lead. What if there was a problem between Spell Catcher X and the VISE installer? As a long-time Spell Catcher user, I am also aware of occasional problems with installers and especially with the step in a typical software installation process that asks for your admin password. Usually this particular step causes the input menu to switch from Spell Catcher back to the regular keyboard layout entry, and sometimes it doesn’t switch back to the Spell Catcher input method after that step, especially in older installers based on older technologies such as VISE.

So I simply tried to switch from Spell Catcher to my regular keyboard layout in the input menu before launching the VISE installer. And that was it! When I did that, the installer ran just fine. After the installation was complete, I simply had to manually switch back to the Spell Catcher input method.

I instructed my friend to do the same, and she was able to install the driver without any problems after that. It also solved her printing problems altogether and she now again had access to all the various printer-specific options that she no longer had with the Guntenprint driver.

Needless to say, I entirely rewrote my originally salty response to the Epson representative, indicating that I had solved the problem and that it was an incompatibility between Spell Catcher and their VISE installers. I invited them to further discuss the problem with the Spell Catcher developer and cc:ed him in the e-mail. (I also checked that I couldn’t reproduce the problem with input methods other than the Spell Catcher input method, such as the built-in Chinese Traditional input methods included in Mac OS X, because sometimes there are bugs that are not related to Spell Catcher specifically but to any input method other than a regular keyboard layout.)

In retrospect, I am of course glad that I never did send that salty reply, because obviously the Epson representative was in fact correct that we were experiencing a “system issue” (in this case, a compatibility issue with another third-party software application). And it’s probably too much to ask of either Epson’s developers or Spell Catcher’s developer that they be aware of each other’s products and test them for compatibility.

Still, one hopes that, eventually, Epson will move away from VISE-based installers and use something more modern and more standard for Mac OS X. I suppose that, as long as Apple supports Rosetta, they are in no rush to do it, but this particular incident shows that there can be some serious issues when using such an outdated technology for software distribution.

(I haven’t heard back from the Spell Catcher developer yet, so I don’t know if there is anything he can do to work around the problem.)

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