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November 1999

Net printing updates needed to keep the faith

It never should have been free, but now HP should work with third parties to keep printing promises for the 3000

Analysis by John Burke

HP says of Network Printing: We never intended this to be anything more than basic, limited network printing. We never promised anything else.

Let’s consider what HP really said. The “bible” for HP 3000 new features and enhancements is the Communicator. The MPE/iX 5.5 Communicator has two articles about the new feature “Network Printer Support Now Available.” The first article is a short overview. The second article is a detailed how-to. Each article contains the following statement in the first paragraph: “With Release 5.5 the spooler now supports network printers, that is any Printer Command Language (PCL)-based printers attached to the HP 3000 via a TCP/IP network connection and a JetDirect interface.”

This is certainly “limited,” but limited only in the same way that every product, software or not, is limited: They are designed to work properly given certain conditions or limits. Nowhere in either article does HP use the word “limited,” suggest the use of a third-party product, or suggest that its offering is anything but full-featured within the conditions and limits described.

Actually, until I pulled out my Communicator, I thought it had to be an all-HP solution. And while I’ve grumbled about that, I am willing to accept it. But no, the article says “any PCL-based printers.” In fact, we have several non-HP printers that understand PCL-4 and work perfectly well with HP’s network printing solution.

Also note, it says “a JetDirect interface.” This certainly implies an internal interface as well as external interface. The primary reason for the current controversy is that some new HP-labeled printers do not work well or at all in an MPE/iX 5.5 solution with the built-in internal interface.

The articles go on to describe those printers that are supported for Page Level Recovery (PLR). It is important to note that at its first release, network printing supported PLR on all the latest (at that time) LaserJets. A reasonable person would infer that as HP introduced new printers, they too would be supported. With HP-IB going away and the 256x-series printers going off support, the only solution for those shops that require high-speed impact printing is the LPQ Series, hooked up as a network printer. And yet they apparently do not work correctly.

Even the one clear and seemingly arbitrary limitation that HP set up in the beginning, “JetDirect interface,” has been fudged. A still-undocumented feature (SNMP_ENABLED=FALSE) allows the use of non-HP JetDirect interfaces such as the Intel NetXport print servers. I can see only two explanations for this secret feature:

• It was there from the beginning, but HP pulled it at the last minute, perhaps in deference to the third parties or other divisions within HP; or,

• It was added after the fact at the behest (with possible funding provided) of one or more of HP’s top “magic 12” customers, and part of the deal was keeping the “feature” quiet.

Third-party alternatives

HP says now: Use one of the several third-party products for anything more complex then basic printing activities.

Then why introduce any form of network printing in the first place? Certainly a lot of effort (manpower and expense) went into the original offering. What was HP’s motivation? Why introduce something if it knew it was going to be crippled in the future?

There are several capable third-party products for network printing. No question. However, HP’s solution can do one thing the third-party products just can not do: tie all types of printing into a single view for the user. At the operations level, all printers look the same and are managed by the same commands.

Would anyone seriously argue that printing is not a function of the OS?

HP made multiple mistakes when it introduced network printing. However, history shows it never works to introduce a feature and then only half-heartedly support it. Inevitably, customers will come to depend upon it. Apparently CSY learned its lesson when it came time to introduce ODBCLink/SE. It announced limited functionality and has not budged from that. Network printing, however, will continue to be a problem for CSY until it lives up to its promises.

What only HP can do

CSY and its apologists say now: CSY has more important things to do with its limited resources; things that only HP can do.

Not if you’re dependent on high-speed network printing.

I would buy this argument if CSY were throwing out options for the customer base to decide on, a democratic vote on projects for the coming year. (This is an impossibility to conceive of, let alone execute.) CSY is reserving for itself the decision on what is important and what is not. This is certainly its prerogative.

However, in this case, by spouting a revisionist history and by not keeping true to the original “any PCL-based printers attached to the HP 3000 via a TCP/IP network connection and a JetDirect interface” promise, HP is breaking faith with its customers. Furthermore, as I noted above, HP’s network printing solution does do things that only HP can do: integrate all printing control.

If we are to take some of HP’s recent statements literally, then we have no right to expect network printing to work on any LaserJet newer than the 4si. Surely that would be an extreme position. However, without any reconfirmation of the original promise, we are left with essentially the position that any new printer from HP may or may not work. And if it doesn’t, then tough. I am particularly concerned about those people needing high-speed impact printing with the demise of HP-IB. What is CSY’s solution, buy a third-party spooler? That doesn’t seem very customer-oriented to me. This is the “mumbo jumbo” that Wirt Atmar refers to.

What to do?

If history could be repeated and altered, CSY should not have introduced its own network printing solution. At least not for free. It could have introduced Network Printing as a product in the same way the 100mb-LAN interface is a separate product. Better yet, it should have worked with the available third parties to come up with an interface that would allow them to build on MPE/iX’s spooler, adding the features and functionality of their products to MPE/iX while still retaining the tight spooler interface with MPE/iX. This lets both HP and the spooler third parties do what each does best, and the customer is the winner.

Since history cannot be altered, CSY’s only honorable course of action is to commit the resources to live up to the original promises. CSY should not have done what it did by offering a free, “limited” network printing solution. No one, including CSY, wants to destroy the very ISVs that did so much to keep the 3000 alive. CSY should begin a dialogue with the third parties to see if there is an ODBCLink/SE-like solution available in the long term. This kind of network printing solution could couple a basic printing capability with the necessary hooks for existing and future ISVs to add features and functionality.

John Burke is currently Systems Manager at Pacific Coast Building Products and has more than 20 years of HP 3000 experience. He edits our net.digest and Hidden Value columns.

Have an opinion about this item? Send your comments about this article to me. Include your name and your company, or just mail to me anonymously.

Ron Seybold, Editor In Chief


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