March 19, 2004

Printers, Part 2: Wireless Utopia

As I related in Part 1, I brought home an HP PSC 2510 All-In-One PhotoSmart printer that prints, scans, copies, faxes, and reads digital camera memory cards, and has both USB and wireless interfaces. I was overjoyed, because I'd gotten the wireless model for the price of its wireless-less sibling.

Later the next morning, I wasn't so happy. The copying worked OK, and I could print stuff using it, but the photo quality was, frankly, lacking. Even with the special photo ink cartridge and premium photo paper, and the proper print settings, the photo prints were clearly pixelated if you looked closely. Arrgh! More than that, I couldn't use the scanner at all; every time I started the HP scanning software it would just sit there and twiddle its thumbs until I killed it.

I checked the HP website; sure enough, there was a new printer driver available as a 71 megabyte download. Why they needed 71 megabytes, I have no idea. But it was dated 12/30/2003, comfortably after the release of the latest version of OS X, and it seemed likely that if nothing else it would fix the scanning problem. (I'd resigned myself to living with the print quality issues.) But all I've got here is a dial-up line; 71 MB would take hours.

Not to worry; yesterday evening I bopped over to my friend Dave's house, and used his DSL line. (I digress: Apple hardware and software are truly wonderful. When it was time to go, I simply closed my laptop, putting it to sleep, and went to Dave's house. When I got there, I opened it again, and was immediately on the 'Net via Dave's wireless network. No muss, no fuss, and it works every time.) I downloaded the new driver; it also turned out that Apple had some OS updates to download that included printing improvements, so I made sure to snag those as well.

By the time I got home, it was too late to try anything more, so I went to bed.

This morning, after taking Dave to school, I got down to business, and installed the new driver. As soon as it was done, I tried to scan--and it worked flawlessly. Two points for HP. Then, just to see, I made yet another test print on the nice photo paper--and the pixelation was gone. The print was lovely.

Whoo-hoo!

But third time's the charm. Not wanting to borrow trouble, I'd been using a USB cable to talk to the printer. Now that everything else seemed to be working, it was time to try the wireless interface. And here's where the story gets really exciting.

The HP manual offers detailed instructions for how to set up wireless printing with a WiFi base station. I didn't follow them. I read them just enough to glean a few important facts:

  • How to enable the printer's WiFi interface, which is disabled by default.
  • That once the interface is enabled, the printer will allow ad-hoc connections from any wireless computer in the vicinity, without going through a base station.
  • That the printer's networking features can be set up via a built-in webserver, whose address is included on a Networking Configuration report you can have the printer print out.

So happens, Mac OS X supports ad hoc wireless networks seamlessly. I simply:

  1. Wrote down the name and WEP password for my Airport Base Station.
  2. Selected "hpsetup" from the Airport menu on my menu bar.
  3. Pointed my web browser at the web address on the Networking Configuration report.
  4. Clicked a few times, and typed in the name and WEP password for my Airport Base Station.
  5. Selected my normal wireless network from the Airport menu on my menu bar.

And bang. The new printer was now available to me over my wireless LAN.

There are a number of reasons why my old Epson printers didn't get much use. The primary reason, of course, is that I only want to print stuff every so often. But on top of that, I use a laptop, and I hate being tied to my desk--and that USB cable tied me to the desk. And I hate having to get out the paper and load the printer--which I always had to do, because if I left the paper in the printer the dust cover made it curl up. Thus, there's always been a sizeable psychological barrier to actually sitting down and printing anything.

So ironically, the new printer I bought in hopes that it would be more reliable than its predecessors when used only rarely will almost certainly get considerably more use than its predecessors.

Anyway, color me one happy camper.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 19, 2004 05:13 PM

Daven Nolta said:

okay, you saved my a$$, I *never* would have gotten wireless working on my 2510 if I didn't find your blog entry. however, all's not peaches yet. I still can't scan or fax because the 'device chooser' refuses to locate my machine. any clues here?