Printers can be tricky to connect

October 12, 1998|By Mike Himowitz

My friend George is normally a calm, methodical fellow, but by the time he called me he was definitely, shall we say, on edge. "Four #!%$!!!# hours!" he screamed. "I did everything they said. I tried every setting. I disconnected everything and hooked it up again. I rebooted the computer 12 times. But the #!%$!!!# thing still won't work."

I made some sympathetic noises and gave him the advice I usually dispense when people's computers drive them to homicidal rages: pour three fingers of bourbon into a glass, relax in an easy chair and call back when there's only one finger of bourbon left.

George followed my advice and was a bit more mellow when I answered the phone again. He was even able to tell me exactly which #!%$!!!# device was giving him a problem: his new printer.

He had, in fact, followed all the directions. He disconnected the old printer, plugged the new one in and started up his computer. Windows 95 dutifully found the new printer and asked him to insert the CD-ROM containing the printer software. Which he did.

The software seemed to install properly, but when he re-started his computer, he got a strange error message telling him his old printer was no longer connected. Which he knew. And the new one wouldn't print at all, no matter how many times he unplugged it and plugged it in again.

I told George that he had every reason to feel like strangling somebody. And if that somebody happened to be the guy who wrote the driver for his old printer, it would be a case of justifiable homicide.

If you haven't encountered this issue before, a driver is program that tells your computer how to interact with some other piece of hardware attached to your PC - for example, a CD-ROM, video card, scanner or printer.

While most PC's have only one parallel port (the connection use by most printers), Bill Gates and Co. figured, quite rightly, that you might want to use more than one printer. So Windows was designed to handle multiple printers and multiple drivers. For example, if you have a laptop, you might have different printers at home and in your office. Or, you might have an ink jet for color work and a laser printer for business correspondence. You might have one kind of printer at your office desk and a different network printer down the hall. If you use a fax modem, your computer will most likely treat that as a printer, too.

When you print a document from any Windows program, there' a little pull-down menu that gives you a chance to select your printer. Most people don't use this feature, but it's available. If you change your printer setting, all you theoretically have to do is make sure you have the right printer physically hooked up to your machine.

Unfortunately, some printer drivers are written by people wh suffer from uncontrolled territorial aggression. These drivers don't want to let go of your printer port when you switch to another printer, a bad attitude that conflicts with the whole design of Windows.

George's old printer had one of these Drivers from Hell. Luckily the solution was fairly simple. All George had to do was bring up the Windows control panel and delete the old printer from the list, which would effectively remove the offending printer driver. When he started up his computer again, I told him, everything would be OK.


When he followed my instructions and started his compute again, the old driver was gone, and with it the error message telling him the old computer wasn't hooked up. Unfortunately, there was a new error message awaiting him - this one told him the computer couldn't communicate with his new printer.

This was an entirely different bug than the one he'd jus exterminated, and I asked George whether he'd bought a new cable for the new printer. No, he said, he'd kept the old one, since it seemed to be working fine before the switch.

This time it was George's fault. He'd missed the fairly prominen warnings in his instruction manual and on the printer box that this printer needed a new, "bi-directional" printer cable.

While printers have always been able to pass information back t your computer, newer printers require a cable that uses more pins and wires to send information to your PC - such as the status of your print job and how much ink or toner you have left. These bi-directional cables aren't expensive, but you can't substitute an old one. Some printer drivers will detect an old cable and warn you about it. This one didn't.

George drove down to the computer store, bought the righ cable and was printing a few minutes after he returned.

"Why don't they just put a cable in with the printer?" he asked. "I couldn't add more than a couple of bucks to the price. Then you wouldn't have to worry about it."

Well, George, if people who sell hardware and software acte rationally, I'd be out of a job.

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Pub Date: 10/12/98

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