I think I’m one of two idiots who use Linux as a desktop. I’ve been flirting with this for years and finally when my current PC got too old for videogames, it finally happened that I realized I has no reason to run windows and put up with all the crap that goes with it. The primary attack venue is the browser, but even TurboTax.com works in FailureFox 3.x, so as far as I’m concerned the open source stuff scratches my itch. Since it’s my bread and butter, it also behooves me to use it at home so I can get it into weird places there too.
One of the majorly lacking things in Linux are “Win Printers”, or printers that eschew standards like “LPT” or “PostScript” and instead use Windows GDI. There’s been various efforts to reverse engineer it but the spec is intentionally ambiguous so that you can add features to the wire. HP does it with their “ink protocol” for telling the PC how much ink/toner/crayon is left, and basically any other transport from the printer to the PC is winprint only. PostScript lets you specify “Color” or not, and “tray 3” or “A4 paper”, but there’s no provisions to the best of my knowledge for talking back and forth. Up until now there’s been hacks to get winprinters to talk to Linux but it’s been… hacky. The foomatic print driver was it.
Unfortunately, this is the problem with open source. The guy is a bit of a whiney bitch (seriously, don’t give it away if you want money for it), and the level of polish was low. It requires a fairly involved installation and it didn’t play well with CUPS or Samba Print. In short, it was a mess, it was tough to install, the UI was rough, and as of SuSE 10 it didn’t work. I run OpenSuSE 11.1 here, so whenever I needed to print something I either e-mailed it to myself and printed it at work or fed it to the printer after picking up my mail in windows. I figured he would fix it at some point but it looks like he’s decided he’s not going to maintain it without money, so we were all screwed. Finally one day the lightbulb went on.
Gee I download Linux drivers from HP’s enterprise portal all the time, I wonder if the printer is in the enterprise portal?
You have to click through quite a bit but eventually you end up at HPLIP Open Source. And frankly, the HP driver is a lot nicer. For one, it covers printing, scanning and faxing, and for two the UI actually works well. No offense to anyone who actually makes their money out of this but if your open source product gets beat in both functionality and ease of use by the equally free but not open source product… There’s very little reason to continue working. For the curious, it works exactly the same way the ATI/nVidia loader works where the driver is really a loader for a “binary plugin” which handles the communication. Since the plugin is actually the zStream protocol HP uses, any ZJIS/HPLIP printer works. Which is all of them. This is why faxing and scanning also suddenly works in Linux. Good show HP!
Now, there’s one bug I ran into. If you choose “automatic install” it tries to call YAST to uninstall an older version of itself, then it gets hung up with YAST exits with a 1 (error) to indicate it can’t uninstall something which isn’t installed. Simply choose “manual”, spell out what you want out of the installer and when you’re prompted “should we uninstall the old driver?” tell it “no”. The GUI will come up shortly which automatically finds the printer (even on the network!) and downloads the correct plugin. All the settings normally available in the Windows driver are available in the Linux driver (color, black settings, halftoning, picture quality) and the toner monitor works also. All in all minus the yast bit it’s quite nice.
The HP 2600N shows up on ebay on the cheap. They were popular among the soho crowd for awhile then newer printers printed faster so these were discarded. I got mine for a penny from a liquidator and ended up paying $80 to ship it since it’s heavy as hell. If you do buy one, buy a sealed one so it comes with the toner. Mine wasn’t, and it didn’t come with toner carts, which is another $100 out the door for the HP ones or you can get them for $10 a pop (times four, black yellow cyan magenta) from a refiller. Or you can refill your own, the kits are cheap and the ones from the refiller are pretty rough.
Now, the only thing that sucks is the printer will complain about the toner being low, especially if you use non-HP products. Be sure to use the TONER OVERRIDE command and suddenly your toner will last twice as long.
All in all if you can get past the rough spots, and it’s pretty easy compared to setting up a lot of other stuff, the HP 2600N is a strong buy for network printing and Linux needs.