30 years later, we still can’t get it right. Don’t want to read a rant? Skip the article.
You know what I hate? Printers. I’ve never once, in my entire life of using Windows PCs, been able to just hint ‘Print’ and have the printer reliably print what I wanted. Actually, I think back in the mid 90s I might’ve been able to do that… once. Otherwise printers are by far the bane of my existence. Granted, I rarely print anything these days – there’s simply no real need. But god damn when I need to print something, I expect it to fucking work! And it never fucking does. And yet the problem always seems to be with Windows and its idiotic printer management.
Back in the 90s we mostly used parallel ports for printers. If you’re too young to remember parallel ports (or anything before USB), it was a big, thick connector that usually screwed into the corresponding port in the back of the computer. Printers were painful back then, too – drivers were fiddly, sometimes ports ended up conflicting requiring some extensive troubleshooting, Plug and Play was inconsistent… it was a nightmare. And then sometimes the printer would spit out some ridiculous result that didn’t match your expectations.
When USB came along, things started to get better. Oh, the drivers were still shit, and getting things to print reliably could be a pain in the arse, but by and large things did get better. If you’re a multiple PC household though, as mine is (and was growing up), a USB printer is inconvenient. Do you move it to the PC you need to print from? Or do you just take your work over to the other computer where the printer is attached? If you do the former, cue installing drivers and dicking around to get it to work.
When network printers came out, I figured the troubled days were over. And to be fair, I had a HP laserjet that actually worked fairly reliably on an ethernet connection. But ever since then, network printers seem to become even more of a pain in the arse, and I have no idea why it’s so fucking difficult to print to them from Windows. And I want to mention that this is first and foremost a Windows problem. Allow me to explain my current situation.
I have a Fuji Xerox multifunction network printer. For some reason that completely escapes me, it only connects via Wifi or USB. Why they couldn’t add an ethernet port is a total mystery to me, but whatever, it literally doesn’t have one on it. Also, the thing is fucking massive, despite not supporting double sided printing (but it does print in colour, so yay, I guess). Anyway, this particular model supports AirPrint – Apple’s printer protocol supported by both Mac and iOS, and pretty much the only way to print from an iOS device is to get a printer that supports it. Windows, on the other hand, supports a bunch of bullshit via third party drivers. Windows 10 attempts to install drivers for you – except I’ve never had it work for pretty much any printer, ever – despite the fact that this printer is not particularly old.
I’ve installed the printer using drivers from the OEM – because there’s no other way to do it on Windows. Okay, cool, it prints after I install the drivers. Then I leave it for a while… and it stops working. Windows 10 happily chimes with ‘The printer is offline.’ Okay, well, it actually isn’t – I can see it on the network, its web interface is working fine. But Windows 10 just will not connect to the printer. The solution? Remove it, reinstall it (using the driver installer package – hope you kept it handy!), and then it’ll work… for a little while longer.
“But Soldant!” you scream, spraying your monitor with spit, “I bet it changed its IP address and Windows couldn’t find it LOL NOOB.” The printer has a static IP address. There’s literally no reason why Windows shouldn’t be able to find it. Absolutely nothing has changed. So why does Windows fail to connect? Because printer management under Windows is fucking bullshit. It always has been, and apparently it always will be. Go. Fucking. Figure. When I have to totally remove and reinstall the printer just to print one document, there’s something seriously wrong with your printer management software.
Maybe it’s just a problem with my printer. Maybe yours works fine. As I said, I had a HP printer that (mostly) worked reliably.
But here’s the thing – if I print from my iOS device using AirPrint, it works without fail. Every. Single. Time. Not once has it failed me. When I had a Macbook (for a brief time), it also worked every single time I wanted to print something. Didn’t matter if the last time I’d touched it was 3 months ago – it just worked.
It’s a really sad day when a protocol Apple developed works better than the competition.