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Postscript Printing a Major Bug in OS X

- 2001.12.03

At home I have a 400 MHz iMac SE running OS X 10.1. This machine is connected to my small home network and prints on a shared LaserWriter IIg. This ten-year-old laser printer (the Mac IIfx among the laser printers) is equipped with a 68030 processor for processing print jobs, 8 MB internal memory, and an ethernet port. It can print up to 8 pages a minute and talks Postscript level 2.

Eight pages a minute - it does that when printing from a floppy-driven Mac Plus or a IIci, and it does that when I run Mac OS 9.21 on my iMac.

So far so good.

Things go wrong when I try to print Web pages from OS X browsers like Explorer 5.1, Mozilla, or OmniWeb. It takes the computer about 7 minutes to produce printouts from moderately complicated Web pages that classic mode browsers like Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape Navigator 4.0.8 can print in just one minute.

This is a really bad thing. Postscript is Postscript. It shouldn't matter a bit which operating system one uses when printing. The print speed should totally depend on the speed of the printer and its connection to the network.

Yet Apple managed to slow my printing to a crawl with the OS X "print center." What a piece of crap! (I sometimes wonder if Apple even though about printers when they produced OS X. The fact that it isn't possible to print directories forces one to reboot in Mac OS 9.21 in order to print the contents of a folder or disk.)

In order to find a solution to the slow printing of Web pages, I searched the Web and went through the (rather limited) setup options of the print window. I could not find a solution. The only way out seemed to be the use of a classic browser, because the classic print software (the good old system 6 era Print Monitor) still prints just as fast as ever.

I don't like this. It's not that I have something against using classic stuff (e.g. I use the classic version of Eudora 5 for my mail), but I really liked the OS X version of Mozilla 0.96. It is so much faster and more stable than Internet Explorer 5. Luckily the classic version of Mozilla is also pretty good, and I'm pretty impressed with iCab.

The very slow printing wasn't the only bug in the OS X print software. When I tried to save stuff as a Postscript document instead of sending it directly to the printer, the program refused to produce a valid document - that is, when it managed to produce a document at all. The classic printing software did this without any problems, just like we have been used to over the past 15 years.

I copied the Postscript file to the hard drive on my IIci running System 6 and downloaded it to the LaserWriter using good old LaserWriter Utility 7.4.1. The 25 MHz 68030 IIci with 8 MB RAM and a 200 MB hard disk managed to print within a minute a Web page that took 7 minutes on a 400 MHz G3 iMac with 256 MB RAM and a 13 gig hard disk.

The OS X LaserWriter driver is seriously flawed. I hope Apple does something about this soon, because right now this operating system is pretty useless when it comes to handling Postscript jobs.

This is not something you would expect from the company that brought us the "desktop publishing revolution."

is a longtime Mac user, a writer, the publisher of System 6 Heaven, and believes printing is one of the more important things a Mac can do. He lives in the Netherlands.

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  • Mac of the Day: Power Mac 8200, introduced 1996.04.22. The minitower version of 7200 was never sold in America.
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