The iMac Channel

USB and the OfficeJet

Dan Knight - 1999.08.09

Last November I said Macs needed parallel ports.

I got a lot of letters on that, some saying I made a lot of sense. Others said parallel ports would soon be obsolete, replaced with the Universal Serial Bus (USB) and FireWire.

Nine months later, the world is still pretty much a parallel place, at least in the Windows world. Despite the fact that most shipping PCs have USB, most of the printers, scanners, and all-in-one devices (i.e., multifunction machine with fax, printing, copying, and scanning abilities) still use parallel ports.

Last week I wrote Where no Mac has gone before, which discussed the irony that Apple seems to be driving acceptance of the Wintel originated Universal Serial Bus.

USB isn't the be-all and end-all of interface design. While a competent replacement for ADB, serial, and parallel ports, performance is far below what Mac users get from SCSI. Still, in another article I concluded that USB is okay for the low end.

That said, I'm hoping the one reason I promoted parallel ports on the Mac will be a reason for peripheral makers to adopt USB. The all-in-one devices, exemplified by the Hewlett Packard OfficeJet series, are not Macintosh friendly devices.

Based on features, my wife purchased an OfficeJet for her adoption agency. We saw no reason it wouldn't make a decent Macintosh color printer using PowerPrint. We saw no reason it wouldn't function flawlessly as a freestanding fax machine and slow copier. And we realized it would never work as a Mac scanner, but that didn't matter.

We discovered that PowerPrint plus an OfficeJet does make a very nice color printer. We also discovered that you must have a Windows 3.1 or 95 machine with a parallel port for it to work as a scanner, copier, or fax machine.

That's right, the OfficeJet 600 series is completely computer dependent for tasks as simple as sending and receiving faxes.

Fortunately a local pastor heard of our plight and donated an old 386 to Family Matchmakers. Still, it was a frustrating learning experience, since I tried the SoftWindows and DOS card routes before concluding we needed a real PC.

That said, if these all-in-one devices adopt USB, it will finally be easy to use them from the iMac and PCI-based Power Macs. The hardware interface will already be there; all we'll need is Macintosh drivers. If the manufacturers won't create them, expect Infowave (makers of PowerPrint) or others to do so.

Finally, the small office/home office Mac user will be able to buy and use the same kind of printer/copier/scanner/fax machine that Windows users have come to take for granted.

So it looks like Macs really don't need parallel ports.

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