Low End Mac Reviews

PowerPrint 4

Dan Knight - 1998.03.24

PowerPrint 4 allows you to connect your Macintosh to most parallel printers, from dot matrix through ink jet to laser. The package consists of several printer drivers, spooling software, and a 7' serial-to-parallel cable.

Installation is a breeze, with dozens of drivers to choose from. If your specific printer isn't listed, the handy manual lists hundreds and hundreds of printers and which drivers they should be used with. Once the software is installed, turn off your Mac, connect the printer cable to the Mac on either serial port, and plug the big end into the parallel port on your printer.

Boot your Mac, open the Chooser, select your driver, choose your printer, and you're ready to print. Memory permitting, I recommend turning on background printing. The spooler software that comes with PowerPrint works quickly, putting to shame background printing on my recently deceased HP DeskWriter 520 and my new Apple StyleWriter 4100.

History

Way back in my retail days (1987-92), Apple, GCC, and Epson make dot matrix printers for the Macintosh, but laser printers were terribly expensive. GDT (now Infowave) was one of the first companies to see a market for selling drivers that would allow a Mac to use an HP LaserJet, HP DeskJet, or other printer. In that era, many printers had both serial and parallel ports, so you didn't even need a serial-to-parallel converter. In fact, we used MacPrint (an alternative to PowerPrint) with my Mac Plus and my HP DeskJet 500 after I left the DOS world. Until a few months ago, my wife still used the printer with her PowerBook 150. The printer is still alive and well, attached to my brother's DOS laptop. Those early DeskJets were built like tanks!

Over time, the market changed. Apple introduced the StyleWriter; HP the DeskWriter. Then came color versions of these Mac-specific printers. More recently, Epson entered the Mac market with their Stylus series. It seemed PowerPrint was a product with a shrinking niche.

However, in the past year HP stopped selling DeskWriters, instead packaging them as StyleWriters under the Apple name. Then Apple dropped the StyleWriter line. Although Epson still supports the Mac, their 600 no longer ships with drivers for the Macintosh.

But what has brought PowerPrint back into the limelight is the new class of office equipment, the all-in-one printer. In addition to printing, these devices may also send and receive faxes, copy (some in color), and function as scanners.

Alas, each and every one is designed for the Windows world and has only a parallel printer port. It is impossible for the Mac user to buy and use one of these without something like PowerPrint.

Our Story

My wife runs a business out of the house. She had budgeted for a printer, a copier, and a fax machine. But the all-in-one devices promised to save space and money. After a fair bit of research, we settled on the HP OfficeJet 600. On a Windows machine, this color ink jet printer can also scan in color, copy in color, send and receive conventional faxes, and fax print jobs from the computer.

We realized we wouldn't be able to scan from the OfficeJet or use it to send faxes from the computer. But we don't need a scanner and can use the fax software that came with our modem to fax from the Macintosh. And with PowerPrint, we could print in black and white or color.

With a direct serial-to-parallel connection from Mac to printer, PowerPrint is fast (and we're only printing from a Centris 610). The print quality is excellent and it handles colors very nicely. In short, PowerPrint lives up to its promise.

If you need to attach an older parallel printer, a new parallel printer, or an all-in-one printer to your Mac, PowerPrint is highly recommended. However, be sure to visit their website to check compatibility since some of the newer all-in-one printers are not currently supported (this was one reason we chose HP over Canon).

PowerPrint is also great for Mac users on the go, especially PowerBook users. If there's a printer at your destination, its about 90% likely PowerPrint will let you use it.

PowerPrint retails for US$99 and is available from Infowave (now Strydent), many mail order dealers, and your local Apple dealer. One pleasant surprise was finding PowerPrint on the shelf at the CompUSA Apple store-within-a-store.

If you need to share a parallel printer with two or more Macs, PowerPrint Pro is your solution. It ships with a LocalTalk-to-parallel adapter, so you can connect it to your AppleTalk or PhoneNet network easily. Price is roughly US$220.

The Macworld review commented that PowerPrint 4 is significantly faster than previous versions. I believe this is due primarily to a new serial-to-parallel adapter and drivers which run at 230.4kbps (LocalTalk speed) instead of the older 57.6 kbps. At present, I have no way to test this.

The OfficeJet 600

Although this is a review of PowerPrint, I want to warn Mac users about the HP OfficeJet 600. Many of its features can only be accessed from a computer running Windows.

This came as quite a surprise to us, since neither my wife nor I had ever heard of a fax machine that couldn't fax unless it was driven by a Windows-based computer. But that's the case for the OfficeJet 600 - and it may be true of other all-in-one printers as well.

My first solution was to buy a used DOS card for my Centris 610. It was neat going back to DOS with a 25 MHz 486 (much nicer than the 16-20 MHz 386 machines I had last used). Windows 3.1 is another story. It takes a fast computer and slows it down immensely. I think my Mac II is more responsive!

After installing Windows, I installed the OfficeJet drivers. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any way to make it see the OfficeJet on the Macintosh printer port. (Some DOS cards come with parallel ports or have them as options. In those cases, a DOS card might be a workable solution.)

Next, someone sent me an ancient copy of SoftWindows 1.0 to try. I couldn't get it to run at all on my 68LC040-based Centris 610. Current versions of SoftWindows require a Power Mac, so they were not an option.

In desperation, I posted a cry for help in an online forum. A local pastor came through with an ancient 386 machine, complete with Windows 3.1 and the required bidirectional parallel port. It's excruciatingly slow, but my wife can finally send and receive faxes.

Other discoveries:

  • Although HP calls the OfficeJet 600 a color copier, it does this by scanning the image to your hard drive, then printing it. On our antique 386, this takes 2.5 hours. Black and white copies are handled by the OfficeJet itself in seconds.
  • The OfficeJet 600 does not want to function as a stand-alone fax machine. As far as I can determine, to send or receive faxes, the computer must be on.
  • At the very least, you want a fast 486 (Pentium is better) with lots of RAM and a large, fast hard drive to use the OfficeJet 600. A minimal 386 system can do the job, but would tax anyone's patience.

What's frustrating about this is that nowhere in HP's literature does it say the OfficeJet 600 will not function as a stand-alone fax machine or that it will not copy in color without a computer attached. Experience with an OfficeJet 1150C at work, which does function as a freestanding color copier, led me to believe that the 600 would also have that capability built into it.

So now we're looking into a faster Windows computer and an automatic switchbox. The switchbox will let the Windows computer control all the special OfficeJet function while permitting the Mac to print. (Other than my DOS card and the computer needed to run the OfficeJet, we are a Mac household with 5 computers ranging from a Mac II through my Centris 610.)

Oh, wait, the HP page says it won't work with a switchbox. :-(

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