USB and the OfficeJet

August 1999: Last November I said that 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 ports, most of the printers, scanners, and all-in-one devices (i.e., multi-function machine with fax, printing, copying, and scanning abilities) still use the parallel port.

USB Is Mostly Good Enough

Last week I wrote USB: 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 Adequate at the Low End.

That said, I’m hoping the one reason I promoted parallel ports on the Mac last November 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 why it wouldn’t make a decent Macintosh color printer using PowerPrint. We saw no reason why it wouldn’t function flawlessly as a freestanding fax machine and slow copier. And we realized that it would never work as a Mac scanner, but that didn’t matter.

Sometimes You Need a Real Windows PC

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 80386 PC to Family Matchmakers. Still, it was a frustrating learning experience, since I tried the SoftWindows and DOS card routes before concluding that 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 (SOHO) 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.

Further Reading

keywords: #usb #imac #soho #officejet