Moving back to Mac: Fun with networked printers

epson r800 Mar 16, 2008

As my little journey continued, I began connecting my Mac to the Windows network that already exists in my home. I was already connected to the IP network, so I tested the waters hooking up networked printers and connecting to shared drives.

I have three shared printers in my home network: two HP LaserJets (one color, one B&W) and an Epson Stylus Photo R800 USB inkjet printer I use for printing photos. 
The LaserJets (a color 2605dn and a 5) both have built-in JetDirect interface cards allowing them to be plugged directly into an Ethernet switch. The Color LaserJet 2605dn even has a built-in Bonjour print server. Bonjour is Apple’s Zero-configuration technology that can be applied to a wide variety of hardware devices. They even have a version for Windows. (There is a 64-bit version here.)

Suffice it to say, the HP 2605dn was as close to a brainless install as one could dare hope for. The LaserJet 5 was a tiny bit trickier as I needed the IP address of the printer in order to point to it. Since I am the network admin, I had that information. You can also get it from the printer by printing it’s Configuration Page.
The Epson Stylus Photo R800 was another story. If the above two were stories, they were written by Dr. Seuss. Setting them up was that easy, I kid you not. The Epson’s story, however, was written by Clive Barker (I still see Cenobites creeping out of the corners of my home office).
I originally had the Epson connected via USB to my Windows 2003 Server (R2, Service Pack 2, 64-bit) and shared. For 64-bit Windows clients this is great as the workstation uses the server’s printer driver. Everyone else is forced to install a local copy of the driver for their platform. Leopard provides a mechanism to connect to Windows based printers and I was able to connect easily enough to the shared device. The bundled print driver is from the GutenPrint project (formerly GIMP-Print) an Open Source printer driver. Lo and behold, the GutenPrint driver included support for the Epson R800!
Unfortunately, the support is only minimal so that made the GutenPrint driver a Doesn’tPrint

 driver. Not to worry, Epson has drivers for Mac OS X Leopard on their site. So I happily downloaded those and set about installing them and using them on the shared printer. Here’s where Clive comes into the story.
The Epson driver for Mac OS X hasn’t really been updated for a little over a year. Epson has no plans on updating it either. The drivers are for USB connection only. So I went and unplugged the R800 from my server and plugged it directly into my Mac. The mojo happened again and a print queue, complete with the factory drivers I just installed, miraculously appeared in my system. Shot off a jpg to the R800 and it printed normally.
So far so good, I went and unplugged the printer, deleted the local queue and reattached it to my server. I then added the shared printer and when I went to select the Epson driver, the only one I could find was the GutenPrint one. O_o?!? I searched high and low on that hard drive, in every frickin’ folder I could think of, but I could not locate the Epson driver that was installed when the printer was attached locally. Frustrated, I turned to the Internet.
I Googled around ALOT. I checked in all manner of support forums, PC, Mac, and even photographic ones. Nothing panned out. As an Official Minion of Steve Jobs (Mac owner), I tried the support forums at Apple. Lots of complaints, but no answers. Most of the folks gave up and got a better printer. Lord knows, I would like an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 (if anyone from Epson is reading this, I will gladly review it for you or the new model that will replace it), but I just dropped a bit of scratch for the Mac Pro and my wife would have me strung up if I came to her with this. 
I called Epson Technical Support and they basically gave me a  “doe in the headlights” look regarding this problem. “We are going to escalate it to a higher level of tech support” they told me. I suggested they escalate it to a driver developer to get it fixed.
I then reattached the printer to my Mac and tried sharing it with my wife’s XP machine. Seemed straightforward enough. I installed Bonjour for Windows and her box spotted my shared queue easy as pie. I loaded her up with the latest Epson drivers for Windows and all seemed cool. When I fired off a test print from her box, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but nothing happened in the printer. WTF? I checked the queue in my machine and it was empty. Leaving the queue monitor up, I resubmitted the test. The job appeared in the queue and then vanished. Flitted off to bit-bucket heaven.
So, flexing my powers as a Minion of Steve, I went to the Apple Store where I bought the unit and signed up to chat with a Genius at the Genius Bar. There was a two-day wait. Wishing to make the most of the time before the meeting, I set about learning to look at the logs for the printing system (Mac OS X is Unix based and there is no escaping the amount of logging that goes on in the background. The trick is learning to “open the Mac’s kimono” and get to the underlying Unix.) There I discovered that the print jobs I was sending from my wife’s machine were failing silently with some sort of authentication error. I printed the log file (just the relevant part, not the whole thing) and waited patiently for my appointment with the Genius.
You know, it has always bothered me when marketing types get too involved with things like tech support. Sure giving them cool names like “Genius Bar” or “GeekSquad” or even “Firedog” (I would really like to know what they were smoking when they came up with that one.) makes them more appealing to the population in general, but it puts undue stress on the poor guys and gals who are only trying to be helpful. 
Client – “You’re supposed to be a [Pick one: Genius, Geek, Firedog] why can’t you fix my iPod?”
Hapless Tech – “Sir, you’re trying to load 328GB of music and videos and it’s an 8GB Nano.”
Client – “Don’t give me that double-talk! I waited three days for you to fix this so I can load Heroes Season One into it! Some [Pick One: Genius, Geek, Firedog] you are! Ha!”
Saturday rolled around (I had made the appointment the previous Thursday) and I gathered all of my notes, screenshots, log printouts, and Tums for the trip to see the Genius. On the way, I took my kids to see “Horton Hears a Who” at the local theater and I have to admit it put me in the right frame of mind for what was coming.
I will admit the whole experience there at the Apple Store was very pleasant. Buying a Mac is like buying a Mercedes Benz or a BMW: you get a lot of TLC along with a really cool product. I was greeted by the Concierge who checked my appointment and I pulled up a stool to wait my turn. I was second in line. The guy ahead of me failed to show up, but the staff had to wait to see if he was going to show up so I ended up waiting 15-20 min. I walked to the Genius Bar and proceeded to tell this story.
The tech (Chris) tried very hard to find an answer, I will give him that. He more than likely hit all of the same things I did when I searched for myself (I pride myself on having mad google-fu skills), but he gave me a response that usually takes care of most printer problems in Leopard. And the number to a consultant in case that didn’t work.
It didn’t work.
As I was wondering which car I was going to have to sell to pay for the consultant, The Answer showed up from the question I had posted in the Apple Support Forum. I was advised to update the GutenPrint drivers to the latest versions. Those were the drivers that had to be used for networked Epson printers. The factory drivers were USB only.
I did this and tremulously fired a test print to the R800. Hokey Smokes it worked! So there is the answer kids: download the latest drivers from GutenPrint. I highly recommend reading all of the docs that come with it so you understand how to configure them.
The End.
PS: I visited the Apple Store today (Monday) at the request of the Store Manager to discuss my experience with the Genius Bar and to see what else they could do to help me out. I happily reported the solution I had found and asked the Manager to let Chris know so he (and the rest of the support team) will be able to help others with this problem in the future. Got to hand it to Apple: no one does “warm and fuzzy” customer support like they do.
PPS: My Epson R800, ungrateful bastard that it is, up and died on me after all of the trouble I went through to get it working on my heterogeneous network. Paper feed mechanism broke down. Ordered an HP B9180 from Buydig which has a built-in network adapter and Bonjour server.