Printers

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Tales of all-in-one woe

Blame the designers, not the IT guys

Compiled on BA009 flying London to Bangkok and dispatched to silicon.com via a domestic wi-fi connection the next day

Over the years I have had numerous printers, scanners and copiers, and about five years ago I opted for an all-in-one machine. At the same time I moved away from a dedicated box to a networked and shared facility.

When the new all-in-one arrived I unpacked and installed the hardware and ran the checks detailed in the 'getting started' booklet. I then installed the software and the fun began! This wasn't exactly plug-and-play - in fact it was in my view unreasonably complex - but I managed to get everything working over our LAN to numerous fixed and portable machines.

Fast-forward to 2009, and this all-in-one machine has recently been showing its age: after a recent OS upgrade, I was prompted to reload all drivers. This irritation caused me to order a new all-in-one printer/scanner/copier in the belief that this would solve the problem.

I assumed the installation would now be a lot easier - boy, was I wrong.

The new machine arrived with driver software in excess of 600GB and a set of instructions to match. I got the print and copy functions working relatively easily, and the quality was reasonably good. Then I set to work on the scanner. What transpired beggared belief! My laptop was talking with the printer and printing documents but the scanner application said there was no scanner connected.

I fought this one for more than three hours to discover the scanner demanded extensive modifications to my firewall and network settings. Why? If the printer doesn't demand such contorted mental gymnastics, why does the scanner? Isn't it all in the same box?

After a lot of emails and calls to the manufacturer's helpdesk, I gave up. This really wasn't my problem. This was bad design and marketing - it gave the illusion of an integrated product, when it clearly wasn't.

Second try: I order another all-in-one but a different brand. It arrived on time, well packaged and looking innocent in its shiny black plastic and metal casing.

I started by installing another 600MB of drivers. Almost immediately I was in trouble at the print phase - the quality was so poor I couldn't believe it. So I ran all the 'head cleaning and alignment routines' but without any visible improvement. After about 10 modest print pages, it complained of low ink levels. The manufacturer has actually shipped this product with the ink cartridge less than two per cent full. Outrageous!

I move onto the scanner function and was back to square one with demands for firewall and network setting changes not required by the printer.

The similarity of the new all-in-one's software and other aspects to my first device made me suspicious. So I start looking inside the box and software. It turns out that two famous brands are using the same physical production house for their hardware and are sharing some of the same code for their software. Both of these products are clearly from the plug-and-pray design department, and so this second all-in-one was shipped back.

So far I have failed to find a truly integrated all-in-one device. They all seem to be an integration of the hardware and a kluge of the software. Judging by the experience of friends and the dialogue on user group sites, I may be looking for a long time.

Interestingly a lot of people see this as a problem for the IT department but I don't. It is down to bad design, and if we all shipped this stuff back to the suppliers, instead of suffering second rate design, it would soon get fixed.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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