Sunday, January 11, 2009

Printing before writing

This article is part of my series on exploring Linux. In my last article I experienced some of the difficulties of working with a 64-bit OS when there was no Adobe Flash player available. Luckily I found Adobe's beta product that worked beautifully (and just happened to be available for Linux before Windows).

I'm realizing that as I experiment with Ubuntu, I really need to print information I discover. I should setup printing before I try things like handwriting recognition with the touch screen. But I've been dreading this test. I have fairly recent printers (an HP2605dn and HP2600n) and I wonder if there will be drivers to properly support them. To complicate things, these are colour printers - one with a duplexer. They are both acting as print servers over the LAN (one wirelessly). -- see why I'm worried?

Well, my fears were unfounded! This was the easiest setup I have ever done - easier than Vista even. Here's how it unfolded:

  • I went to System|Administration|Printing and clicked on "New".
  • The system automatically scanned and found my printers (my wireless one didn't respond until the 2nd attempt however).
  • Ubuntu recognized my printer and offered to go out and find drivers.
  • It found drivers! It clearly stated that they were provided by HP. It gave me all sorts of details so I could have trust in the driver. It told me what features were supported and what testing had been done by Ubuntu, etc.
  • It then downloaded them when I was ready, using the package manager I had encountered in the past. No visits to the printer manufacturer site! How cool is that?!
  • I was given a chance to nicely identify the printer's name, location, etc. so that I could more easily work with it in the future.
  • I was then able to investigate the printer properties. I was able to set default and sharing options. All very clear and pretty. I was able to setup my colour options and duplex printing preferences no problem at all.
  • Then it printed!
It really could not be much easier than that!

In truth, there were one or two flow issues. The screens don't hand-hold you very well when downloading the printer drivers. The progress indicator went instantly from 0% to complete. Then I was left at a screen wondering if it was finished - not realizing I needed to click a different button now. Also, the driver for the 2nd printer came in with the first, so there was no need to download it - which the system told me. But the system said I could just continue with the "next" screen but left the "next" button deactivated. It was another flow issue. I just had to cancel the download and choose to use an existing driver.

I am not unhappy with the flow issue at all, and it only lost me 10 seconds or so. But I think this printer installation demonstrated a clear difference between Windows and Linux. I know Windows would never allow a flow issue like that, but there are so many other things wrong with its installation that Linux has licked. Linux provided an end-to-end installation experience (no visiting a manufacturer site). Linux communicated clearly in detail so I knew exactly what I was configuring. At the end, I had a printer published the way I wanted, performing exactly as I expected. No surprises, no mystery. I don't know if this experience can be said about all Linux printer installations, but in my case, I was impressed.

Emboldened, it's time to configure my second monitor for dual-head display! (Actually, I've already started playing, Ubuntu isn't doing so well with this one...)


Niklas said...

The ATI proprietary drivers (which I assume is what you're using) doesn't support xrandr, which is the standard way of setting up dual monitors, and is what System->Preferences->Screen Resolution uses.
They do however have a decent proprietary application for doing it called the ATI Control Center. Make sure the package fglrx-amdcccle package is installed, press Alt-F2 and run amdcccle. (apparently, it doesn't show up in the menus for some reason)

Gordon Martin said...

You are correct about the proprietary drivers. I saw XrandR errors but it meant nothing to me at the time. You just missed me posting my article about that:

Dueling with my Dual Monitors

What are your thoughts regarding proprietary vs. open source? It sounds like I gain some 3D benefits from using ATI's drivers...

Niklas said...

I believe the ATI open source drivers have a proper xrandr implementation, not sure though. On Intel it's very simple to configure dual monitors with the help of the screen resolution settings.

The benefits of the proprietary drivers is better OpenGL performance.
Until recently, open source drivers haven't had a proper graphics memory manager. This has been rectified in kernel 2.6.28 with the inclusion of a common graphics memory manager developed by Intel, GEM, but it will take a while before the drivers take full advantage of this.
Also on the horizon is Gallium3D, which should significantly increase performance of the open source OpenGL stack.

Gordon Martin said...

Is fglrx-amdcccle different than the Catalyst Control Center that I see on the applications menu? I had thought it was the same thing.

Niklas said...

amdcccle is the same thing as Catalyst Control Center, I thought it didn't show up in the menus, but this may have been an earlier version of the package (in an earlier version of Ubuntu perhaps)

Gordon Martin said...

Oh good, that had been my assumption. But I couldn't be sure.