Monday, May 19, 2008

Linux printing, as "fun" as ever

I've been using Ubuntu 7.04 "Feisty Fawn" as my primary desktop for the last six months. Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of the distribution for desktop use, and I'm looking into deeper use of Ubuntu in the next six months despite the occasional problems with it and its underlying infrastructure. (Debian lets a guy who doesn't know how to read C repackage crypto code? Seriously?)

Anyway, I needed to get that Feisty install talking to my QMS/Minolta (now Konica) Magicolor 2350 laser printer over the network, the only way I ever talk to that printer. Recalling Eric Raymond's Linux usability rant The Luxury of Ignorance, I was curious to see how much things have improved since then.

This printer has all sorts of network interfaces supported and genuine Postscript. Last time I networked it on a Linux host was all via command line and that was pretty simple, as command prompt interfaces go. Under Windows, all I have to do is install the driver and tell it the IP address of the printer. Ubuntu also provides a gui to handle all this, gnome-cups-manager. I started there. This printer supports the Internet Printing Protocol which seemed promising for an easy configuration.

Setup things for IPP to that address, just got errors with no useful descriptions in the GUI. Turning to Debugging Ubuntu Printing Problems, I found that on Feisty I had to manually edit the cupsd.conf file to get any useful feedback here. Basically, on this version of Ubuntu, the Gnome tool is useless the minute you have a problem. Supposedly it's better on Gutsy, not that it would have helped me.

I also learned a bit about troubleshooting this type error from the IPP: Only Raw Printing Works thread on the forums, which wasn't my problem but was in the same area. The other troubleshooting suggestion there for helping with reinstalls was:

sudo foomatic-cleanupdrivers

That was nice to make sure I was starting from closer to scratch properly every time, but was also no help at actually resolving the issue.

The debugging level logs led me to this bit that seemed my real problem:

E No %%BoundingBox: comment in header!
E PID 10539 (/usr/lib/cups/backend/socket) stopped with status 1!
E [Job 63] Unable to write print data: Broken pipe

What the hell? I found a bunch of people with this same error, but few suggestions. Subsequent reading suggested the whole gnome-cups-manager does little but get in the way if it doesn't work right off the bat, so now it was back to using


To manage cups directly.

I tried a few more variations on the IPP protocol before deciding that whole protocol was yet another thing getting in the way. Back to the old standby of talking directly to the printer with lpd. While playing with that, cups went completely insane on multiple occasions, prompting a need for:

/etc/init.d/cupsys restart

Sigh. Did some digging on the default queue info for this printer, and the magic URI that finally worked is:


So basically the old-school setup I used to use. The additional layers of cups and its gnome interface did nothing but get in my way by obfuscating what was going on underneath, and cups remains as buggy as ever. Gosh, maybe I should follow the link on the localhost cups page to purchase Easy Software's "ESP Print Pro"? The only thing worse than spamming my printer setup page with their ad is that when I click on it, the page doesn't even exist. Come on--you put a damn ad on Linux systems all over the world, and you can't even keep a redirect alive to the URL you used? Not exactly a way to get me so confident in your skills that I'd want to give you money.

Now, at this point the obvious flame is "what the hell are you complaining about Ubuntu 7.04 for when 8.04 is available?". That's easy--I only use LTS versions because they're the only ones I'd recommend a business deploy, and dissapointingly Hardy is a good beta quality release that was pushed out the door anyway to meet a pre-planned release schedule. It doesn't work anywhere close to well enough for my standards yet. They decided to use a Linux kernel so fresh (2.6.24) it's gone through almost no QA before release, with a crippling bug in the brand-new scheduler model that completely bogs down the application I spend most of my day using, PostgreSQL. Again, seriously? They just introduced a whole new scheduler in 2.6.23 and you expect it will work already? Have you ever actually developed software before? That sucker is many kernel revs away from having all the unexpected corner cases knocked out. Hardy should have shipped with 2.6.22 or earlier if they wanted a stable kernel at launch. Combined with the beta standard Firefox (I must have a reliable Flash plugin for my work as well) and the whole Pulseaudio mess, Hardy isn't even on my radar until service pack, err, update 1 comes out in a couple of months.

A final twist to my story: just after I got printing going, CUPS recognized my printer by itself! It suggested:


Of course, that didn't actually work either--just got IPP errors about not being able to get the status of the printer. Looks like Eric Raymond's Aunt Tillie is still a considerable distance away from easy Linux printing. As for my setup, web pages print fine but lpd output gets truncated at the margins. If only I had a fancy GUI to help set that up...

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