Farewell, old friend

A eulogy to a humble laser printer.

This is an updated version of an article first posted at x404.co.uk.

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The HP LaserJet 2100M came into my life in 1999. I had invested in a new Mac set-up, and was looking to furnish my potential freelance life with some sensible kit while I was still in gainful employment. This model of laser printer was a reasonable price — I think I paid somewhere over £400 for it — and had a full 1200dpi resolution, suitable connectors to allow me to plug it into my Mac, and importantly supported PostScript, or an HP variant of it.

I won’t bore you with the technicalities of PostScript, save to say it was important to anyone who worked in the graphic arts industry. It’s a page layout description language, and it used to be vital your studio printer could interpret this properly for proofing and so on.

The resolutely beige box has been resident in a corner of my studio since it was unpacked. It has been fed paper and cartridges, survived all manner of tantrums, and still faithfully, albeit slowly, churned out page after page of crisp black toner.

I should mention at this point the sole reason for purchasing this particular model when I did was the small, some would say insignificant, connector nestled next to the frankly enormous parallel port. It is a round socket, with about nine pins, and allowed me to connect the printer directly to the same socket on the back of my Apple PowerMac 6500. It was known as AppleTalk and was a proprietary Apple technology that allowed simple networking between machines. As I didn’t have a network at the time, I could literally plug the printer directly into my Mac, install the driver and away we went.

Time passed. I eventually added an ethernet network card to the 6500, and it was turned into a rudimentary server when I upgraded to a G4 Cube. The 2100 could still be attached to the 6500, and the 6500 could act as a bridge between the 2100 and the wider network, which now encompassed a couple of Windows PCs as well.

The 6500 eventually passed on to another, and I acquired a larger beige box to act as server and scanner station. Again, the 2100 was attached to this new machine and continued to perform its duties quietly, thanks to a little bit of software that allowed Mac OS 9 to feed the ethernet traffic aimed at the printer to the AppleTalk network.

I tried to improve the situation by acquiring a proper network bridge, but it turned out to be an exercise in frustration. I never fully resolved the issue, so there has remained a crusty Mac on my network, running a classic Mac OS, purely to serve the 2100 to the world. This situation has remained for the past three or more years. While I stride ever onward into the broad sunlit uplands of OS X, the 2100 sits patiently in the corner, idly chatting with the first generation PowerBook G3 that connects it to the CAT5.

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Until today. Today, I upgrade my work machine to the latest flavour of OS X, and today I must say goodbye to Old Faithful in the corner.

You see, after supporting AppleTalk in every variant of OS X since the public beta in 1999, Apple have seen fit to finally drop their proprietary archaic protocol in OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Once I have installed Snow Leopard, I will no longer be able to communicate with the 2100. An old friend will effectively die. I honestly thought it would die with 10.5, because there wasn’t an official driver available for the 2100 — yet I still managed to get a driver to work with Old Faithful.

A last hurrah, then, yet in many ways, it marks the end of an era.

The 2100 has been a faithful and reliable companion through many adventures and many Macs. True, it has become slower and slower over the years, as the complexity of the design layouts I threw at it have bogged down the PostScript processor. However, only yesterday, I printed out a couple of sheets of A4, and they are as crisp as the first ones I ever printed on that machine all those years ago. If I’d had the foresight to get the 2100TN over the M, I suspect the machine would soldier on indefinitely, provided working printer drivers could be sought. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

The 2100M will linger, with its companion PowerBook “server”, for a while longer. There are other machines in my little network which are still able to print to it, and it makes sense to carry on with the printer until the final dregs of toner are used in the last cartridge. It’s funny, though, how attached to an old pile of ABS and electronics you can get. It will be a wrench to finally see it consigned to Silicon Heaven.

I wrote this article originally just before I updated the OS. I still find myself hitting “Print” and expecting to see the 2100M in the list. Funnily enough, after discovering the USB inkjet was also on life support since its manufacturer deems it too old to provide updated drivers — solved by using a different driver — I noticed the DeskJet 2100M still appeared in the driver list. If I can get a parallel to ethernet adaptor, Old Faithful may well live to fight another day. 

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