Back when we started this whole working from home thing, we borrowed a boatload of money to get nearly the fastest computer thinkable for graphic work – a PowerMac 7100. It came with a 100MB hard drive, an amount we thought, in those pre-digital photo, even pre-worldwide web days, that we could never fill up. The computer and monitor were so expensive (around $4000) that we put off getting a printer for a while, instead driving off to the Kinkos when printing a job was really necessary. (We also went to the corner gas station to fax things, until we got our first fax modem.) When that got old, we took the plunge and bought a fine laser printer, the HP LaserJet 4MP. It prints Postscript files, and it's a workhorse. 15 years of constant use and absolutely no maintenance later, it's still going strong and putting out documents that look as crisp as the day we got it. But as time marches on, it gets harder to keep it connected to my new flashy computers. The last time it broke was when parallel ports went away, on my PowerMac G4 dual. This caused some panic until I learned I could network the printer in through an Ethernet bridge, a little magic box that with a minimum of fuss kept things running the past 8 or 9 years. But it was a magic box that came in through AppleTalk, and in figuring out potential issues with SnowLeopard, I found out that its magic will be gone.
Scouting around for a new solution, I learn that there are cables that adapt parallel port connections to USB (which I'm pretty sure didn't exist yet when I put in the ethernet bridge solution). Notably flaky, but worth a try, and people with the same printer seem to have gotten it to work. So I get a good deal at eBay on a Belkin cable (I don't know what Keyspan is, but people complain about their cables mightily, so I stuck to a brand I've had success with), the cable arrives promptly, and off I go.
Sort of. The Mac sees the cable and knows what it is, but getting documents to the printer is a very chancy thing. Sometimes they go, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I need to restart the printer, sometimes that doesn't work. Flaky. And not productive. So I need a better solution, which is where the beauty of OS X's Unix underpinnings once again shines. (I didn't even need to get into the Terminal or DarwinPorts, and if those words scare you, don't worry about it.) So, if you're trying to keep an old AppleTalk-style printer alive by making it a USB printer, here's what you do:
- Buy the aforementioned Belkin USB Parallel Printer Adapter.
- Connect the printer through a USB port (direct to computer or a powered hub; I didn't have luck coming in through the Cinema Display's port).
- Go here and download usbtb, which provides what is called a CUPS backend for USB printing. This is an open-source project that supports hundreds of printers, and claims to do it faster than OS X.
- Install usbtb (double-click the "Install usbtb" package). It will then scan for USB printers. Your printer's name may show up, or it may be called "Unknown Unknown," in which case select that. Then you will get a list of printer drivers. The HP LaserJet 4MP is not on that list, so choose its closest relative, the 4M. Quit usbtb.
- You could be done, but the 4M's driver doesn't provide that Postscripty crispness you've been accustomed to, especially in graphics. So go to System Preferences>Print & Fax, choose the printer you just installed, choose Options & Supplies, click the Driver tab, and now replace the print driver with the 4MP driver (which is included in Leopard and Snow Leopard). And it works. Now you're printing through the CUPS system using an official HP driver, and it all works beautifully.
- If you've been sharing this printer, you'll need to delete it and then add it again on the other computers. Also, you will continue to see your shiny new cable listed in the Print & Fax list (mine shows up as "Belk USB Printing Support IEEE-1284 Controller") – just leave it.
- Bonus: By getting rid of the Ethernet bridge, you've freed up space for another transformer on your power strip.