Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Redemption of HP

Yeah, I know, ruined some of the suspense with the title. Now that you know they have redeemed themselves, I will now walk you through what they did to get on the naughty list in the first place and how they managed to redeem themselves.

I have been using a Mac for the past four years or so. I have long been a fan of fast printers. I always find that reading a printed page, or even eInk pages now, is far more relaxing on the eyes than looking straight at an electron beam. Early on, when I was first contemplating starting my new company, Adaptive Intelligence Inc., I purchased a snazzy new HP color laser printer.

Those of you who are paying attention might be thinking that there was something wrong with the printer and that is what HP did to me. Actually, it was big and a bit slow, but both of these were fine with me. Big made it faster, added an automatic scanner, network connectivity, portable memory readers, and a fax machine. A bit slow decreased the up front costs significantly.

I was happy with my new printer. It was relatively quiet, relatively fast, easy to setup and use, scanned documents in reasonable quantities, and produced great output. Basically, I received exactly what I paid for. The one nagging issue that I had was that pages printed out in the wrong order by default. It was when I jumped on the Snow Leopard bandwagon that things started to fall apart. I was cautious and made sure that HP had managed to create drivers for Snow Leopard. They had large listings of drivers and their current status. I followed the directions, cleaned the old drivers, and installed the new drivers.

Now, I had a nice snazzy printer that no longer supported scanning from or to the computer. At this point, I was frustrated. I choose two name brand companies, high end products, and was suffering compatibility issues. I managed to leverage a portable memory card, the manual controls on the printer, and a newly purchased USB memory card reader to work around the problem. Yes, in my fully wired gigabit networked home with a network enabled printer, I had recreated the kind of "sneakernet" solutions that we used to use back in the 80's. At this point though, I had faith in HP and Apple to play nice together and fix the printer. I was willing to work around the problem for a while.

Time passed and the workaround continued to irk me. I went online for updates and found that new drivers were posted and there was new firmware available for my printer. I quickly updated my printer's firmware and the drivers on my computer. Now I had a current system and it was sure to scan. I followed the directions on the HP website to use the built in OS X software for scanning. The menu items were there, but my printer was not. After a few rounds of cleaning, scanning for all things HP and moving them, restarting, and reinstalling I grumbled and went back to building my company.

I did not notice the lurking problem until I tried to deposit a check online. I scanned a check to the memory card, went to the bank's website, and tried to deposit it. They rejected the check since the resolution was too low. I went back to the controls, verified that the resolution was set right, scanned the check again, and found that it was no longer respecting the manual scan setting. Sneakernet was busted. After a few weeks of looking for updates, I finally gave up.

HP had officially made it onto my naughty list. It took me several frustrating calls, transfers, 15 minute hold times, and "your call is important to us" messages to finally get to someone that worked at HP, knew about Macs, and was able to help. We deleted all of the drivers again. We went to their website. Instead of clicking on the link for Snow Leopard, we clicked on the link for older OS X versions with no Snow Leopard support. There, inside, was a file that worked with Snow Leopard. Installing the full version took a couple of minutes. The system was then up and running well. Scanning worked from the computer (no longer really needed manual settings) again using their software. After that was working, the tech asked the always interesting question, "Is there anything else that I can help you with?"

Remember the page ordering problem that I mentioned in the beginning? I mentioned this, explained the issue, and how to reproduce it. I quickly explained that I understood the workaround, and the limitation to the workaround. Depending on how the software configured printing, you might not be able to customize the options and would have to manually reorder the pages. He took this issue, along with the manual scan resolution bug to engineering and we ended the call.

A few days later, I was surprised to see a message in my inbox from HP. Here was a driver extension that should fix the "default" paper ordering to the logical order. It worked on the first try. I am still waiting to see if the scan resolution issue gets fixed.

At this point, HP has really come through. My printer is back to being the solid reliable workhorse that I purchased. I am rid of a few nagging issues. I am able to deposit checks.