Friday, 13 February 2009

Still Life in Color

One thing where human beings seem to be different to the rest of the animal world is in the way we cherish our memories. Perhaps it is so because we have the means to preserve them that I get this impression, but regardless of that most people would pick on their collection of photos as one of the first things they would rescue in case of a fire after all living residents have been secured. The rest of our house’s contents can be reacquired (especially if we’re insured), but the memories can’t.

It was this line of thinking that got us to buy an inkjet printer capable of doing a fine job with photos some five years ago. Digital photo prints were expensive at the time, at between 60 to 90 cents for your normal 10 by 15 photo, so we were certainly going for the appeal of the ability to do so at home under our own terms, with added flexibility and much better quality control.
Things have changed as the years went by, though. First, the digital revolution didn’t stop with us converting from film based cameras to digital ones; we also moved from a primarily paper based archiving process to a digital one. We mostly view our photos on the computer screen, which gives us added bonuses such as the ability to easily arrange slideshows and such. And more importantly, we store our photos and manage them online, which means we can easily retrieve any photo of ours (and I'm talking about picking one of of tens of thousands) from any internet connected facility and watch them on any screen. We don’t even need to rush for them if our house burns down, because they’re stored somewhere in Yahoo’s data centers.
Second, digital printouts became cheaper while inkjet printing hasn’t. Nowadays, you can get a 10*15 photo printed for between 10 to 20 cents, and even an A3 printout costs less than a Mars bar.
And third, we have found that maintaining an inkjet printer is not without its hassles. As we don’t print that frequently, by the time we do decide to print we need to clean our inks first; this cleaning process uses up a lot of ink, so we have to replace them inks quite often or settle with poor quality printouts. We usually settle on the settling, just because we’re too lazy, but also because by now most of our printing is of work related documents. That and us not willing to go shopping for new inks every second month.
The wheels have spun. A solution to replace our inkjet was required.

Such a solution has been available for a while now. It is called the color laser printer, and lately some products aimed directly at home users such as us have been made available, mostly by Samsung and HP.
We ended up with the Samsung CLP-310, the smallest color laser printer currently available, which we bought for $170. Yes, a color laser printer can be bought for such a price, and it comes with enough ink to manage some thousand pages or so!
One thing has to be made clear in advance: this new color laser cannot compete with our old inkjet when it comes to printing photos. It doesn’t have the quality, and it is unable to print on the glossy paper that gives that higher contrast feeling (I prefer mat paper myself).
On the other hand, where the laser shines is in documents. Text is so much easier to read off a laser printer than an inkjet, where there is always some diffusion. Sure, our printer of choice is not the best laser ever, but it’s still much better than an inkjet. Coupled with the ease of use and high usability, I think we’ve found ourselves a winner.

Naturally, you cannot have a new computer related gadget and expect it to work right away.
Installing the printer for Windows was a cinch. The story was different with Linux Ubuntu; indeed, connecting equipment has always been the dread of Linux given its lack of support.
Thing is, our printer actually comes with an Ubuntu driver; it’s just that when I tried to install it I got this nice error message telling me I have to be a root user to run this software. That was a bit of a problem, as I am the only user on my PC that I know of (Jo uses my user account). Go figure!
So instead I let Ubuntu pick a driver from the web. It managed to find something for the Samsung CLP-315 (mine is the CLP-310); I gave it a try and it worked. Go figure!
[Actually, by the time this is posted, I did figure things out; to apply for root privileges in Linux, one needs to use the Sudo command. Once I did, things worked well. I'm actually quite proud of Samsung supporting Linux so well; I doubt other manufacturers do so]

As I hate to badmouth Linux, here’s an opposite story. With the printer I also got a one terabyte (1tb, which is one thousand gigabytes) external hard drive (Western Digital, $170). Now, Linux can handle any hard drive you throw down at it and in any format, but Windows is limited; so I had to suffer a very long wait last night as Windows formatted the new drive according to its way too specific and inefficient requirements.
Oh, and if you think that you can count on Windows actually releasing the drive when you ask it to, so you can actually use it in other environments, think again; it only does so when it feels like it. It's as if there's a demon there, taunting you.

In conclusion:
I remember how, exactly ten years ago, while working at an Israeli airline, we had to get an approval from the USA government to deploy a mainframe utilizing these huge cabinets that offered one terabyte of storage. They were deemed too technologically advanced to be given away for anyone to use. Now I get the same capabilities through a small can on my desk.
I find it all amazingly wonderful. And now that you’re aware of it, you can find an amazingly affordable color laser printer that suits you, too!


ost12666 said...

I am considering buying one, are you still happy with it?


Moshe Reuveni said...

Assuming you're referring to the laser printer, the answer is yes.
Again, I will stress that:
1. It is significantly inferior to inkjet printers when it comes to printing photos.
2. You cannot use glossy paper, so your photo prints will not look as sexy.
If you are willing to pay this price in order to gain better reliability and improved text printouts, then by all means go for it. We are, but then again we’re using our printer mostly for work and not for pleasure.

P.S. If you're a Linux user: The Samsung works terrifically well under Ubuntu.