I have never owned a fax machine in my life, and I hoped that things would stay that way until the last obnoxious faq-requisite institution on earth had pulled the plug on these foul machines. But … I’m dealing with some entities recently that are hard-set on faxing, and I have needed to send rather large numbers of pages.
It occurred to me, as I faced the prospect of a $100+ bill for faxing at, say, Kinkos, that I could probably buy a cheap fax machine and save some money. I was right about the money, but as far as time and anguish goes, I’m not sure I’m making out well.
I bought the HP Officejet J3680 All-in-One. It’s a printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine. How handy! We don’t have a scanner or copy machine, and I figured it would be handy to occasionally do these tasks, as well. After I got the machine out of the box I immediately sent a huge fax with it which, I have to say, went very smoothly. Unfortunately, things started to go downhill quickly after I hooked it up to my computer and installed the software from the included CD-ROM.
The install process itself was slow, but seemed to go “OK”. When it was done, I had a huge list of Hewlett-Packard apps to choose from.
I’m feeling pretty good because, not only was this machine a bargain at $50, I got all this free software with it, as well. Sweet.
I looked for something vaguely fax-related, because I wanted to see whether the fax I had sent had kept a log or copies of the pages on the machine. Hmm. “HP Fax Setup Utility” sounds promising.
Yep, that’s my new printer software, crashing straight-off-the-bat. OK, it’s possible I could just be unlucky. I mean, I am a software developer, I know that it’s impossible to write perfect software. Somebody reading this has undoubtedly run one of my applications and had it crash on them. There’s something special about this crash, though. Every crash log contains clues about the crash, and this one contains a very obvious clue. Let’s look a little closer:
To many of you, that reads as gibberish, so let me translate. What it says is that the HP application cannot launch because it relies on an external library, located in a home directory for a user named “admin”. In other words, whoever developed this application for HP did so in such a way that the application will only ever launch on their computer. Or, possibly, on the computers of other people who happen to name themselves “admin.”
What?! Say it ain’t so. It can’t be so. But, I followed all the directions. I opened the box, and I put the CD-ROM into the computer, and it says Mac support, and … I decided maybe I need to start with the software at a higher level. Hmm, this “HP Setup Assistant” sounds like a nice refuge from the storm. I’m sure this will get me back on track.
Yes, HP. I’m feeling pretty loved. At least I have the comfort of the HP logo and, as my friend Paul Kafasis observed, its “greasy mirrored surface”, to go along with my tuxedo.
OK, this is nuts. I gotta see if there are updates. I go to the HP web site and search for downloads. After a few levels of clicking, I come to this useful, if disconcerting page. In a nutshell, they know their software doesn’t work on Mac OS X 10.6:
Important: Please do not reinstall software from original HP Photosmart, Officejet, Deskjet CDs, or HP web downloads from previous Mac OS X 10.3, 10.4, or 10.5. Older software is not compatible with Snow Leopard. The latest Snow Leopard compatible software is included in Mac OS X 10.6, and you will experience the best performance and functionality if you use the latest HP software.
So on the one hand, they made a great deal with Apple to supply basic functionality in the operating system, starting in 10.6. On the other hand, the very instructions that ship inside every box will turn the user’s experience into a nightmare as I have described, until they discover the sage advice on HP’s web page. And if I can’t install the software from the CD-ROM, does that mean I don’t get access to all the additional features provided by that illustrious list of free software above? I don’t think I need it all, but I would at least like to be able to, say, read a scan off the scanner.
What has HP done wrong? As I said, mistakes happen. Bugs happen. Things are bound to go wrong. But the sheer number of things that went wrong in my attempt to use this device with my Mac made it unacceptable. At the very least, HP should put a prominent sticker on the CD-ROM that ships with these devices, alerting Mac users that it is dangerous to install the software on Mac OS X 10.6. I suppose 10.6 is still relatively new, but Apple makes pre-release versions of major releases available to companies like HP. They probably knew months and months ago, if not years ago, that the supplied software would not work with 10.6. It’s only good business to warn users of this fact.
Furthermore, some of the errors I encountered were not OS related. See the first crash I mentioned above. Bluntly, HP has shipped on their CD-ROM a utility application that will not properly run on any customer’s Mac, whether it’s 10.6 or not. I suppose they can just hope that nobody will run that application, but as it hasn’t been modified (according to my Mac) since April 26, 2007, I suppose they have had plenty of time to yank it from the CD.
OK, this has been a bit of a whine-fest, but hopefully it’s also instructive as to how hostile a company’s obliviousness in software can feel. When the simplest steps, followed as advised in the packaging, lead to a nightmare of crashes and ill behavior, then your company has a disconnect from its target audience.