People looking to purchase low-cost Macintosh printers now have better options than ever before. Today, Apple introduced the StyleWriter, a 360 dpi inkjet printer and the LaserWriter LS, a QuickDraw laser printer. These printers pose a serious challenge to third party vendors of Macintosh printers, and (I hope) will put the ImageWriter on the endangered printer list.
Both printers require System 6.0.7 and come with TrueType fonts on disk. The fonts are nothing spectacular – Times, Helvetica, Courier, and Symbol (the same fonts that come standard with the DeskWriter and the various non-PostScript LaserWriters). If you want more scalable fonts, you can either buy ATM, wait to see if more fonts are released with system 7.0 (probably), or contact Bitstream, the main company currently shipping TrueType fonts. Both printers use a serial connection and do not use AppleTalk.
More specifically, the $599 (probably discounted to under $500 at most places) StyleWriter is Apple’s slightly modified version of Canon’s BJ-10e Bubblejet. I’m not exactly clear on what has changed, but I know it has an appropriately Mac-like design and gather that its innards have been optimized for the Macintosh. The Bubblejet has an optional paper feeder (if you don’t buy the feeder, you must feed each sheet by hand), but the feeder comes standard with the StyleWriter. Given the low list price, this shouldn’t be too much of a hardship for anyone. The feeder can be removed, leaving you with a printer small enough for toting around in a briefcase. The StyleWriter is no speed daemon, printing one-half a page per minute in 360 dpi mode and one page per minute in 180 dpi mode. This is roughly comparable to the ImageWriter in "Faster" and "Best" mode, but about half as fast as the more expensive, AppleTalk DeskWriter, which stands to suffer most from the StyleWriter’s presence. Quality-wise, the StyleWriter is comparable to the DeskWriter, despite its higher resolution. Of course, with inkjet printers, paper type greatly affects print quality, so try different papers before condemning either of these printers.
And what about the ImageWriter? Apple is not abandoning it, but is positioning it as a color printer (you can buy color ribbons for it) and as a printer for carbon forms. Yeah, right, a color printer. HP just introduced the PaintWriter a few weeks ago, which has a slightly higher price than the DeskWriter, a lot less speed, and lower resolution, but it can print in color quite well. The ImageWriter won’t be able to compete with the PaintWriter in the color arena unless Apple does some serious marketing for it and gets developers more interested in it.
The LaserWriter LS represents another effort by Apple to give products confusing names. Speculation in my office is that "LS" stands for "Laser Serial," but I know we will all have fun keeping track of the fact that the LS is different than the SC and the NT and now that HP has introduced the IIIsi even the product lines are getting confused. But I digress. The LS uses the same four page per minute Canon engine used in Apple’s Personal LaserWriter NT and SC. The 250 sheet paper tray is extra, so if you don’t buy it, you will have to use the 50 sheet tray that flops down from the front of the printer (that’s what I do at home with our QMS-410 and it’s no great hardship, though I sometimes have to clean off the desk before there’s room for the tray). The LS uses a serial connection to attach to the Mac, but it is supposed to be as fast as a SCSI connection due to a data compression/decompression scheme used when sending data to the printer. The LS cannot be upgraded to PostScript, whereas Apple’s previous QuickDraw laser printers could be upgraded to PostScript. Apple rep Dick Syszmanski said that few people took advantage of the upgrade, but Apple isn’t sure how important knowing that the upgrade would be possible is to customers. Dick also said that the Personal LaserWriter SC will not be discontinued until Apple sees how the LS fares.
I’m pleased to see these printers. They show Apple’s commitment to inexpensive, useful printers. (It’s not a pretty situation when people spend almost as much for their printers as they do for their Macs.) Times have changed a lot. Three and a half years when we bought a DeskJet and a QuickDraw printer driver for our Mac we were so thrilled to not have a blocky, jamming, noisy ImageWriter that we didn’t care about the six minutes per page printing time in "best" mode. A laser printer was clearly out of our budget after we spent $2000 on a Mac SE, and choices at the time were minimal. The DeskJet works well (though not for us) and I’m looking forward to trying out TrueType on it. I’ll be even more pleased should the day come when all this fuss over printers is unnecessary because everyone will be able to afford a big, crisp computer screen and most information will be transmitted from computer to computer without any paper getting in the way. Should be real soon now. 🙂
Tonya Byard — TidBITS Editor
Dave Neff — [email protected]