One of my clients – David – always seems to call when I’m driving. It must be the universe’s idea of a joke: I’m moving, he’s not. "I can’t print," he says, our new form of greeting. "I think I’ve tried everything."
We go through a checklist of possible solutions: he had restarted the printer, restarted the Mac, made sure Start Queue was selected in the desktop printer, checked that cables were seated tight in the computer, printer, and Ethernet hub. No luck. After a dozen minutes and far fewer miles in crawling traffic, we hit on a fix that sticks: change the AppleTalk control panel to use Remote Access, close the AppleTalk control panel, open it again, switch back to Ethernet, then close and save changes. David is happy to be able to print, but I know that the kludge we’ve assembled to enable his PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) to print on his LocalTalk network is a fragile workaround.
Bridge Over a Troubled Network Stream — Though he’s an easy target, I blame David’s printing problems on Steve Jobs. I was in San Francisco the day Jobs introduced the PowerBook G4 Titanium, and David called with a question. I mentioned how beautiful the sleek new machine was, prompting David to utter those magic words: "If you get the G4, I’ll buy your current machine." I did, he did, and we both ended up with better, cooler PowerBooks. The only problem was that my PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) didn’t include a serial port, meaning it was inaccessible to David’s LocalTalk network. And his laser printer, an older QMS-PS 410 connected to his Mac via LocalTalk.
Fortunately, the workaround was easy. David bought an inexpensive Ethernet hub, which we used to connect his new PowerBook G3 to the computer it replaced, a PowerBook 3400. The 3400 remained connected to the LocalTalk network, acting as a print server thanks to Apple’s LocalTalk Bridge software. (The older machine also acted as a network backup device for important files, and as a Mac that other members of his family could use.)
This setup worked for a while, but problems invariably cropped up. Although the 3400’s power requirements are low, the machine needed to be running at all times (it was inconvenient for David to power it up or wake it from sleep whenever he needed to print). Also, the Ethernet connection would sometimes flake out: the 3400 uses a single port to combine Ethernet and modem functions; after a few years of constant modem use, plugging and unplugging phone lines, the port on the machine was a little loose (and the dongle that enables you to hook up both phone and Ethernet cables didn’t help). So even if the Ethernet cable was clipped into place, it sometimes needed a little nudge to ensure that the pins and connectors were touching. The port could be repaired, but it would be a costly proposition. What’s more, although LocalTalk Bridge works well most of the time, it’s obsolete and unsupported.
iPrint, Therefore iHappy — I suppose it’s only fair that our solution is also attributable to Steve Jobs – in this case his emphasis on case design. While on an errand, I stopped at the University Bookstore near the University of Washington to take a look at one of Apple’s new Power Mac G4 machines as well as one of the now-discontinued Flower Power iMacs. Although I’m a diehard PowerBook user, I’m also a big fan of the company’s industrial design and wanted to see the new QuickSilver machines in person.
Sitting on a shelf above the laptops was Farallon’s EtherMac iPrint LT, a $100 adapter that looked like just the device to replace the PowerBook 3400 as a network bridge. (Farallon also sells an EtherMac iPrint Adapter SL, which connects original StyleWriter printers that don’t support LocalTalk, though in those cases, a new printer may be cheaper and offer better print quality.) I called David, who thought that $100 was nothing compared to being able to print reliably from his trusty laser printer, bought the iPrint, and headed over.
[Farallon’s Web site was not responding at press time, so couldn’t verify the URL above is still accurate. -Geoff]
This is the part of the article where I’m supposed to detail the installation and configuration of the device, so let me elaborate in excruciating detail: I unpacked the box and plugged the iPrint in. Then I discarded the PhoneNet connector that was connected to the 3400 and plugged the LocalTalk cable (actually, a regular phone cable) into the iPrint’s LocalTalk port. At the other end of the device, I connected an Ethernet cable and ran it to David’s hub. (The iPrint package includes a LocalTalk phone cable, a standard Ethernet cable, and an Ethernet crossover cable; the latter is for connecting your computer directly to the iPrint without a hub.) The only configuration change I had to make was to change the 3400’s AppleTalk control panel setting to Ethernet. This enabled David to print from either PowerBook and also transfer files between them.
With the iPrint in place, David’s printer and the other PowerBook now show up in the Chooser on a consistent basis. My kludges are now history, and David is moving again. If only I could say the same for Seattle’s traffic.