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back to article BOFH: Tenacious B and the Printer of Destiny

"The printer's jammed again," the Director's PA says, ducking into Mission Control for a brief status update. To be fair the PFY asked for this level of information when he suggested she notify him of any problems. As far as poorly thought-out pickup techniques this one has far outlasted his patience. The moment an orange light …

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yeeeeeeaaaaaah

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Anonymous Coward

The return of the prod

Marvellous!

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Re: The return of the prod

Why yes, a spectacular damagement motivator!!

No BOFH should be without one!

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Trollface

Re: The return of the prod

Hide them though, mine turned into a soft baseball bats :(

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Pint

prod the print

last line punnage, well done sir.

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Pint

You have presciently described our Ricoh rep

And you still can't print an envelope on one of those beasts without mangling it and jamming the copier.

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I had that very printer

We bought 3 and put them on a research ship heading to the antarctic. Along with spares and service manuals and service software.

Ended up having to do all the A3 maps on a pen plotter, which was a tad slow, but I do like the way the light glitters off the ink. Much shinier than toner.

Watching a pen plotter trying to colour most of a sheet of very expensive paper blue was the only time I ever felt sorry for a machine.

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Happy

Definitely one of the best. Obviously recorded exactly as it happened!

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Anonymous Coward

Proofreading please

Syntax error on several sentences.

Also, IT'S = IT IS.

How many times?

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Devil

Re: Proofreading please

Ahhhh, picking up on spelling errors in a BOFH article... That is very brave.

Now, could you lend me a hand calibrating this Management Interface?

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Re: Now, could you lend me a hand calibrating this Management Interface?

While you have the Management Interface in your hand, please include a couple of "button presses' for me.

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greyscale?

I find that CEOs print EVERYTHING in colour.

Buy a Dye-sub printer so they get high quality photos then print their email on it.

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The school I work for suffer from all of this.

I've still yet to find a single model of printer that will take card of any non-flimsy value, or will print on labels or envelopes without spending more than it would cost just to start my own printing outfit.

And users don't get this. "I printed a label on this printer before" - yeah, but it's not supported, and these are different labels, and you've now stuck them all nicely to the internal rollers for me using the heat of the printer to set the glue. Thanks. Even had one do it with foil labels that turned out to be conductive. Ouch.

Printers stagnated decades ago and nobody can be bothered to fix them. My office has a Laserjet 4. It's actually BETTER than almost every modern printer in every way, except in terms of print speed (which hardly matters, really), and all the newer models are horrendous-looking, flimsy things that can barely handle a bit of paper, have horrendous custom formats and weird quirks and when they break you are stuffed. That's if you get that far without having to replace the drum, transfer rollers, etc. which cost more than the printer itself. And in six months, that model will disappear and be replaced with one with identical specs and completely different toners and drivers.

I'm really waiting for a Kickstarter project, or some 3D-printer take-off, so that we can actually have a large printer, that can print on just about any size or thickness of paper and can take literally a huge refill bottle of toner that's as big as a water cooler bottle and costs about £10 to refill. If we can get rid of the whole idea of drums and other consumables, even better.

The banner printer we have in school - can print A4-width "up to" 1200mm on their special paper. Completely useless and pointless and COSTS THE EARTH. Any old inkjet or even dot-matrix used to be able to print banners of A3-width as long as you could find paper for that length.

Printers have literally hit a barrier and then receded back in terms of features and quality, but not in terms of TCO over their lives. Hell, I know of a whole range of printers that I can crash by sending them a large image. The driver doesn't even bother to scale it down to printer resolution, it just sits and tries to send it direct to the printer for that to handle it. You can tie up the printer for hours.

A huge Ricoh model that we use also stops printing with a panel-error-message if you print Letter to it by mistake. The option is unskippable, you can't tell it to continue, and everyone else's job will just sit in the queue until you cancel the job (and, no, you can't tell it to pretend that the A4 paper in the tray is really Letter!) and after years of working with it I *still* haven't worked out how to reset it back from the manual-feed tray to auto-feed without just switching it off and back on. I actually installed PaperCut just to stop that damn printer from being fed Letter-size jobs (which are very common on PDF's, even those produced in the UK!).

Out of all the possible open-source gadgets we need, a printer is really top of the list. At least then I'd stand half a chance of fixing problems and being able to get "that odd little plastic arm thing that holds that bit down" from anyone for a matter of pence. And I could keep it running for DECADES just upgrading the interface / drivers each time they change.

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Anonymous Coward

Remember the disasters that used to occur when someone tried to print onto transparency sheets? I've seen that before. Fuser fubar.

Our most common printer fault is the same as yours: Someone sends a letter job. Our HP printers then start demanding letter paper be supplied. You can cancel the job, but not remotely: Someone needs to physically go to the printer and push the button.

My personal pet printer hate, though, is that manner in which they'll get confused over a job and start printing out the whole job as if it were ASCII text: A few lines of meaningless symbols before encountering a page feed. Good way to eat a whole ream of paper.

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MJI
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I'll raise you a Laser Jet III

Still many in use at customers

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Thumbs up for that, Lee.

I totally agree - bring back the LaserJet 4. Wish I'd never got rid of ours. Seems hardly a day goes by that I don't get squawked at by our MD's PA because her desktop Brother has just chewed up another envelope.

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Still using 2 LaserJet 4Ls

...and picked up 2 brand new cartridges in Oxfam for a fiver. :) They are combined with a JetDirect for network printing, of course. Reliable, high quality, and at £2.50 a cartridge for a while they're far far cheaper than inkjets.

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Re: Still using 2 LaserJet 4Ls

I have a Samsung ML-4500.

You can literally just refill the official toner cartridges with just-about-anything and they still work. The drums go after a while, but it's built into the cartridge, so you buy one once a year and then just keep refilling it from cheap toner pots (I buy stuff intended for an "IBM ProPrinter" which I always thought was a dot-matrix, but it comes in big bottles on eBay for a few quid and I just pour it in until the drum starts to wear out - which you can tell because the toner cartridge will be full up but pages will get fainter).

Haven't bought an official cartridge for it, ever. Haven't bought a cartridge in nearly 3 years. Have been using it for, what, 10 years, I'm not sure.

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Anonymous Coward

Completion

I worked with HP's laser jet group for a number of years - design and manufacturing optimisation - in Boise. On my induction I was asked what I thought was the greatest competitor to the newly released 5 series - according to my guide, a long serving engineer and manager(remember when they used people with tech know how) it was the Laserjet 3! Buggers (I paraphrase - he was American) won't bloody die......

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I love my LJ4

I have a LJ4 for my laser at home. I have lots of spare parts from 2 other LJ4's my work was scraping. and 4-5 new in box toners. I am on my second toner in the 12 years I have had this LJ4. In its prior life it was the only printer in an office, and has a page count of almost 2m when I got it. its jsut over 2m now 12 years later and still going great. Only thing I have had to change other then the toner is the charge wire. Thou i think it does need to be taken apart and cleaned as I haven't taken it out of the cubbyhole it is in in 7-8 years lol

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"I bloody hate talking to printer engineers."

Yeah me too!

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Pint

Thanks Simon.

Ha. My dad had a problem with a printer driver on his computer that caused any image printed to be narrowed by one pixel...not on the left edge....not on the right edge...but right in the middle. I think his solution was to cut-and-paste the right half of the image and move it 1 pixel to the right so that when it was printed, the result was correct. It made for an interesting image on-screen, though.

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Headmaster

Nitwits

/pedantry on: It was us Germans with Din A <something> to set these paper sizes, so until some pint-sized smart-ass finds the meter to hard to count (you know, just count to 1/299,792,458 of a second and see how far a light beam goes) A4 is A4 is A4 ... /pedantry off

I like the guiding stick though and I know we could use it sometimes ...

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Facepalm

Re: Nitwits

Whoosh!

Hear that?

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yeah

superb observational skills

It' is probably a true story (if you leave out the application of the cattleprod).

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I always figured the general network printer hassles were by design, from a secret cabal of tree-huggers attempting to push paperless office routines in the most cynical (and effective) way possible.

But as they say, never attribute to malice what can be readily explained by stupidity. And I'd pay a lot of money for a printer that had some common sense error handling built into its processor.

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Facepalm

Never attribute to hippies what can be blamed on the vortex of stupid

Printers are a vortex of stupid, where you have the computationally inept, unable to read what's on their monitor -- so they print anything and everything.

The only solution to the BOFH's sad situation involves homicide, as the moment one of these wankers has mistaken you for their mother, they not only latch on with all the grip of a drowning man, but TELL ALL THEIR INEPT FRIENDS AS WELL, arranging your adoption of every moron in the place.

No hell like printer hell, guys. Take my advice, perfect a blank stare, and whenever someone mentions a printer problem, use it until they go away -- no matter how hot the chick or dude is. The fact that they have a printer problem and are looking for assistance is all you need to know to stay away.

I still laugh at one of my compadres who had such a user (she lured him in with hotness, and then bludgeoned his good will to death with angry(!) statements like: "Ever since you changed my monitor, all my papers have this thumbprint in the middle of them!" (For the morbidly curious, she fed every page in by hand for some unknown reason, and had a jar of that stickum to separate pages right there on her desk...)

My advice to him was to go home, eat a whole bunch of bean soup, onions, eggs, sauerkraut, and beer, and bright and early the next day, sit next to her telling her that you refuse to leave until she's happy with the printer. It took her *three* hours to give up. Such is the power of stupid, my friends, such is the power of stupid.

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Anonymous Coward

Speaking as a printer engineer, sometimes the BOFHs aren't much help either...

and yes, I do have every sympathy for the occasions when you have to deal with one of my colleagues who is either out of his depth, plain not interested in resolving your problem or just too bloody stupid to understand it in the first place.

However, when I've replaced every part in sight, upgraded, patched, downgraded, patched and re-upgraded software, tinkered with the most obscure settings on the machine and we're still looking at the same problem that ultimately turned out to start the exact same day you installed that switch that it turns out has a dodgy port, a bit of open-mindedness as to exactly where the problem may lie and a willingness to collaborate on finding a solution for the lusers who are ultimately the thorn in all our sides would be appreciated. And when I tell you that the outdated Office 2010 fonts on your print server are what's causing the printer to crash or spew out garbage, and show you the relevant MS bulletin, less eye-rolling and more font-installing would mean we can all go to the pub earlier.

Cheers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Speaking as a printer engineer, sometimes the BOFHs aren't much help either...

+1

I'm HP APS and I'd say that roughly 30% of the calls I attend are user stupidity. Another 30% are replacing consumables for those unable to understand diagrams and the rest are genuine break-fix.

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Facepalm

Re: Speaking as a printer engineer, sometimes the BOFHs aren't much help either...

With all due respect, you may be excused, as you work with HP printers, which were manufactured by people who actually made the crazy assumption that people would want to use them to print, and think reliability is a plus.

You reckon without the utter fail that is a Ricoh printer. Can you imagine an enterprise printer that does not speak PostScript unless you purchase an upgrade, or once the "upgrade" (to ancient technology) has been purchased, that the printer CANNOT RECOGNIZE it until you insert PJL to tell it to switch over? Apparently, Ricoh is unable to detect %!PS at the beginning of a file.

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Alert

Re: Speaking as a printer engineer....

I thought that species was extinct (or mutated into big photocopier/ printer/ stapler/ puncher/ folder/ scanner/ shredder/ firestarter/ Allin1-and-a-bit engineer).

It must mean that there are places which still have one huge expensive printer for an entire building, which sooner (or occasionally later) will be unfixably broken and in need of replacement costing a five-figure sum because the breakage was caused by a luser sticking part of his anatomy in a place it shouldn't have gone. (The more highly paid an employee, the bigger the luser -- just as per the story).

Dinosaurs?

Think what replaced the dinosaurs. Proto-rats. Try lots of expendable printers. Not really cheap ones, their engineering is crap and the ink or toner is ultra-expensive. Really cheap printers are Xmas gifts for people you hate. But cheap enough that there's plenty of them on the network around the workplace, and no need for crisis management or expensive service contracts when one of them expires. Just heave it into the skip and buy another out of the toner and paper budget, when your friendly non-BOFH can't fix it by staring at its innards and employing a few more brain cells than the average luser.

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Printing is basically IT's buck-toothed, educationally-challenged, banjo-playing half-cousin.

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Anonymous Coward

Re:

Don't you believe it, sunshine. Printing is a highly complex process, with tolerances in nm and msec. Too many IT staff don't understand the slightest part of the physical process, never mind the software.

Encouraging your Helldesk to have some basic familiarity with the hardware would cut call outs, and costs, significantly.

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FAIL

I'm calling out your obfuscatory BS.

The best way to reduce call outs and costs would be to allow help desk personnel to carry out beatings. That's the only thing that most printer callers understand.

No user needs to understand nm and msec in order to print. The only thing they need to understand is: "paper goes in here, and toner goes in here, and when it's out, put more in". The fact that they screw that up should tell you something. The fact that you don't "get" that tells me even more.

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Re: ...allow help desk personnel to carry out beatings.

DAMMIT!!!!!!

WHO told you about our plans for April Fool's Day next year?????

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Pint

@ Fatman

Didn't you know? I'm psych(ot)ic!

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Megaphone

Re: I'm calling out your obfuscatory BS.

The only thing they need to understand is: "paper goes in here"

and #2, when printing a letter, you DO NOT select "letter" in the paper selection dialogue!!!!!

Where's the cluestick icon?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm calling out your obfuscatory BS.

I don't expect users to understand the process. I do expect users to treat it like the very expensive kit that it is. So ripping out paper jams (leaving little fragments behind), slamming paper trays (breaking the guides), using the wrong media (half pages of labels) and kicking it really don't help.

I would love for at least one person on the Helldesk to kind of understand the hardware so that they can sort of make an educated guess as to where the issue might be. It might resolve issues before they have to call me in. If they have less times waiting for a tech visit, then they have users being able to print more, which makes users happy and means less grief for everyone. And maybe I'll have the right part with me when I do visit.

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Anonymous Coward

Last week we had to call in the engineer for a MFD. A Sharp - one of the scanner-copier-printer-A3-doublesided things. It had ceased to function, and would display only an error 'F2-40' and a demand that a Sharp service engineer be called in to fix it.

The engineer came. He poked it a bit, shook the black cardridge, put it back in, and the printer worked. So I asked this, and - after giving him some interrogating - managed to extract two useful bits of information:

- F2 40. The F2 means that no toner came out, which nine times in ten means the toner clumped when the cartridge was in storage and needs a good shake. The 40 is a component identifier, and corresponds to the black cartridge.

- Sharp codes, the engineer reluctantly explained, are intentionally arcane to the uninitiated. Sharp printers on maintainance contracts are not considered user-serviceable - the client's role is expected to be limited to replacing cartridges and paper as needed and occasionally clearing a jam. The use of incomprehensable numerical error codes with no externally-published documentation is to prevent clients from having a go at fixing any problems themselves, no matter how simple. If the client has no idea what the error means, they are unlikely to try to fix it themselves.

It's certainly not a technical reason: These printers have an LCD touchscreen interface and enough onboard processing to run a document management system, there's plenty of room to display meaningful text rather than numbers that need a lookup table to interpret.

We went on to say that sometimes a no-toner error can actually indicate a fault in the toner feed motor, but by MS alarm started beeping at that one, as even in that case shaking the cartridge isn't going to do any harm.

This is why you need to call out a qualified Sharp service engineer to shake a cartridge.

I suspect that any big printer on a service contract would have some similar policy, regardless of manufacturer.

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Black Helicopters

All the "meaningful text" in the world won't help.

Often, when you have a technical issue, you need someone who's "not an idiot" to work on the printer. Kudos to Sharp for an elegant solution:

First to get the idiots to call in the problem rather than screwing the printer up with inept troubleshooting -- then with having an engineer on the payroll capable of fixing things, and finally, having said engineer also capable of locating a local "not an idiot" to fob all future toner shaking calls onto (don't be insulted -- there's a clear dividing line, and this is something to be glad of). Clearly, they've mastered not only the technical engineering, but also the human engineering to grow support infrastructure cheaply.

My advice to you, young padawan, is NEVER be seen working on the printer -- or you will discover that you have many children in the organisation, and they *are* all idiots. Find an excuse to do it while all else are on lunch or at home. Act surprised when it works the next day. Never admit that you know anything about printers.

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Thumb Up

Re: All the "meaningful text" in the world won't help.

That is the elegant and simple truth, perlcat!

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Devil

I hate printer "User Interface Engineers"

We are a small company with 40 employees and we had 2 Ricoh multifunction machines that had a great user interface. Paper types were spelled out in actual sizes, not abreviations like LT or LD. Scan folders were based on your name and the whole process was "3 touch" select scan, mailbox and hit start. Boom, your scan was done. Faxing was press fax, insert paper and either direct dial or select preprogrammed number.

So those units reach their end of lease and we get Toshiba (Rebranded Ricoh, identical for everything except...).

Guess what... the douchebags had to change the whole interface making the scan part like 15 clicks. The frikking things default to A4 (We are in the USA) they set the paper source to default as "bypass tray" not automatic.

Forget simple insert page and hit copy, noooo they had to make that another 4 click process. Took training to figure out how to setup the faxing.

Here is a hint to user interface engineers everywhere, if it works, leave it the frik alone. If you are designing a GUI, put everything that is commonly used on the same damned tab. If it takes 4 hours of training to run an office multifunction machine, you have failed as an engineer and should become an art student.

I should not have to look through five tabs in a GUI to set paper size, orientation, color, single/double sided, quantity, etc. Just because it looks "cluttered" does not mean it is inefficient.

Art majors should only be allowed to pick the colors, not change functionality.

If you feel you have to break a perfectly good GUI just to justify your existence then spend your time doing something really useful like jumping off tall buildings or shooting yourself in the head with a .44 magnum.

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Re: I hate printer "User Interface Engineers"

Or you could just go and buy a Lexmark... Then it'll spend so much time not doing any printing that you wont have to worry about the useless interface ;)

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FAIL

@Dan Paul

...so, let's see here. It (the Ricohs) were working, and you liked them, so your organisation felt compelled to buy someone else's product under the assumption that it was a "rebranded Ricoh", and found that they were *gasp* DIFFERENT??!?!?!?!

What part of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" don't you understand? What part of the phrase "Salesdroids often lie in order to sell things" is so hard to comprehend?

Further, WHY would you *assume* that a "rebranded" whatever would have exactly the same interface/firmware?

Finally, WHY didn't you discover the annoying differences BEFORE you brought a different printer in-house? Surely you *tested* them before dropping a few hundred grand on them -- or did you just *assume* that because they *looked* like your beloved Ricohs, they would function just like them in every respect?

The power of FAIL is strong in this one.

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Flame

Re: I hate printer "User Interface Engineers"

If you feel you have to break a perfectly good GUI just to justify your existence then spend your time doing something really useful like jumping off tall buildings or shooting yourself in the head with a .44 magnum.

What, no flame icon?

ISTR that Linus thinks that people who fail as printer UI designers, write BIOSes.

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Re: spend your time ...really useful like... shooting yourself in the head with a .44 magnum.

An excellent solution for removing damagement from any organization.

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Devil

Re: @Dan Paul

The power of fail is strong with your comments. You must be an easily offended printer user interface engineer.

Unfortunately, I had no say in the matter. I just have to use the damn things. I did not "assume" anything, I just got stuck with the results.

Most of my comment was relative to why do user interface engineers feel the compunction to change things "just because they can", not because it's needed.

I will completely agree that office equipment sales people are on a par with auto or insurance sales people when it comes to honesty.

Obviously you don't understand equipment leasing or you'd know that the supplier is the one who controls their equipment, not the lessee. The cost of supplies also go up astronomically when the machines reach their EOL. No US business would consider buying office equipment if they can lease it since most of the cost of the lease is deductable.

Exactly where you got the idea that I had any control over any of the buying decisions from my post, I can't begin to say. You should also consider getting a scrip for Lexapro.

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FAIL

Re: I hate printer "User Interface Engineers"

My old office had a number of Lexmark ink jet printers... the Lexmarks were replacements for a previous generation of Lexmark printers... Within a month of being installed, every one of the Lexmarks had various plastic parts breaking off, and within six months, they were non-functional.

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FAIL

Re: @Dan Paul @perlcat

"So those units reach their end of lease..."

You were doing good until you missed that one little statement there perlcat.

We have the same problem here. Our Xerox MFCs get replaced on occasion as their lease is up and the new one ends up needing a new print driver that breaks this in-house program that we have to get the developers to fix for freaking everyone just because 5 people can't print from the program now.

Although, now we have some XP machines running legacy software that doesn't play well in a VM and the vendor is nowhere to be found.

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Happy

Prod prod...

Personally, given some of the printer woes I have to deal with, I'd be happy to use said interface on the printer as well as the engineer. When I see some of the designs that pass as "fit for purpose", I have to question what the purpose actually was. It certainly wasn't printing anything.

They could be used in a constructive way in stairwells, of course! ;)

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