Over the past several years CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) has become a sad piece of shit. This was once the most reliable and respected parts of Linux, now it is something we all dread. On most distros the “settings” interface to add and maintain printer configurations barely works. Continuing the “expert friendly” tradition of Unix most distros and support centers seem to expect everyone knows about the back door into CUPS via the Web. For those of you who don’t know, you may wish to type this into your browser, then bookmark it.
This all started when a truly clueless decision was made. Apple currently hosts the CUPS maintenance. There could be no poorer choice, but that is what we are stuck with now. The support/development team there decided to drop serial and parallel port support despite the massive installed base. Why? Because Apple didn’t make any computer with either of those ports. The world wide response was for the team to test and develop with real computers, but that response was ignored.
When it comes to decisions which could only be made by someone who was repeatedly dropped on their head as a child, the CPUS team decided to drop support for Postscript. You heard me. The largest and most stable printing industry standard ever and they dropped support for it. What are they doing instead? Forcing the printer drivers to accept a PDF file and have the driver convert it to Postscript. The driver developers appear to have found out about this decision after that version of CUPS had been rolled into new releases and LTS versions.
Now we have “CUPS Spasms”. I have two printers on my network. A Lexmark CS310dn (quite possibly the best color toner printer ever made for small office or self publisher) and an expensive joke known as the HP Officejet Pro 8100. (Don’t ask! I was out of state and needed to print. The local Staples only had HP printers and I was far too under the weather to drive to Micro Center.) This problem happens only with the more recent Linux distros. I have seen it in Mint 13 64-bit as well as the previous OS/4 64-bit release. I’m not certain about the newest version of OS/4 since the dual monitor bug had me wiping it from all machines. Am I going to bother to report this to the CUPS team given their amazing ability to be responsive to community needs and make decisions which benefit the community while keeping a stable architecture??? Take a guess.
What is a CUPS Spasm? It physically loses connection to your printer. It is a problem completely within CUPS. It is not a network or a printer problem. After I print quite a few small jobs, or any time I attempt to print a book of more than 200 pages, the printer will suddenly stop. I see the little nag-o-gram notices pop up about lost connection. I can still surf the Web. I can still check email. When it occurs with small jobs it is always at the end of a job and any other computer on my network can print on the printer, I have tested this. This happens to both printers. I have changed the Lexmark from Postscript to every generic PCL driver there is in CUPS (and gave up color doing it) and the problem does not go away. I don’t really have a lot of options for the HP printer when it comes to drivers, but nothing seems to help it either.
Normally, I need the print so I end up rebooting. When the computer restarts the jobs start spewing out of the printer, until you hit that magic threshold where CUPS spasms again. Why do I call it a spasm? When I don’t need the print I can go get breakfast/lunch/take a phone call/etc. and the print jobs will magically start coming out of the printer again. The length of time varies, but the outcome rarely does.
I have been experimenting with other Linux distros trying to find one which doesn’t have CUPS spasms. To date I have not been successful. I do have a stack of disks coming from OSDisk.com and I’m kind of eager to try Zevenos 3.3 “Neptune” KDE. Of course, if Evolution doesn’t work on it, a quick try is all it will be.
Thankfully, Apple won’t be around much longer. The big yawn at their new product launch followed by a string of commercials pointing out Apple customers have been paying way too much for products made in China. Most consumers have either seen or heard the highlights of “Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price” and they know that China is where Wal-mart has its factories. Since nobody would pay $500 for a Wal-mart brand phone/tablet/computer the writing is officially on the wall.