October 20, 2006

HP all-in-one device works great with Linux

Author: Joe Barr

I recently replaced both my Epson CX5400 All-in-one printer/scanner and my Brother MFC-210C fax/copier with a single all-in-one Hewlett-Packard Officejet 5610. Not only does the new product do more than both of the machines it replaced, it does it in less space. The price isn't real big, either.

Unpacking and setting up the Officejet 5610 took me less than 15 minutes. The hardest part of the job was locating all the places where things had been taped shut for shipping. The power cord, USB cable (not included), and the phone line all connect to the back of the unit. Everything else is done up front, including routine chores like feeding paper and changing ink cartridges.

Once the ink cartridges have been installed and aligned -- the unit first prints an alignment page, then scans it to check for needed adjustment -- Windows and Mac OS users are told to load their respective CDs to install the drivers. Linux users can scoff at the intellectual property handcuffs imposed on their non-free brothers and sisters and simply configure the unit from the friendly confines of their distribution.

To print, perchance to scan, in less than five minutes

The HP 5610 was detected and properly configured for both printing and scanning chores by the three distributions I tried it on: Debian Etch, Ubuntu 6.06.1 LTS, and openSUSE 10.1. Using the GNOME Cups Manager on each of those distributions, it took only a couple of clicks to configure the recommended HPIJS driver and have a usable printer.

Printing from the GIMP takes a little more configuring, but once you have a print queue set up for the 5610, it takes only a few seconds to do the same in the GIMP. Keep in mind, however, that to get the best results when printing color photographs on HP printers, save them as PostScript files in the GIMP, then print them from the command line.

Setting up the Officejet 5610 for use with the XSane scanning application requires no effort at all, at least on the distributions I tried it with. XSane detects the scanner at startup time, and it's ready to use -- period. You don't have to do anything. Life on the Linux desktop has changed considerably since the days when I wrote an article entitled "Sane is making me crazy."

Just the fax

Click to enlarge

Prior to purchasing the Officejet 5610, I'd never actually sent a fax from Linux. All my previous fax machines operated in standalone mode. The Officejet 5610 will do that, too, if that's what you need, but it also allows you to send a fax from an application, such as OpenOffice.org. All it takes is the secret sauce in HP's HPLIP driver.

The experimental installation instructions given on the HPLIP project site are distribution-specific and are provided for Fedora, Red Hat, SUSE, Debian, Mandriva, Ubuntu, Slackware, and FreeBSD. I failed to get HPLIP 1.6.9 properly installed on Debian Etch, but had no problems at all installing it with the experimental installer on Ubuntu LTS.

The installation process creates a new print queue for the Officejet 5610, this one exclusively for fax use. But it's still not quite ready to use at this point. In order to send a document you've prepared in OpenOffice.org, for example, you need to run hp-sendfax from the command line.

From the hp-sendfax screen, enter the phone number, select a cover page, and otherwise prepare to fax you document. Then, from within OpenOffice.org, print the document to the fax printer queue, and you're done. The Officejet 5610 takes over from there, dialing the assigned number and putting your fax on the line.

The to-do list

The experimental HPLIP installer eases user headaches considerably when compared to the manual install/dependency resolution process, but I'm looking forward to the day when all the software is as easy to install and configure as the scanner function of this all-in-one is today. I'm not sure whether that requires work on the distribution side, the HPLIP project side, or both. But it's work that needs to be done in order to get the full value of the printer to Linux users quickly and easily.

I purchased the Officejet 5610 for $119 at a national retailer with a local outlet. You may be able to beat that price if you shop around. I've found it to be a real value for the money.

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