Why do printers have to suck?

I’m going to give you 3 reasons why printers suck. Can we just be honest? USB connected, directly connected to your network or, heaven forbid, wirelessly connected. Printers just don’t work as easily as they could. They’ve certainly been around as a technology long enough. Can you imagine if the car industry never improved upon their product since the¬†1970’s? We’d all be driving cars that get 8 MPG with no seatbelts or navigation, and hand crank windows. UGH.

What qualifies me to be an expert?

I’m a bit of an expert on this topic. I can’t say that about many things but in this case, it’s true. I’ve been in the Information Technology field since 1988 when I was just a young consultant selling networking equipment and PC’s to the US Army. That’s exactly 30 years. I’ve had some pretty great gigs, almost ALL dealing with end-user computer support. Guess what the biggest complaint (after password issues) is… PRINTERS! I feel uniquely qualified to complain about this topic.

Why such disdain?

I got my first real dose of how much printers SUCK just a few years later when the big boss YELLED my name from his office, in disgust, “Hutchster! G** D*** it, I just want the F***ing printer to print!!!” as he SLAMMED his fist into the unfolded butterfly keyboard of his IBM ThinkPad 700 Laptop. The keys went flying. Since I oversaw the folks that fixed PC problems and back then, printers are considered an accessory of the PC, I was on the hook. Printers Suck.

I’m not trying to make myself sound old but, this was in the days of 4MB Token Ring networks. When the fix to our corporate network printing problems involved onsite meetings with Hewlett Packard, Novel Netware and a little understood and invisible demon called the IP Packet.

Printers Suck

Frustration-Free Packaging? What about Frustration-Free Printing? Now that’d be something.

Let’s get into my reasons:

Reason #1 – They only seem to work properly when it’s not an emergency

I guess it has something to do with Murphy’s Law. The printers I used and were responsible for seemed to work flawlessly when nobody needed them. Seriously. They just sat there, humming away sucking up power for weeks on end. Then month-end hits! Everyone in the company now needs to print reports, close accounts and generally use the printers like they were battle tested tanks. Which, they are not. They stop printing, seemingly for no reason, at the exact time they are needed most. They are fragile, unreliable, persnickety, unwieldy pieces of plastic with gears and ink inside. It’s not gotten any better over the years.

Maybe their true purpose is causing anxiety to middle-aged office workers and home users looking to print that perfect resume, at 1:00 am for an early morning interview.

Reason #2 – Toner is way too expensive

It may be that printers are manufactured so that printer companies can sell toner. It’s like how the wireless companies almost give away cell phones, in hopes of getting you hooked on their monthly family plan. The monthly recurring revenue for the wireless companies is like crack to a junkie. “Free cell phone? Hell yes, we’ll give you a $30 cell phone. As soon as you sign this two-year contract.”

Have you ever purchased a new printer for home or office, unboxed it and said, “Oh, look an extra toner cartridge!” Never. It’s more likely that the toner you get is only a “starter cartridge” requiring replacement twice as fast as the one you’ll soon need (that may cost as much as the printer). It’s so bad that a whole industry sprang up to allow you to refill your own inkjet cartridges at home. Refill? These are not cigarette lighters, they are office products.

Reason #3 – It never seems to FUNCTION properly

I work from home as a web freelancer and I have two printers. One is “multi-function” (more functions to “not” work when needed) and a little black and white laser printer. The multi-function printer is from a large company, (I can’t mention their name but their initials are HP) while the little one is from brother.

I’m not exaggerating this, every time I need to print, scan or email something, which, by the way, is less and less often. I find it more satisfying and less aggravating to use a pen, paper, an envelope and a stamp to communicate, something seems to be broken or misconfigured.

Example, I received a text from the wife today. “Please scan to email an important document to her email”. Long story short, she got the document over an hour later. Something had happened and now the wireless network settings on the MFP had gone missing. Even though we JUST USED the thing last week for the exact same purpose. After about 40 minutes of looking for the stupid Wi-Fi, secret squirrel – 20 character wireless key (that had to be typed into a small plastic window on the printer), I had to text her that her document may have to be delivered to her by the US Postal Service.

Being a super nerd, she suggested that I turn off the printer, wait the required 10 seconds and turn it back on. Well, she had her document in her email minutes later. I will note here that this is NOT human error. The damn thing worked last Friday. What changed? IP Packet Demons.

I think printers suck. Bad news for us, great news for printer and toner manufacturers. What other options do we have? There are just times when we need to have a hard copy of something we’ve digitally created.

I’d love to hear your comments and work-arounds.