Hands-On: Setting up my new printer with Linux (and Windows)

Hands-On: Setting up my new printer with Linux (and Windows)

Summary: Time to replace my four year old mobile printer, here's my take on the HP Officejet 150

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TOPICS: Printers, Linux
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My four-and-a-half-year-old HP H470b mobile bluetooth printer gave up the ghost recently. 

After poking around inside of it for long enough to convince myself that it wasn't going to be easily revived, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to get a new one.

As it happens, I had just recently purchased a couple of double-packs of ink cartridges for it, and I would prefer not to have to toss/donate/auction those if possible: that meant looking for another the printer which could use them.

HP has long since discontinued that particular printer, so I had to find a new printer which used the same cartridges.

The current mobile printer line offered by HP is the Officejet 100 (printer) and 150 (all-in-one), and much to my surprise it seemed that they can use the same ink cartridges as the H470 (they are not the "recommended" cartridges listed on the printer data sheet, but when I checked the "compatible products" list for the ink cartridges, the H470 and 100/150 were all listed), so I picked up the Officejet 150.

The printer specifications of both models are identical — resolution maximum 600x600 dpi black and 4800x1200 "optimised" colour, speed 5-22ppm black, 3.5-18ppm colour.  They both have a 50-sheet paper tray, both include a Lithium-ion battery and claim to be able to print 500 pages on battery power — I'll believe that one when I see it.

Officejet 150
HP Officejet 150 Back View

Connectivity/compatibility is close, but not identical. Both have USB (2.0), Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and PictBridge, but the 150 also has an SD/MMC memory card slot.

The important part of that connectivity to me is Bluetooth, because I will use this printer the same way that I used the H470, first at home to print from whatever laptop or netbook I might be using without having to fumble with cables, set up a print server or go back upstairs to retrieve the printer output, and also when traveling on business or holiday, when I don't want to have to remember to take along, dig out and connect the right cables. 

The H470 has served me very well in this way for the past four years, and I fully expect that the new 150 will continue just as well. If anything, I hope that this works even better with the 150, because the Bluetooth receiver is integrated in the printer, rather than being an add-on USB dongle as it was on the H470.

What's better with the Officejet 150, beyond the H470 and 100, is the scan/copy capability. This is something that I used to have with my Canon BJC 50/70 printers, because I also had the "scanner head" that could be installed instead of the normal print heads. I'm pleased to have this capability again, because it's something that I used fairly often, especially when traveling on business. 

In fact, it's even a bit easier now, because I don't have to remember to take the scan head along, and I can copy with a single button on the printer.

Officejet 150
HP Officejet 150 Panel View

 One other significant new feature on the Officejet 150 is a 6cm colour touchscreen, which can be used to view, select and print pictures from SD/MMC cards. I haven't used this kind of function much until now, but I can easily imagine that it will be useful because since the Swiss Post completely screwed up the "SwissPostCard" web site and service, my partner has taken to printing our own pictures and sending them as postcards. Being able to do this reasonably easily while we are still travling could be a nice touch.

Okay, unpacking and setup of the new printer: first, HP definitely wins the award for "The Largest Amount of Tape and Plastic Foil" in a single package. I've never seen so much, especially on such as small printer. It is certainly securely packed and protected.

Continuing setup, I put the included ink cartridges aside, and installed the 338 (black) and 343 (colour) cartridges I had on hand. So far so good, they fit and locked in place normally. I powered on the printer, and it went through the normal initialization tests, with no complaints or warnings. The colour touchscreen prompted me to select a language and a location (I wonder why the printer wants to know the location?)

 Anyway, the screen is quite small and the touch function isn't a really good match for my fingers, but I managed to get it done. At this point I also happened to look at the Setup menu, and noticed that Bluetooth is not enabled by default.  One touch to turn it on, no big deal, but I'm just thinking how much trouble that would have been if I hadn't noticed it, and later when I tried to configure it on the laptops it didn't show up.

Add Printers
Add Printer Dialog

Next comes the first real test — grab a laptop and see how (and whether) the Officejet 150 works with Linux. 

I happened to have my Lenovo T400 running Linux Mint Debian Edition on my desk. I went to the 'Printers' item in the menus and chose Add, which brought up the screen shown here, and within a few seconds the HP Officejet appeared at the top of the list — albeit with the name "HP 511L".  That is the actual HP model number of the unit.

Wow, that's pretty nice — I remember this from when I set up the H470, but it is still nice to see it all work so smoothly. I also remember that the key to this working is that the bluez-cups package has to be installed. That was not an issue in this case, because this is Linux Mint — so another example of how nice it can be to have the wide range of packages and utilities included in the base installation.

HPDrivers
Officejet 150 Drivers

 I selected it from the list and clicked Forward, and the next step was the Printer Driver selection. First a list of all the major printer manufacturers, where I selected HP, then a long list of specific printer models, which I scrolled down until I found "OfficeJet 150 Mobile l511".  This will require that the appropriate driver package is installed (in this case it is hplip-hpijs), and this being Linux Mint that package is indeed already installed.

There are two drivers listed in this case, but as far as I can tell they are functionally equivalent, so I just took the first one. In the unlikely event that it doesn't work properly I'll come back and try the other.

By the way, if you are trying to add a printer on a Linux system, and you don't find it in the driver list, you always have the option of using a "Generic" Post Script or PCL driver. My old Lexmark E240 laser printer isn't in the driver lists, for example, but the generic PCL 5e and PostScript drivers work just fine on it.

Printer List
Configured Printers List

Once the correct driver has been selected, the printer shows up in the Print Settings list, as shown here, and in this case because it is the only printer defined it is also assigned as the default printer.  I then printed a test page, which came out on the OJ150 in beautiful colour.

Zowie, that was easy! I was probably lucky (and a bit smart from experience) that I chose Mint for the first setup, you shouldn't expect that it is quite this easy on every Linux system. If you have difficulty, though, you can always search the web for the specific combination of Linux distribution and printer model, and you are very likely to find a detailed description of setting it up.

Okay, if it was that easy to set up on Linux, it has to be at least that easy or even easier on Windows, right? I mean, this is what Windows apologists are constantly bashing Linux about, printers and other such hardware drivers are difficult.

The system my partner uses — a Samsung netbook with Windows 7 — was sitting there, so I tried it.

I went to Start / Devices and Printers / Add a printer / Bluetooth printer. That brought up a window which searched for a bluetooth printer, and eventually displayed the Officejet 150. I clicked Add, and that brought up the usual "Installing Hardware" window. However, after adding the physical device it went off searching for the driver, and failed to find it. 

Back to the box the printer came in, and there are two CDs included — one for Windows 7 and one for Windows 8. Really? Different drivers? Maybe it isn't really the driver itself that is different, but rather the user interface to it and/or the various application level programs, especially the scanning support.

Just to make my morning complete, this was on a netbook so it didn't have a CD drive, I had to go dig up a USB drive to use.  Of course, I could probably have gone to the HP support web site, and searched until I found the driver package for the OJ150, then downloaded that and installed it rather than using the CD.  But geez, this is supposed to be easy, right?  Easy, as in trivial?  But by now I have spent more time trying to get this printer installed on Windows 7 than I did on Linux Mint, and I still haven't made any real progress!

Then connected the USB drive, put in the HP installation CD for Windows 7, and ran the installation program.  Which ran for a long time.  I mean, really a long time.  Lots of status messages, and pretty graphics with green check-marks showing that it was making progress, but still it was a good 10 minutes or more before it finally said that it was done.  Then after all that, it finally came back and told me that I now needed to add the printer on Windows, and listed several ways to do that.

So once again I was back to where I had started nearly half an hour ago, Start / Devices and Printers / Add a printer / Bluetooth printer.  This time it made it through both stages, thankfully, and when it finished the OJ150 had been added to the printer list.  I again printed a test page, which came out just fine. 

Now on to the bonus functions, and the things which really distinguish it from the Officejet 100 and my older H470.

The first of those is the Copy function. Simple enough, obviously, if you can scan and print with the same device, combine those and you can copy. Well, yeah, except when the device is portable, and space is limited.  Take a look at the picture of this printer again: the lid flips up and back, making a support for the paper feed, which can hold up to 50 sheets of standard paper. 

Then there is a bar across the top that pivots up and forward, which contains the colour touch display I have mentioned above. The scanner surface is cleverly integrated underneath of this bar, and whatever you want to scan is fed from the front of the unit under this bar. So the result is that when you make a copy, the original and the copy are sliding past each other in opposite directions.  As an engineer I find this an ingenious and fascinating solution.

When I was researching before I bought this device, I read a fair amount of criticism that the scan/copy input was limited to a single sheet at a time.  To that I can only say — get a grip. This is a portable device, and as far as I know it is the first such device to have scan/copy capability. In my opinion, it is a minor miracle, and someone wants to whine about the single-sheet feed on the scanner?

To get back to the point, the copy function works just fine. When you insert an original it is picked up and positioned properly by the scan feeder, and it then says "Original Loaded" on the display. 

You touch "Copy" on the screen, you can change the copy settings for paper size, type and zoom, and then start it by touching "Black" or "Colour". It takes about 15 seconds for a black copy, and about 30 seconds for colour — nominally that is 4ppm black and 2ppm colour, but considering that I have to feed originals individually the only number that is relevant for me is the time for one page.

Finally, the scanner function.  I have to admit I was concerned about this, in part because of my previous experience with the scan head in the BJC 50/70, and in part because I was worried about the Bluetooth connection — whether it would be fast enough and reliable enough, and how the scanner device would be detected by the operating system.

In fact, I found that HP has come up with another really clever solution for this. First, forget about Bluetooth, if you want to use the OJ150 as a "traditional" scanner, you have to connect it via USB. But the really clever bit is that you actually don't have to connect it to a computer at all. 

There are two different local mass storage interfaces, the SD card and the USB port. Put a flash disk in either of those, and you can scan and save to local storage, and then just move the SD/USB disk to your computer to get the image.  Done and dusted.  This is exactly the approach taken by the Kodak P461 Personal Photo Scanner that I picked up a few years ago, by the way. So it is not as if HP is breaking new ground here, they are just making very good use of what they have available in this portable unit.

To scan you start as for copying, insert the original and let the sheet feeder pick it up.  Then touch Scan on the screen, and you get to choose the destination — Computer, USB Drive or Memory Card, each accompanied on the display with a spiffy little picture.  If you choose one that has no media, or if you choose Computer and there is no USB connection, it will complain and prompt you to mend your ways.

Once it is happy with the destination, you can choose the output document type (PDF or JPG), and resolution (300 or 600dpi).  Then touch Start Scan, and you're off.  When the scan is complete the output image is stored in a new directory on the USB or SD flash drive.  I just scanned the Windows Printer Test Page, and the quality is very good. 

My opinion at this time is that while it is expensive (I think I'm supposed to say "premium priced"), it is worth it. If you only need a printer you can save about a third of the cost by going for the Officejet 100, and still get an excellent Bluetooth printer.

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Topics: Printers, Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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12 comments
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  • HP Printers And Linux

    8.0

    They are usually very well supported under Linux. Just a shame their ink is so damn expensive.
    Alan Smithie
    • Exactly ...

      Its pretty much an open secret that HP is not in the business of selling printers, they all but give those away. Their real business where they make the big money is in selling the ink. Their printers are way over engineered and I would wager they take a substantial loss on each one they sell. Which would explain why they are so vigilant in attempting to drive out third party ink suppliers.
      George Mitchell
      • HP toner is actually better

        7.0

        I even had relatives in the knock-off printer ink business, and I wouldn't buy from them. HP toner lasts longer, doesn't bunch up as much, and you can get more out of it longer at the EOL point. Plus it doesn't dust up your machine. I have zero quibble with the price. Worth it.

        This matters even more now, when we don't print to paper as much. A lesser toner bricks up because it's made from cheaper stuff.
        brainout
        • No doubt that HP makes high quality stuff ...

          Indeed you do get what you pay for. But they make a pretty good profit on their ink, more than enough to cover the loss on their printer sales. I have tried other brands in the past, but always come back to HP. They have the quality, support and reliability combination that no other manufacture seems to be able to provide. On the ink jet side Epson beats HP for quality hands down, and they also have equally good Linux support. But HP products beat Epson when it comes to reliability. They exclusive HP design approach makes small compromises in print quality to increase reliability exponentially. So the HP design works better for me and I just suck it up when it comes to the price.
          George Mitchell
  • Windows Update is your friend

    3.0

    Usually, when you connect a new printer, if you don't find the driver under Add Printer wizard, you can simply run Windows Update and it will detect the printer and install it for you. Then again, behaving like it took at eternity was not necessary, you got the printer installed and its working. Besides, I haven't heard anyone complain about printing being and issue on Linux, just like how persons don't complain anymore about recompiling kernels. You are adding the printer once, not every morning, noon and night.
    adacosta38
    • Totally agree

      Was like reading the diary of a whiny child
      londan
      • Not so great tech support

        1.0

        I hope that's not what you do for a living.
        John L. Ries
  • The question is: Did you need to install the basic driver...

    ...for Windows 7 or did you install the "Full feature software and Driver"? If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was the latter and not the former. The basic driver most likely was included with the Windows install or would be available through Windows Update.
    ye
    • Full-feature, I assume...

      Here'e what happened. I turned on the printer, and told Windows to Add a New Printer. It searched, and found the device, which it successfully added. It then went on and tried to add the printer driver, and during that time it SAID that it was searching Windows Update. It didn't find the driver, anywhere, so after some time it just came back and said "failed to add driver", with a nice big red X at the end of that line. I then connected the CD drive, put in the disc that came with the printer, labeled "Windows 7", and ran the setup.exe program that it offered. At the end of that setup program, it put up a window that said "Now run Windows Add a Printer", and when I did that again, it went through the same sequence that I had seen the first time, but this time it eventually found the driver, and thus succeeded.

      Now, I know what you are talking about - I have seen many times with various printers from HP, Lexmark and Epson, that there is a "simple" driver supplied with Windows, and a "fancy" driver supplied with the printer. In this case, it seemed that there was no "simple" driver to be found,, either on the computer or via Windows Update. I don't know why, and I find that to be a bit surprising as well because this is not really an "exotic" printer or an unknown manufacturer. But that's the way it was.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
    • Windows Update

      It doesn't always get the right drivers , specifically I've had issues with soundmax drivers on older equipement.
      Alan Smithie
  • Endemic problem

    6.0

    It's been true for at least five years that it's easier to set up an HP printer under Linux than it is under Windows. The huge Windows installers are truly unnecessary.
    John L. Ries
  • Windows vs. Linux

    9.0

    As far as installing the printer in Windows and Linux, I've experienced the same things as you mentioned. The software for Windows, released from HP, is usually a 500 MB (half a gig) download. Bloated to say the least, however it does usually include a scanning utility (if the printer has a scanner). But they also include a lot of crapware, too. And it does take between 30-40 minutes for the HP installer to run completely through even on a brand new system.

    If installing just the basic printer, letting Windows install its own driver isn't too bad, as long as the OS can find one. I've encountered the issue you speak of with a temporary dead end (not finding a driver), and have reverted to using the HP installation disc which is easier, or letting the Windows driver wizard scan the disc to find a driver which can work as well. I do have to admit, they do make it "easy", as the wizard will walk through the entire process.

    As for GNU/Linux, I too have had excellent luck with basic printers and even scanners. With newer versions of Fedora and CentOS (and many more as you mention), you simply plug in a USB printer and wait about a minute or less and it's automagically installed and ready to use. Sometimes, however, it requires proprietary firmware as you mention and needs extra software such as "bluez-cups" package. For some HP printers, the "hp-lip" package is needed which is usually part of the distribution.

    All in all, I'd also vote for GNU/Linux being about the same as far as difficulty, easier in the cases where it doesn't need proprietary software. GNU/Linux definitely wins in the time required... at the most about 10 minutes if having to find proprietary software, but nothing like 30-40 minutes. Plus, GNU/Linux has standard scanning software for the MFC printers like Xsane or Simple-Scan, both very good and easy to use scanning programs. HP likes to frequently change the software bundled with their printers, so it's somewhat confusing trying to deal with a changing interface for each printer model/type.
    Chris_Clay