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November 4th, 1999


PowerPrint USB 4.5
Contact and Other Information
Manufacturer: InfoWave
Product Home Page: PowerPrint USB 4.5
Description: Adapter and software to allow Windows compatible printers to be used on USB enabled Macintosh computers.
Address: Infowave Software, Inc
4664 Lougheed Hwy, Suite 188
Burnaby, BC V5C 5T5
Price: Price (US$81.68)
from BuyNow Computers
Telephone: 800.663.6222
Fax: 604.473.3699
Requirements Mac OS 8.1
USB Port Built In
CD ROM Drive

System Used For Testing Blue and White G3/400
192 MB RAM
OS 8.6
[Review]
PowerPrint USB 4.5 Brings Wintel Printers To Your USB Mac

PowerPrint USB 4.5
by Kyle D'Addario

The Premise

Living in a Macintosh world has many advantages. Printer choice is not one of them. The good people at Infowave have come to the rescue by adding a new product to their PowerPrint line, PowerPrint USB.

Printers are quirky machines at best. Not only are they one of the most important peripherals that one can add to a system, they are also one of the most frustrating. Even on the Macintosh side, a platform long known for its ease of use and plug-n-play capability, installing and updating printer drivers can be a hassle. Now that serial is out and USB and Firewire are in, the problem becomes even more difficult. There are a plethora of USB to serial adapters out there, but few of them work reliably. Changing a USB signal to a serial signal is akin to trying to pump a fire hydrant through a garden hose; doable, but not suggested. Thus, many new Mac users are in the market for a new printer as well. After about 30 seconds of shopping for a USB Mac compatible printer, you will realize your options are limited.

PowerPrint offers a solution.

By providing "drivers" (little software applications that allow the printer and the computer to "talk") and a standard USB to parallel cable, PowerPrint promises to open up the Wintel printer market to the Mac user.


Installation


The installer dialogue box
(Click for a larger view)
PowerPrint USB comes with a cable that will allow Wintel printers to be plugged into a USB port on your Mac. The cable is simple, really. Also included is a CD with hundreds of printer drivers for nearly any imaginable Wintel printer. A guide is included that lists PowerPrint compatible printers, and the appropriate driver for that printer. It doesn't get any easier than that.

One of the printers on the "Compatible" list is the Hewlett Packard 1100se LaserJet printer. Based on that information, this was the printer the Mac Observer went out and got to test the product. Much to our surprise the port on the back of the 1100se was not compatible with the PowerPrint adapter. For whatever reason, HP uses a mini-centronics interface instead of the standard 36-pin parallel interface. After hours on the phone with HP and Infowave, and two trips to the local CompUSA, we found that an adapter can be ordered, for around another $10, that will allow PowerPrint to work with the 1100se. Only persistence, and a hunch that somebody MUST have tested these two products together at some point for the printer to have made it to the "Compatible Printers" list, kept us interested long enough to discover the adapter option at all.

Before you go get a printer, contact Infowave, or check the printer interface, to make sure that the plugs are indeed compatible. If not, be prepared to spend a few extra dollars, and wait a few more days, for the proper adapters to make the printer work.

Software installation, on the other hand, was a breeze. Pop in the CD, check the manual for which driver to install for your printer, and check that box in the installer program. That's it.


Does it Work?


The Chooser with the
newly installed 1100se
(Click for a larger view)
After the drivers were installed and the computer restarted, the manual points you toward the chooser to select the printer. We did, and the printer was there. We were somewhat amazed at the simplicity of the whole thing. The manual does get confusing, though, by suggesting certain settings for certain printers. However, the manual gives no help in indicating how to change those settings on the printer. Perhaps the printer documentation is supposed to cover that, but the PowerPrint manual could at least guide you there. After stumbling around the printer's documentation, and the PowerPrint manual for 15 minutes, we gave up and just decided to give it a try. We opened Word, typed "This is a test," and hit print.

And, it printed.

First time, no settings or preference hassles, no problems. The thing we marvel at most is that it was easier to set up a Wintel printer on our Blue & White G3 than it would be to set up the same printer on a Windows machine. And it has printed every time since, from an assortment of applications like Outlook Express to Notepad to Photoshop.


Conclusion

PowerPrint USB is a minor miracle worker for those wanting to expand their printer options beyond those currently shipping with native Mac OS USB support. Despite some confusing and incomplete instructions, PowerPrint does the job. Unlike some other "miracle" programs that allow cross-platform compatibility, PowerPrint does what it sets out to do. It is simple, it is practical, and it works.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
4 1/2 Gadgies
Pros Astonishingly reliable.
Printed first time, every time, with little or no trouble.
Large compatible printer list.
It just works.
Cons Basically adds US$100 to cost of a printer (though the price is well worth it)
Documentation is weak.
Some "compatible" printers need extra cables or adapters in order to work properly.



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