TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Aug 97 Dialog Box

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 8
Column Tag: Dialog Box

The Future of MacOS Printing

by MacTech Editorial Staff

An Open Letter To Apple Computer

Apple has announced an end to its current situation of supporting two completely different printing architectures under MacOS. This much seems sensible. However, they have decided to keep the old, rickety QuickDraw architecture that has been hacked and patched and tweaked and munged and generally abused over the past thirteen years into doing things it was never designed to do. Therefore, dumping the next-generation QuickDraw GX architecture that would have taken MacOS printing into the next century. This letter explains why I think Apple's choice was the wrong one.

Let's get one thing straight: I'm no fan of a technology, no matter how cool it sounds, no matter how many years of work were put into it, if it doesn't actually help people get their work done. QuickDraw GX printing solves real problems for real users.

Every few days without fail on the USENET newsgroups I frequent, somebody asks how to do double-sided printing on a single-sided printer. The easiest solution I'm aware of is my own freeware Duplex Helper. Tell it how your printer prints (on the upper or lower surface of the paper, output face up or down), and it automatically works out which pages to print (odd or even) and in which order (forward or reverse) so you don't have to shuffle any pages around. It works with both PostScript and non-PostScript printers, and with just about any application that can print.

The only way to provide equivalent functionality without GX would be to reinvent this feature in every printer driver, or in every application, or both. Why do you think so few of them bother? I even see Microsoft Windows users asking for a solution to this problem, and not finding one!

I recently did a development job for a company that sells print server software - they needed an extension to install for their Macintosh clients that would obtain information about the print job from the user, and include it in the print job data where the server would collect it for accounting purposes. Without GX printing, I would have to come up with a driver-specific solution. I would have to work out how to patch into, say, the LaserWriter 8.3 driver to get the dialogs to pop up at the start of the print job, append my own information to the generated PostScript, and so on. And my solution would probably have needed to be redone for LaserWriter 8.4. And it would have to work in a completely different way for any other driver. Instead of going to all this trouble, I did the Macintosh client as a QuickDraw GX printing extension. This allowed me to hook into the printing process in a clean, well-behaved way that should work with any application, and any GX printer driver.

Incidentally, the company didn't have too much trouble implementing their Windows client, since Windows supports print queue processors that can modify the output of printer drivers in various ways, without requiring you to replace the drivers. Old QuickDraw printing is one part of the MacOS that makes Windows look good!

GX printing not only solves existing problems, it also makes new things possible that are difficult or impossible to do any other way. For example, I published a proposal for attaching URL tags to GX graphics. I have even released a version of SimpleView, my GX graphics viewer, that supports clicking on these hot links. Now, there is no way that everybody on the Web is going to buy a Mac and install GX just to view these graphics, but through the GX printing architecture, it would be possible to write custom printer drivers that would output these graphics to cross-platform formats such as HTML or Acrobat PDF, translating the URL links accordingly. You could use a small, purpose-built application for attaching these links to particular graphics, then simply paste or drag them into existing word-processing or other applications that need know nothing about GX, after which generating the final, Web-ready output is as simple as using the "Print" command. This is Web authoring, the "component software" way!

Sure, you could define new QuickDraw picture comments to try to provide equivalent functionality under the old QuickDraw printing architecture. However, even ignoring the fact that it is harder to write a QuickDraw printer driver than a GX one, you'd still be stuck with the low quality of QuickDraw graphics, which is particularly embarrassing when you're trying to output to a high-quality format like Acrobat PDF.

GX printing offers full programmatic control over the print job - any option the user can set in the Page Setup and Print dialogs can also be directly queried and changed by the application. Imagine using this to improve the smartness of document formatting - if the user pastes a very wide graphic into a portrait-oriented document, you could automatically reformat just that page in landscape orientation, or using some other wide paper type that you know is available. (Perhaps first putting up a confirmation dialog to let the user know what is going on.) Also, think of vertical market applications like check printing, which can automatically use their own custom paper types with minimal requirement for the user to stuff around in print dialogs.

Apple (and other vendors) may very well try to provide features like these in future versions of their old QuickDraw printer drivers. However, given that you would have to reinvent these features for every driver, what guarantee do you have that they will work the same way from one driver to another? Look at the mess of inconsistencies in the support of existing QuickDraw picture comments between different drivers, and imagine that multiplied tenfold.

One excuse given for canning GX printing has been its limited acceptance among developers and users. This is entirely Apple's fault. Many people were put off installing GX printing because it caused incompatibilities printing with some applications. Most of these incompatibilities came about because GX printing broke so many old hacks that were needed precisely to get around frustrating limitations in the old QuickDraw printing architecture.

Example: GX breaks the "space hack". Old QuickDraw printing offers no public API call to ask for a font to be downloaded to a PostScript printer so you can make use of it in your own PostScript code, which is embedded in the document. However, there is a way to force this to happen. Simply use standard QuickDraw calls to draw a single space character, using that font, somewhere on the page. The dumb LaserWriter driver will obligingly load the entire font into the printer, and leave it there for you to use.

GX printing is much smarter than this. It will load only the minimum subset of the font necessary to print the character, and it will delete it from the printer's memory immediately afterwards! The good news is that GX printing is so resource-efficient that it can successfully print complex documents on elderly, memory-limited PostScript printers that LaserWriter 8 cannot handle. The bad news is that trying to trick the printer driver into downloading the entire font by printing a single character no longer works.

On the other hand, GX offers a powerful function called GXFlattenFont, that allows you to do the font downloading yourself. It will convert any font to a PostScript data stream that you can embed in a print job (or do something else entirely) giving you control over encoding and subsetting, automatically converting TrueType to PostScript - just about anything you might want to do.

Eureka! At last we can consign the space hack to the dustbin of history, where it belongs, right? But there is just one problem - GXFlattenFont is not documented in any of the GX volumes of Inside Macintosh. So, how were developers supposed to find out how to use it?

This is the general problem. GX offers new, better, cleaner ways of doing all the things that you needed those old hacks for, and much more besides, but Apple has done a lousy job of explaining this to developers (and users). The result - people were left to discover GX printing on their own, without any clear idea of what its benefits were about; then as they hit the predictable problems, and little or no help was forthcoming from Apple on what to do about them, GX was allowed to acquire a bad reputation, and people gradually gave up trying to use it.

Compare the situation with the transition from MacTCP to Open Transport. In spite of all the bugs and incompatibilities that users had to suffer in that transition, Apple took pains to keep articulating the benefits to both users and developers, which encouraged them to stick with the new technology, and the end result was positive for everybody.

Apple's efforts seems to be going largely into Rhapsody these days. It's unclear to me how Rhapsody printing will work - it looks like the whole architecture is going to be PostScript-centric. This seems to me to be unwise in the current market. PostScript is admittedly still dominant in publishing, but its presence is tiny (and dwindling) everywhere else. For instance, the vast majority of printers being sold in the mass market these days are inkjets, and very few of those speak PostScript. This is a fact that Adobe seems quite aware of, even if Apple is not. GX printing would be a way to hedge one's bets, since it allows applications to treat PostScript and non-PostScript printers on an absolutely equal basis.

The MacOS has always been, to me, a forward-looking operating system, pioneering features in areas (device-independent graphics and printing, multimedia) which were not traditionally considered to be the domain of the operating system, but which turned out to be important in supporting the innovative, new applications. This case of dropping an important next-generation technology, and going back to an old one, is not the Macintosh Way.

Sure, Apple has had its share of failures that were technologically poor and deserved to fail. Unlike some other companies, Apple cannot afford to keep throwing money at mediocre solutions to force them to succeed. But the problems that GX printing solves are not going to go away. Apple is foolish to squander their resources in this way, by throwing away such a well-thought-out, painstakingly-built solution, and trying to develop another one.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro
ldo@waikato.ac.nz

Relevant URLs

  1. Apple Press Release: http://product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q2/970303.pr.rel.print.html.
  2. Freeware Duplex Helper: http://www2.waikato.ac.nz/ldo/sw/index.html#DuplexHelper.
  3. Proposal for attaching URL tags to GX graphics: http://www2.waikato.ac.nz/ldo/gx/URLTags.html.
  4. SimpleView: http://www2.waikato.ac.nz/ldo/sw/index.html#SimpleView.
 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

TotalFinder 1.12.2 - Adds tabs, hotkeys,...
TotalFinder is a universally acclaimed navigational companion for your Mac. Enhance your Mac's Finder with features so smart and convenient, you won't believe you ever lived without them. Features... Read more
Duet 2.3.0.3 - Use your iPad as an exter...
Duet is the first app that allows you to use your iDevice as an extra display for your Mac using the Lightning or 30-pin cable. Note: This app requires a $9.99 iOS companion app. Version 2.3.0.3:... Read more
FileMaker Pro Advanced 18.0.3 - Powerful...
FileMaker Pro Advanced is the tool you use to create a custom app. You also use FileMaker Pro Advanced to access your app on a computer. Start by importing data from a spreadsheet or using a built-in... Read more
OsiriX Lite 10.0.6 - 3D medical image pr...
OsiriX Lite is an image processing software dedicated to DICOM images (".dcm" / ".DCM" extension) produced by medical equipment (MRI, CT, PET, PET-CT, ...) and confocal microscopy (LSM and BioRAD-PIC... Read more
Ableton Live 10.1.5 - Record music using...
Ableton Live lets you create and record music on your Mac. Use digital instruments, pre-recorded sounds, and sampled loops to arrange, produce, and perform your music like never before. Ableton Live... Read more
Burn 2.7.8 - Easily burn data, audio, vi...
Burn... There are a lot of ways to approach burning discs. Burn keeps it simple, but still offers a lot of advanced options. Create data discs with advanced data settings like, file permissions, the... Read more
Malwarebytes 4.0.30.3073 - Adware remova...
Malwarebytes (was AdwareMedic) helps you get your Mac experience back. Malwarebytes scans for and removes code that degrades system performance or attacks your system. Making your Mac once again your... Read more
Acorn 6.5.3 - Bitmap image editor.
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more
Fantastical 2.5.13 - Create calendar eve...
Fantastical is the Mac calendar you'll actually enjoy using. Creating an event with Fantastical is quick, easy, and fun: Open Fantastical with a single click or keystroke Type in your event... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 11.05 - File, pho...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Eternal Warfare is a new idle clicker fo...
Idle games are a popular genre on mobile, they might not be to everyone's taste but they're made with such regularity and receive a lot of downloads, so it's hard to argue it's not big business. Eternal Warfare is set to join the sea of idle games... | Read more »
New heroes and balance updates set to ar...
It feels like Hearthstone: Battlegrounds only launched yesterday, and already the auto batter addition to Blizzard's megahit card game is set to receive new heroes and balance updates. [Read more] | Read more »
Pre-register for Hello Kitty AR: Kawaii...
Hello Kitty — the cute cat that launched a multi-billion-pound franchise — has been brought to life… sort of. Sanrio has teamed up with the Bublar Group to create a new mobile game that uses AR tech to turn the real world into Hello Kitty’s... | Read more »
Gorgeous and tranquil puzzler Spring Fal...
One-man indie studio SPARSE//GameDev has now launched its tranquil puzzler, Spring Falls. It's described as "a peaceful puzzle game about water, erosion, and watching things grow". [Read more] | Read more »
Black Desert Mobile gets an official rel...
Pearl Abyss has just announced that its highly-anticipated MMO, Black Desert Mobile, will launch globally for iOS and Android on December 11th. [Read more] | Read more »
Another Eden receives new a episode, cha...
Another Eden, WFS' popular RPG, has received another update that brings new story content to the game alongside a few new heroes to discover. [Read more] | Read more »
Overdox guide - Tips and tricks for begi...
Overdox is a clever battle royale that changes things up by adding MOBA mechanics and melee combat to the mix. This new hybrid game can be quite a bit to take in at first, so we’ve put together a list of tips to help you get a leg up on the... | Read more »
Roterra Extreme - Great Escape is a pers...
Roterra Extreme – Great Escape has been described by developers Dig-It Games as a mini-sequel to their acclaimed title Roterra: Flip the Fairytale. It continues that game's tradition of messing with which way is up, tasking you with solving... | Read more »
Hearthstone: Battlegrounds open beta lau...
Remember earlier this year when auto battlers were the latest hotness? We had Auto Chess, DOTA Underlords, Chess Rush, and more all gunning for our attention. They all had their own reasons to play, but, at least from where I'm standing, most... | Read more »
The House of Da Vinci 2 gets a new gamep...
The House of Da Vinci launched all the way back in 2017. Now, developer Blue Brain Games is gearing up to deliver a second dose of The Room-inspired puzzling. Some fresh details have now emerged, alongside the game's first official trailer. [Read... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

B&H offers $100 discounts on 4-Core and 6...
B&H Photo has new 4-Core and 6-Core Mac minis in stock and on sale today for $100 off Apple’s MSRP. Prices start at $699. Overnight shipping is free to many addresses in the US: – 3.6GHz Quad-... Read more
Save $200 today on a 2019 13″ MacBook Air wit...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at only $929 and up to $200 off the cost of new Airs. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a... Read more
New Verizon Pre-Black Friday 2019 deal: Buy o...
Buy one new Apple iPhone 11 model or 2018 iPhone XS model at Verizon and get a second one for free. One new line of service required. Offer is valid from November 21, 2019 to November 27, 2019. Here... Read more
AirPods with Wireless Charging Case on sale t...
Abt Electronics has 2019 AirPods with the Wireless Charging Case on sale today for $163 shipped. Their price is $36 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s currently the cheapest price for these AirPods from any... Read more
Apple continues to offer 2017 13″ Dual-Core n...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ 2.3GHz Dual-Core non-Touch Bar MacBook Pros still available starting at $1019. An standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, outer cases... Read more
Save up to $120 on the new 16″ MacBook Pro at...
Apple’s resellers are starting to receive stock of new 16″ MacBook Pros, and the first set of sales & deals are now available: (1) Amazon 16″ MacBook Pros start on sale for $100-$116 off Apple’s... Read more
Apple Watch Series 3 models on sale at Amazon...
Amazon has Apple Watch Series 3 GPS models on sale for $30 off MSRP, starting at only $169. There prices are the lowest we’ve ever seen for these models from any Apple reseller. Choose Amazon as the... Read more
The ‘Mac Potpourri’ Mailbag: Edition #1- Info...
COMMENTARY: 11.20.19- Welcome to the inaugural edition of the “Mac Potpourri” Mailbag where we take a look at correspondence received from readers of this column from all over the world who write in... Read more
13″ 2.4GHz MacBook Pros available for up to $...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 2.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available starting at $1529 and up to $300 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is... Read more
New at T-Mobile: Switch to T-Mobile, and get...
T-Mobile is offering a free 64GB iPhone 8 for new customers who switch to T-Mobile and open a new line of service. Eligible trade-in required, and discount applied over a 24 month period. The fine... Read more

Jobs Board

Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**747303BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Store NUmber or Department:** 001413-Cypress-Store **Job Description:** **What Read more
*Apple* Mobility Pro - Best Buy (United Stat...
**743221BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobility Pro **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 000230-Greenwood-Store **Job Description:** At Best Read more
*Apple* Mobility Pro - Best Buy (United Stat...
**747338BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobility Pro **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 000254-Superstition Springs-Store **Job Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**745516BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store NUmber or Department:** 001101-Manhattan-Store **Job Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**746655BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Store NUmber or Department:** 002518-Atlantic Center-Store **Job Description:** Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.