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

VMware Fusion 11.5.6 - Run Windows apps...
VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro - virtualization software for running Windows, Linux, and other systems on a Mac without rebooting. The latest version includes full support for Windows 10, macOS Mojave... Read more
Alfred 4.1 - Quick launcher for apps and...
Alfred is an award-winning productivity application for OS X. Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords, and file actions at... Read more
Dashlane 6.2032.0 - Password manager and...
Dashlane is an award-winning service that revolutionizes the online experience by replacing the drudgery of everyday transactional processes with convenient, automated simplicity - in other words,... Read more
Skype 8.63.0.76 - Voice-over-internet ph...
Skype is a telecommunications app that provides HD video calls, instant messaging, calling to any phone number or landline, and Skype for Business for productive cooperation on the projects. This... Read more
Mellel 5.0.3 - The word processor for sc...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard for long form documents since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 11.20 - 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
TunnelBear 3.9.10 - Subscription-based p...
TunnelBear is a subscription-based virtual private network (VPN) service and companion app, enabling you to browse the internet privately and securely. Features Browse privately - Secure your data... Read more
Dropbox 103.4.383 - Cloud backup and syn...
Dropbox for Mac is a file hosting service that provides cloud storage, file synchronization, personal cloud, and client software. It is a modern workspace that allows you to get to all of your files... Read more
Daylite 2020.29.1 - Dynamic business org...
Daylite helps businesses organize themselves with tools such as shared calendars, contacts, tasks, projects, notes, and more. Enable easy collaboration with features such as task and project... Read more
HoudahSpot 5.1.5 - Advanced file-search...
HoudahSpot is a versatile desktop search tool. Use HoudahSpot to locate hard-to-find files and keep frequently used files within reach. HoudahSpot will immediately feel familiar. It works just the... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Motorball is a car football game from No...
A few years back Noodlecake Studios announced that they would be dipping in the multiplayer gaming realm with two different games. The first of those, Golf Blitz, released a while back and has proven to be very popular. Now, the second has arrived... | Read more »
SINoALICE's latest update introduce...
SINoALICE's latest update has now arrived, adding several fan-favourite characters from popular RPG series NieR. Young Nier, Kaine, and Young Emil are available in-game as part of a limited-time crossover event set to run until August 20th. [Read... | Read more »
Rocat Jumpurr is an intense roguelite pl...
Rocat Jumpurr is a roguelite platformer from developer Mousetrap Games. You might already be familiar with it if you follow the Big Indie Pitch, where it won first place during this year's Pocket Gamer Connects London competition. Following its... | Read more »
PUBG Mobile's Play As One campaign...
Back in mid-July, we reported that PUGB Mobile had teamed up with Direct Relief to help raise money for the charity's COVID-19 response project. It focused on an in-game running challenge for players, which lead to the PUBG Mobile donating $2... | Read more »
Marvel Contest of Champions' latest...
Marvel Contest of Champions' latest motion comic has arrived, and it shows off new fighters Air-Walker and Dragon Man. Both characters are set to arrive in-game this month. [Read more] | Read more »
Clash Royale: The Road to Legendary Aren...
Supercell recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and their best title, Clash Royale, is as good as it's ever been. Even for lapsed players, returning to the game is as easy as can be. If you want to join us in picking the game back up, we've put... | Read more »
Global Spy is an intriguing 2D spy sim f...
Developer Yuyosoft Innovations' Global Spy launched last month for iOS and Android, though if you missed it at the time, we're here to tell you why it's well worth a go. This one's all about international espionage, tracking down elusive spies,... | Read more »
Distract Yourself With These Great Mobil...
There’s a lot going on right now, and I don’t really feel like trying to write some kind of pithy intro for it. All I’ll say is lots of people have been coming together and helping each other in small ways, and I’m choosing to focus on that as I... | Read more »
Hyena Squad is sci-fi turn-based strateg...
Wave Light Games has just revealed its latest release, Hyena Squad, a turn-based RPG set in a space station infested by gross aliens and the living dead. The announcement was first reported on by Touch Arcade. [Read more] | Read more »
Idle Guardians: Never Die is a pixel art...
SuperPlanet has been fairly prolific with game releases so far this year with both Evil Hunter Tycoon and Lucid Adventure releasing earlier this year. Now, they've released another idle RPG called Idle Guardians: Never Die, which you can download... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks refurbished 2020 13″ MacBook A...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2020 13″ MacBook Airs starting at only $849 and up to $200 off the cost of new Airs. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a standard Apple one-... Read more
Apple restocks clearance 2019 13″ 2.4GHz MacB...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 2.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros starting at $1359 and up to $560 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is free,... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished iPhone XR models s...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished, unlocked, iPhone XR models in the refurbished section of their online store starting at $539. Each iPhone comes with Apple’s standard one-year warranty,... Read more
Price drops! $100-$200 off clearance 27″ 5K i...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on clearance, previous-generation 27″ 5K iMacs by up to $200 off Apple’s original MSRP: – 27″ 3.0GHz 6-Core 5K iMac: $1699 $100 off original MSRP – 27″ 3.1GHz 6-Core... Read more
Woot offers Apple Watch and iPhone models fro...
Amazon-owned Woot has refurbished Apple Watch and iPhone models available from $99-$749 through August 6th. According to Woot, the items may show some wear, but they have all been fully tested and... Read more
Apple’s Phil Schiller Steps Down As SVP OF Wo...
NEWS: 08.05.20 – Former Apple senior Vice President of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, is stepping down from his long time role at the company in order to focus on spending more time with family... Read more
Expercom offers $320 discount on the 6-core 1...
Apple reseller Expercom has the Silver 16″ 6-core MacBook Pro on sale for a limited time for $2079 shipped. Their price is $320 off Apple’s MSRP for this model, and it’s the cheapest price currently... Read more
Apple announces Education pricing for new 202...
Purchase a new 2020 iMac or iMac Pro at Apple using Apple’s Education discount, and take up to $400 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution with a .edu email... Read more
Apple reseller Expercom offers $256 discount...
Expercom has Apple’s new 2020 10-core iMac Pro available for order and on sale for $4743 shipped. Their price is $256 off Apple’s MSRP for this new model, and it’s the cheapest price we’ve seen so... Read more
Apple releases refreshed 2020 27″ iMacs with...
Apple today released updated versions of their 27″ iMacs featuring 10th generation Intel processors, SSDs across the board, a better 5K display, and improvements to the camera, speakers, and mic.... Read more

Jobs Board

Executive Team Leader GM Sales (Assistant Man...
…(Assistant Manager General Merchandise and Operations) - Apple Valley, CaliforniaApply NowJob ID:R0000082364job family:Store Managementschedule:Full Read more
Cub Foods - *Apple* Valley - Now Hiring Par...
Cub Foods - Apple Valley - Now Hiring Part Time! United States of America, Minnesota, Apple Valley New Retail Post Date 2 days ago Requisition # 122305 Sign Up Read more
Part-time Geek Squad *Apple* Consultation P...
**770829BR** **Job Title:** Part-time Geek Squad Apple Consultation Professional-Store 384(Ithaca) **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store Number or Department:** Read more
Product Manager, *Apple* Commercial Sales -...
Product Manager, Apple Commercial Sales Austin, TX, US Requisition Number:77652 As an Apple Product Manager for the Commercial Sales team at Insight, you Read more
Cub Foods - *Apple* Valley - Now Hiring Par...
Cub Foods - Apple Valley - Now Hiring Part Time! United States of America, Minnesota, Apple Valley New Retail Post Date 1 day ago Requisition # 122305 Sign Up Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.