REVIEWS

Dots Enough

Print from your NEXTSTEP machine to a host of non-PostScript printers

by Simson L. Garfinkel

When there was black hardware, NeXT users had the luxury of inexpensive NeXT-brand printers. They were inexpensive because the PostScript processing happened inside the NeXT and the printer was merely an output device. But now, in the Intel-processor world, users must pay to equip each printer they want to use with costly PostScript engines – NEXTSTEP lacks appropriate drivers for these individual programs. That is, unless the user has Dots, a program from Hamburg, Germany-based d'ART Computersysteme GmbH.

Internal Rip
Dots is a printer driver that uses NEXTSTEP's built-in Display PostScript as a RIP (raster image processor) to generate bit maps for non-PostScript printers. This is useful even for black-hardware owners who want a printer other than the old NeXT-branded devices. Using Dots, you can print with PostScript on low-cost ink-jet printers, break NeXT's 400-dpi Laser Printer barrier with HP's 600-dpi LaserJet IV, or print directly to that Cadillac of printers, the Canon Color Laser Copier (CLC) 500.

Why use Dots, rather than simply purchasing a PostScript cartridge for your laser printer? For starters, the cost of Dots is often less than the cost of a PostScript cartridge and the extra memory required to upgrade most laser printers to full PostScript-printer status.

Because Dots runs on the NEXTSTEP computer, rather than the printer, you have access to all of your fonts without having to specifically download them or include them in your document. And considering that Dots uses your computer's virtual-memory system, you'll always have enough memory to print even the most complex PostScript pages.

Dots also opens up the exciting world of low-cost desktop color for under $1000, thanks to printers such as the HP DeskJet 550C. For those with a higher budget, Dots supports the Canon CLC 10, a desk-sized color printer that doubles as a scanner. (d'ART ships Dots with a complementary scanning program for the CLC 10.)

Dots supports an astounding number of printers, including most HP black-and-white and color ink-jet printers (including the DeskJet Plus, 500, 500C, 550C, 1200C, PaintJet XL, XL300, DesignJet 600, and 650); the Canon BJ-300/330 and BJ-10 bubble-jet printers; Canon's CLC 10, 300, and 500 copiers; all HP LaserJet II, III, and IV laser printers; the Seiko PhotoMaker CH-6104 dye-sublimation printer; and the Mitsubishi Shinko dye-sublimation printer. The program can print through the parallel, serial, or SCSI ports (providing that your printer has a matching port).

Version 3.4.1 will print on all of these printers out of the box in demo mode (printing a thick black line diagonally through each page), allowing you to test it with your particular printer before plunking down your money. The program is internationalized in both English and German and works with both white and black hardware (with white hardware, you must purchase an additional "printing license" from NeXT to be legal; see "Adobe levies PS tax," NeXTWORLD Extra, October). Although the program lacks a user manual, there is extensive on-line help.

We tested Dots with an HP DeskJet Plus (a 300-dpi ink-jet printer), HP DeskJet 550C (a color ink-jet), and HP LaserJet IV (with a resolution of 600 dpi).

Setup and installation
Dots is delivered on a floppy disk containing a single Installer package, which must be installed as root. Part of the installation process deposits an application called Dots.app into your /LocalLibrary directory, which is the Dots installation and license-management application. Run the program to tell Dots which printers you have, how they are connected (parallel, serial, or SCSI), and enter one or more printer-license strings. Dots can handle as many printers simultaneously as you can connect to your computer.

It took less than five minutes to install Dots on both a monochrome NeXTstation and an Epson NX, each running NEXTSTEP 3.1. (Although we did spend two hours fooling with the NX, trying to get NEXTSTEP to recognize the computer's built-in parallel-interface adapter.) Once running, the driver performed flawlessly, rendering any PostScript page on the selected printer.

Unlike NEXTSTEP's built-in printer driver, you can make Dots display a special pop-up panel before each print job that lets you set the particular job's characteristics. The panel controls output options (the intended resolution, paper feed, and number of copies), render options (transfer function, brightness, halftone screen, and color depth), as well as options that are printer-specific.

But unless you are printing through a SCSI interface, or at low resolutions, you may find performance with Dots to be disappointing. A 13-page test document that took 1 minute, 57 seconds to print on a NeXT laser printer took 8 minutes, 30 seconds to print on the 600-dpi HP LaserJet IV through the Epson's parallel port. On the other hand, Dots never put a noticeable load on the system.

Conclusion
Is Dots enough? Once it's installed, Dots is easy to forget. Like the best NEXTSTEP software, it just works, whether you are printing from the local computer or over the network.

With low-end printers, Dots is a real pleasure to use. Certainly, it's the cheapest way to bring low-cost color printing to the NEXTSTEP desktop. And with the quality of ink-jet printers rivaling that of 300-dpi laser printers, some organizations might prefer the flexibility of putting an ink-jet printer on every desktop instead of installing central laser printers.

Unfortunately, for people used to the speed of a NeXT Laser Printer, Dots with a parallel interface is a poor substitute. We found it downright frustrating to wait for the LaserJet IV to output its pages, even if they were printed at 600 dpi.

Still, the printing speed is that fault of the hardware, not Dots. If you've got the time, d'ART has the data.

Simson L. Garfinkel is a NeXTWORLD senior editor.


Dots 3.4.1

3 1/2 Cubes

Dots lets you print from any NEXTSTEP computer to a wide variety of non-PostScript printers using NEXTSTEP's built-in Display PostScript interpreter. Unless you print through the SCSI port, speed could be a problem.

$149 for monochrome printers; $220 for HP DeskJet 500C and 550C; $499 for HP DeskJet 1200C and PaintJet XL300; $1035 for Canon CJ10; $1495 for Canon CLC300 and CLC500

d'ART Computersysteme GmbH, Virchowstraße 17–19, 22767 Hamburg, Germany.

49/40/38.02.30.

In the United States, Alembic Systems International, 14 Inverness Dr. E., Ste. G228, Englewood, CO 80112.

303/799-6223; 800/452-7608; info@alembic.com.