Where there’s an old technology, there’s a way …

I’m a dinosaur.  I freely admit it.  I use computers for far too long.  I use programs for even longer.

My word processor of choice is WordPerfect.  Version 4.2.  It does what I need, since most of what I do in terms of writing has to do with actual writing.  In other words, words.  Text.  I don’t care much about graphics, desktop publishing (does anyone even know what that means anymore), or mindmaps.  I’ve been using WordPerfect since 1985, although I admit I’ve moved up from 4.1 to 4.2 in the early days.  My wife uses a much more advanced version: she uses 5.1, since she does more with actually printing stuff out.
Over the years I’ve had to learn a few tricks to get WordPerfect to run, and print, with various versions of MS Windows.  (I’ve actually got a copy of WordPerfect Office 8 for Windows around, but it really was kind of a step backwards, so we’ve never really used it.)  Recently the (very old) HP LaserJet 4L that we’ve been using (for quite some time) started printing messy pages.  It was the advice of people in the printer biz that it would be cheaper to buy a new printer than to have the old one cleaned.  Since a new HP LaserJet P1005 was slightly less than $60 (getting a USB cable for it cost almost half again as much, and getting a new cartridge for the thing is even more) this seemed to be the case.

So, my Scottish soul bemoaning the fact that I was sending an almost-perfectly-good printer to the recycling centre, I got a new printer, and installed it.  The print quality is fine (slightly better than the old machine) and it even prints faster.  Under Windows, it’s just fine.

As I said, I’ve had to learn a few tricks over the years to keep the old proggie printing, so I knew about “net use lpt1:.”  DOS programs want to use the old parallel and serial ports, and desktop printers don’t come with those ports anymore: they all use USB.  So you have to install the printer, and then fake DOS out by redirecting the LPT1: output to the installed printer.  Set it up, fired up WordPerfect for a test, and tried a page.  Nothing.

Opened up the print queue and watched.  Job went to the print queue all right, stayed for about a minute, disappeared without an error–and nothing came out of the printer.  “Net use” is obviously working, but the printer isn’t.
Asked for help from HP.  Got back a message saying to turn on Microsoft Loopback Adapter.  Even had detailed instructions on how to do it.

Trouble is, MLA is only useful if you haven’t got any kind of a network.  The “net use” stuff won’t work if you haven’t got a network, so using MLA kinda pretends you’ve got a network, so the redirection stuff works perfectly happily.  (Is it just me, or is there something wrong with a technology that requires you to hack your own system to use basic and normal functions?)  Since everybody who has a high speed connection to the Internet these days (and that is a pretty large majority) has a “local” network, MLA is pretty much unnecessary.  So I replied back to HP thanking them and explaining
why their workaround didn’t help much.  Got back a snarky reply saying that they were just trying to help, and telling me to do it again.  No help from HP, then.

Turned to friends.  (Probably where I should have started in the first place, right?)  Got some suggestions to use PRN2FILE (old and free), DOS2PRN (newer and shareware), and Printfil (newer and very commercial).  All of these basically do the same thing as the “net use” command, so they didn’t help very much.

Another friend looked to the online documentation at HP.  (You don’t get any documentation with printers anymore.  Not even for the installation.  If I hadn’t installed an HP combo scanner a few years back I wouldn’t even have known that you have to install the software and start the setup running before you connect the printer.  HP doesn’t even include a sheet telling you that anymore.)  As far as he was concerned it should work, since the printer I had did support the HP PCL.  Unfortunately, the documentation isn’t very good on versioning.  You see, there is not only an HP LaserJet P1005, there is also an HP LaserJet 1005, as well as an HP LaserJet 1500 series.  The HP LaserJet P1005 doesn’t have PCL.  I’d bought a (*&^@#+”~ Winprinter.

OK, that’s it. right?  Game over.  You can’t make a Winprinter, which basically expects a bitmap from MS Windows, to print anything else.

Not quite.

Enter yet another friend with a pointer to http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/winprint.html#usbprint.  Good old Columbia U.  (Good people at Columbia.  They brought us Kermit.  You’ve never heard of Kermit?  Kids these days …)  Starting there, I eventually found http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/v5macroanyprinter.html.  I mean, how particular do you need to get?  Not only is it specifically for WordPerfect version 5.1, it even has a Ghostscript printer driver, and the macros to make it all happen with one keystroke.  Beauty job, guys.

I should also mention the Ghostscript and Ghostgum people.  I’ve actually been aware of those programs for some time.   I used to use them for reading PDFs, since it was generally quicker and more useful to use them than the Adobe reader products.  (I haven’t been able to turn WordPerfect docs into PDFs just yet: something odd with the GSviewer macro, but at least I know it’s possible.)

There’s always more than one way to skin a computerized cat …

  • MGP


    “PDFCreator easily creates PDFs from any Windows program. Use it like a printer in Word, StarCalc or any other Windows application. ”

    I’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it works great. The only problem is when you try to print a wide web page, but as for documents, never a problem.

  • lyalc

    CutePDF appears as a printer and will ‘print’ a document to a PDF file of your choice. I’ve always found the Ghostgum/view process too awkward to use and remain productive.

  • http://appiant.blogpsot.com Joel Helgeson

    I started my career in technology working for WordPerfect Corp. I actually used to work for the WordPerfect Laser Printer support team and I supported WordPerfect 4.1-6.0 for dos. I think back to those days, wow… I recall that if you change the printer port in WordPerfect [SHIFT+F7] then 2 for edit, P for port (this is all from memory)… you can change the port. You select Other and give it the name of “LPT1″ (without the colon) in addition to doing the “NET USE LPT1:.”

    However, I do not know if it would have helped in your case being that you were using a winprinter emulated printer… I remember the 4L very dearly. It was the first 600 dpi personal laser printer that chugged along at 4 pages per minute. I especially liked it because it was designed to have a straight manual feed paper path and it was also specially designed to handle small cards and envelopes so you could print a single recipe card. Ah, those were the days. I bought one of those for my Mother (or rather my whole family as I still had siblings at home) for $999. Wow, those were the good old days indeed.