I've long delayed getting a printer, but finally have a few things that I want to print queued up again, and it's getting to be too much of a hassle with printing them at friends' places, etc. There even is a printer here in the house, but it's 3 floors up, often out of paper, or disconnected, or needs to have its network connection coaxed into cooperation, and its toner isn't looking so hot anyhow.
I pored through the "Free" listings on Craigslist for a bit, looking for laser printers; if I had infinite space, there are some rather cool deals (remember, "Free") on there. Infinite space required because the kind of printers that people give away, even when they're quite functional, tend to be big, and heavy. So I switched to the regular ads, and found one for a Lexmark E238. The model number means nothing to me, but I've happily used a Lexmark printer before, so that was a positive sign. $40 -- that's the kind of price I like.
The seller is a place called 3R Technology; I'd never heard of it before, but this is a company that deals in the non-seedy underbelly of technology disposal / arbitrage -- basically, they collect old hardware from companies that want to get rid of it, and sell or otherwise dispose of it in ways that are at least allegedly environmentally friendly. A good service. I called about the printer, made sure they were open long enough for me to get there (including my inevitable getting lost on the way) and asked them to put my name on the printer. And in fact, I got there just before closing time, after fewer wrong turns than usual. (I admire that their directions give Krispy Kreme as a landmark.) The people were friendly, and walking through even the small slice of the place that I did made me want to go back to browse for things like Model M keyboards. If you're in or near Seattle, and need networking equipment, or old laptops, or all kinds of computer miscellany, I suggest a visit there! (1920 Occidental Ave South, Suite G, Seattle WA 98134 / tel 206.957.2683)
I was expecting the printer to Just Work on Ubuntu, since that's been my usual experience with it in the last few years; I try to avoid ones that I don't find at least "partly working" on someone or other's list of Linux hardware compatibility, but I don't otherwise tend to dig too hard -- plain old printing is usually what I want, and fancier features are wasted on me. I found some hints that people were happily running this printer under Linux in 2006, and that was good enough evidence to go on. I was happy when I plugged in the printer to my Toshiba laptop running Ubuntu 9.4 alpha 6 and got a friendly seeming pop-up window that showed the printer, by correct model name, was connected. However, soon frustration set it: even though it was shown as an option when I tried to print both from various applications and from the printer set-up dialogue ("print a sample page"), nothing would come out. And strangely, after a few minutes, up popped a warning that the printer "may not be connected." Hmmm. The USB cable maybe?
I swapped the cable onto another computer, my Eee laptop running Eeebuntu's current version, based on Ubuntu 8.10, and though I got no pop-up message welcoming the printer into the fold, I got something better: the ability to print. I opened an arbitrary PDF, and printing worked as hoped. No fuss, no muss -- how hardware additions should work in a perfect world, just plug it in. So, at the very least, I had a working printer and a laptop capable of controlling it. Good enough to go to sleep.
However, since sleep had not yet arrived, a few minutes ago I decided to give it another go with the laptop running 9.4 alpha. This time, I brought up the printer's "Properties" (such vagueness!) dialogue box, and made a lucky guess: instead of picking the recommended driver for the E238, I chose the one for the model E230 instead. (That kind of model downgrading has helped a few times in the past, though it seems pretty ridiculous that an exact model name match should fail when an inexact one does not.) Then I hit "print sample page" and in about 10 seconds, the printer whirred and spat it out. Success! Huzzah! Hurray!
Thank you, Linux Printing folks