Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Windows Horrors: HP Photoshit Software

I don't see how your average Windows user survives day-to-day life.  The malware is bad enough, with millions of infected PCs across the globe, but it gets worse when so-called "trusted" hardware manufacturers pass out buggy software with their devices.

Of course, I'm talking about HP.  I swore off HP printer hardware for many years because of their crappy software and their snooty corporate policies.

As an example of their corporate snobbery, back in the pre-Internet, Windows 3.1 days I had a DeskJet 500 printer, a very popular model at the time, widely described in the PC press as a "workhorse".  Their driver was damned near perfect.  I especially liked it for printing envelopes, which it spit out flawlessly.  Then along came 1995.  Shortly before the arrival of Windows 95, HP announced they wouldn't be making printer drivers for 95 until they were convinced that people would actually buy it.  In reality this was an upgrade scheme for a "New Generation of HP Printers" (they were doing the same thing with iPads last year).  Because of this, when 95 came out in August, every HP driver distributed with 95 was written by Microsoft.

I never printed another envelope again on my DeskJet.  I think the issue was deep inside the Windows GDI (Graphic Device Interface).  No matter what you did, Windows decided a letter was "landscape" format, so it dutifully printed the address sideways.  There were work-arounds, but it was an incredible pain.

Once 95 took off, to the surprise of HP, and people started using the Internet for downloading drivers, HP forced its "HP Webprint" software on anyone looking for the "latest driver" for any printer, regardless of the model.  It never worked well.  And it still doesn't.

Forward to 1996 and the introduction of the fundamentally flawed OS we knew as "NT4".  Once again, all the HP drivers were written by Microsoft (shudder).  By the time Service Pack 3 came out this was a common scenario:
  • Customer buys HP printer, finds there's no NT4 driver
  • Customer installs HP driver from original NT4 CD
  • NT4 print server explodes the first time it prints to the new printer
Yeah, there was a little trick to that: you had to re-install SP3 after installing the driver or suffer the consequences.  In fact any time you pulled anything off the original NT4 CD you had to re-install the service pack (3,4,5, or 6—whatever version you were on).  Even though you could point to Microsoft technical articles explicitly stating this, most people refused to believe it.  I think they were just lazy.

Witnessing all this Happy Horseshit as a "professional services"... umm... professional, tainted my view of HP for at least five years and I avoided HP like... herpes ("the Plague" is so Old School).

But that's all Ancient History.  The years rolled by and the pain receded.  Perhaps my memory grew dim.  Multi-function printers became ubiquitous and I decided it was time to throw out the old printer and the old scanner.  I bought an HP Photosmart C4580.  Although the software interface was butt-ugly it worked fine for my needs... for about two years.

Honestly, I think there are hidden "features" in HP software that determine when you need to buy a new printer.  There's code in there, waiting... watching... ready to make your life miserable when HP's stock starts to drop...

Among the new features in the HP printer driver suite are automatic updates.  I always chose to update whenever I got a notification.  Then, things started to get flaky.  The "update" would ask for the original CD and no matter how many times you clicked "Cancel" it would refuse to stop asking for it until you killed the process in Task Manager.  This got so bad I disabled it on most of my Windows boxes.  I printed through Linux (CUPS, a surprisingly competent HP sponsored project for Linux) anyway, so life went on.

Until yesterday, when I wanted to scan two lousy items for my RFID post.  It just wouldn't work, so I determined it was finally time to upgrade the software.  I decided to give my aging XP box a break and install it on my Windows 7 laptop.  After downloading and running the 150MB package at 12:30PM, the horrors began.  I wouldn't be scanning until 8PM that evening.  I was multitasking all day, so it wasn't quite as bad as it sounds.

The first thing the new software (lucky version 13) tried—and failed—to do was remove the old software (version 12).  Somewhere around "step 4 of 38" in this uninstall process, it hung.  I killed it with Task Manager and it restarted, completing—or appearing to complete—the remaining 34 steps.  In hindsight this was a mistake.  I should have manually uninstalled the old stuff and started fresh, but what the heck.  The software thought it could pull it off.

So this things chugs along and finally comes to the "printer detection" part.  It finds the C4580 on the wireless network and then decides—after the printer has been found—to "test" the wireless adapter.

And by "test" it meant "break".

I didn't notice this at first and the software offered to put an icon on the desktop so it could "try later".  OK, I'll go for that.  Click "OK" and reboot.

Once it's back up, I click the icon and it goes through the same process.  Still can't find the printer.  Click "OK" and the damned thing reboots again.  After a few more of these I finally notice the WiFi indicator has the yellow piss stain of FAIL on it after the "testing your connection" phase, so I reconnect to the access point before the printer identification part.  It works.  It churns.

It FAILS.  And reboots again.

So I disable the wireless NIC and jack into the wired network.  The laptop can still get to the printer through the access point, verified by pinging it.  I run the detect printer program again and it tells me my wireless connection doesn't work.  Fucking DUH.  This time there's an edit box where you can put in an IP address, so I try that.  No go.  Reboot again.

There's an option to connect directly to the printer via USB, so I try that.  It finds the printer and dies again.  Click "Finnish" to reboot.

At this point I decide to rip everything out and re-install from scratch.  After removing everything HP, I reboot, log in, and Windows tells me it's no longer genuine.  WHAT THE MOTHERFUCKING FUCK.  Yes, those were my exact words.  So I did the Windows Genuine Advantage song and dance thing and Microsoft forgave me, saying there, there everything's OK now.

Well, that was a relief, but I was in no mood for drama at this point.

And re-installing did the trick, seven and a half hours after starting.  I scanned my shit and posted the article.

HP... never again.


UPDATE 08/16/2011

The last time I rebooted my laptop, the HP Photoshit software popped up and asked me if I wanted to participate in their customer survey program.

I declined.

Then it asked again.

What part of "I Decline" is so hard to understand, HP?


  1. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Just got to read your tome about HP...early days & later...made me chuckle! You sound like you've been screwing with Microsoft & HP as long as I have (22 years)! I must say I'm surprised you stuck with HP for as long as you did!

    After the early years were over with them, I switched to EPSON...7 of them later (I'm in the
    short-run printing biz)...every single one still
    works flawlessly!!

    The real 'straw-that-broke-the camel's-back was
    when I purchased a Pavilion desktop just when Vista first came out...HP WOULD NOT enable me to roll back to XP by supplying me drivers!!! I was done with their computers as well!! I did find the drivers after about 3 days of searching! Well, the M/B just crapped out after 2 years...took the remainder of the parts & built a great ASUS machine!

    With their 'you don't know as much as we do'
    attitude, I told the 3rd tech supervisor to go fuck himself! I feel sorry for all the people that continue to deal with HP!

  2. 22 years? You must be ancient.

    Speaking of HP Pavilions, I never owned one but the company I worked for shilled them to unsuspecting corporate dweebs with deep pockets. In '96 I delivered and set up a stack of them at a law office. One of them had been shipped with the original HP factory installation CD (Win95, of course).

    It's still around here somewhere. First and last OEM "skin" for Win95 I ever saw. One ugly pile of crap.

    They don't make 'em like that anymore!