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Safety In Numbers

When it comes to using Linux at home, you’ll find there are things that you can do and things that you cannot.   And the likelihood that your Ubuntu laptop or Red Hat server will do what you want is proportional to the number of other people who are trying to do the same thing – if there are enough of them, someone will figure out how to do it, write a driver, write the software, or post the solution on the net.  That is why I say there is safety in numbers.

If you have something unusual or proprietary, for example a Lexmark TX6750 All-In-One wireless printer, scanner, copier, fax machine, you might find that there are no Linux drivers for that printer.   That’s exactly what one of our associates found with his – Lexmark didn’t support it on Linux and no open source Linux drivers.  If not enough Linux users have that printer, no one’s going to write the driver for it.  Lexmark figured out that it’s not of value to them – they only put out Linux drivers for their commercial workgroup printers.

But speaking of networked all-in-one (AIO) devices, these really pose a dilemma to implementers, because while there are several standards for networked printing, there is no standard for networked scanning.  Many of the printing protocols have been around a long time (> 20 years) – most networked printers use either SMB (Windows) or LPR (Unix) protocols.  The first networked AIOs used proprietary protocol and software on the client – many still do, but system integrators complain that this is not “open” architecture.  So how do you make a networked scanner that uses a standard protocol?  Well, the vendors started to get creative; they turned the scanner into the client and sent the image files to the workstation.  And how do they get sent, what protocol?  Good ol’ email – they send it by SMTP.  Well, it’s a creative way to use a 30+ year-old protocol to solve a new problem, and works well in a business environment where you have IT support.  But I’d rather see the standards community come up with a new protocol or extension for networked home scanners that anyone can use.

Now back to the main subject – safety in numbers.  The bottom line is that when selecting home computing components, chose ones that have recognized brands and some level of popularity.  Several years down the road, when you are either upgrading to a new version of Windows or Mac O/S (really anything that drives hardware), you may want to still use that component and will need it to still be supported by someone’s software.  That means that some vendor or open source developer will have to spend the time to keep their latest software backward compatible (i.e., still working) with your old piece of hardware.  And that will only happen if there’s enough people with that old hardware still in use – there is safety in numbers.