Monday, February 28, 2005

Hemlock Pickard

No, not the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. I'm talking about the behemoth that makes my printers. I know they make some other stuff too, but I don't own any of that so I can't comment on it. But for sure, HP is a company that has lost its way. The recent dismissal of Carly Fiorino has nothing much to do with it.

My first HP purchase was 3 or 4 years ago. I wanted a new printer and a new scanner. The guy in the shop pointed me at a fairly substantial machine. A thing called an 'all-in-one'. It was, he said, a printer, scanner and colour photocopier. All in one machine and at a very attractive price. I said I would buy it if it worked with Windows 2000. He pointed to a big yellow sticker on the box that proclaimed it did do that. So I got it home, set it up, and Windows 2000 absolutely refused to have nothing to do with the damn thing. It's a PSC500, by the way. I still have it, and it works fine with WinXP.

I got onto the local service agent who insisted that I bring the machine to them (right across town they are, of course). I explained that it was not a physical problem with the machine, just a simple driver thing. But no, they could not do anything without having the machine in their grubby little hands. So, when I got there, I saw about 10 other PSC 500s huddled in a corner. The guy explained to me that some of these machines would work with Win2K, but others wouldn't - something to do with the internal chippery. HP's office in the Netherlands were working on a driver that would actually work and it would be ready 'any day now'. Yeah, right, bollocks. I have things to scan, stuff to print, and deadlines to meet. They actually loaned me a scanner while they kept my machine hostage.

The weeks went by, the driver was never written, and HP plummeted in my estimation. Eventually I got the machine back, and could use it only by installing Win98 on one of the machines in the office. Hah!

Years went by. HP bumbled its way into Compaq (one of the most insane 'mergers' I've ever heard about). Six months ago, BetterArf decided she wanted a printer at home, and decided to buy the baby brother of the behemoth, an HP PSC 1200. It's a wonderful little machine, really cheap, but with one really irritating flaw - it cannot pick up one sheet of paper - if you put 20 sheets in the tray, then it will grab the lot and squeeze them through the rollers. Not terribly efficient if you want to print multiple copies of something, and probably not very good for the machine either. I've heard it said that nobody makes money out of making printers, all the profit is in the ink cartridges that you have to keep on buying forever. I know someone who would throw away a printer when the ink ran out, and buy the latest model. I think HP are wise to this now - the cartridges supplied with the PSC 1200 were only about one-third full.

But the final straw came a few days ago when I read about a lawsuit against HP - someone is suing HP because they have allegedly coded an expiry date into their ink cartridges - no matter how long the carts you buy have sat on the shelf in the store, and no matter what amount of ink they contain, the printer will refuse to use them after a pre-determined time since manufacture. It's not as if we're talking about time-expired chickens here. You're not gonna die if your printer ink is out of date. It's all about greedy, money-grabbing extortion.

I doubt I'll ever buy anything else made by HP. So they'll go bust, won't they?