Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why Does H-P Software Suck? Part 2

I wasted about five hours yesterday trying to install a new HP Officejet 7310xi printer/fax/scanner. Our old one gave up the ghost for no reason I can determine other than planned obsolescence. The 'xi' designation seems to denote that it was sold through Costco.

The hardware seems to be pretty good. Two-page printing works, the color is great, the ink jet cartridges have improved. The software sucks. Really.

The first problem I noticed was that the desktop software (drivers, UI and various third-party bundles) simply wouldn't install on Mac OS X (10.4.3). This is almost not surprising, given the huge amount of software that HP insists on installing (thousands of files supporting many applications not needed to print, fax and scan). After trying everything I could think of, I downloaded a different version of the installer from HP's support Web site. That worked, and reduced the total installable files for a minimal installation from 6,530 to 488 due to the removal of the third-party bundles. I continued to notice poor quality control, such as GUI buttons which didn't always paint, memory corruption and evidence of ten-year-old Mac Classic code.

I wondered what some of the third-party code did, so I clicked the information button for 'readiris' during the installation. The help kindly informed me that 'This installs the readiris package'. Help for all other options were similarly undescriptive. You can just picture the programmer shoving that into a string in order to move on to more important work. Due to a lack of testing and project management, it never became anyone else's problem and was shipped.

The final straw was the fax setup. The fax does not release the phone line after a successful transfer. It doesn't mater whether the printer has an extension handset plugged in or whether it is sharing a POTS line via a splitter. After faxing, the only way to recover the phone line is to unplug it and then plug it back in.

There is also evidence that the firmware hasn't been significantly updated for this model. The 7300 series has an LCD screen, which shows pretty but generally gratuitous graphics. An error on the fax, however, will still result in a paper error page being printed, as in previous versions.

In all, it is clear that HP has followed their US brethern in outsourcing their software to overseas teams who do not coordinate with each other. There was no evidence of significant integration testing. There was plenty of evidence of junior engineers making a series of minor changes without understanding the system-wide ramifications. They have clearly not invested in creating new software or even in hardening what they have. My wife, a former HP software engineer, notes that all the good managers left before or during the last mergers. It shows.

See also: Part 1


  1. You are dead on, I work in a corporate environment and have seen nothing but pure compost for software coming from them. A network scanning device that only differentiates between systems with a 5 letter string. so if the naming conventions within your network start with 5 static characters the scanner can't tell where the request is coming from. All-in-one software that won't let you install without plugging in the device. this is terrible in a remote environment with tight administrator privileges, not to mention you can't use a "run as" command to install as an admin. So many times i have seen the "HP Toolbox" just one day decide to give up doing its job. the endless towers of worthless desktop icons that run pointless software like what you mentioned above. HP extended capabilities sending splash screen pop-ups 15 times a day. No HP device is installed without doing a custom installation and removing all the garbage at the company I work for and we buy the business series equipment.

  2. I just tried to install the HP C4283 all in one printer. The software from the CD is total rubbish. The worst thing I have ever tried to install. It doesn't even have a cancel install button or an uninstall of parts already installed button. Its huge and cumbersome and stalls at 5%. It also has some garbarge about checkinh hardware. The software is useless. I own a dirt cheap lexmark 3 in one installed it effortlessly in 2 minutes and its software is amazing does everything. I spent 3 times on the HP and I totally regret it. Because I can't even install it, the hardware seems good made amazing colour copies and prints from camera though.

  3. Four years after this post the HP software and drivers continues to suck. Multiple days wasted trying to get the L7780 software bundle to install in Vista 64. They ought to go out of business.

  4. I agree with Rick Bryan. Four years later and it still sucks. Years ago as well as today, if the s/w hangs HP's solution is to REBOOT! What the f?? The hardware's great. But having had this experience with several HP printers has convinced me to never buy one again.