Scan Artists

Peripherals: how to get your old-school scanner working with OS X

 Q. I just bought a used iMac running OS X, and I couldn't be happier, save for one little problem—my HP ScanJet 5300c scanner doesn't seem to work with the operating system. Am I gonna have to break down and buy a new scanner, or is there a work-around?

A. There's a work-around, but it's a heckuva lot more convoluted than it should be. Scanner companies, alas, have dragged their feet on making their "legacy" products simpatico with OS X. Most of the time, the fix involves downloading an obscure driver from the vendor's website. But in the case of your old-school HP model, it may not be quite that easy.

The first solution that pops to mind is to simply run OS 9 when you need to scan—assuming you have the now antiquated operating system installed on your machine. Of course, this sort of defeats the purpose of having OS X in the first place, dig? OS 9 was a pain because of instability issues during massive scan jobs—contrary to Apple's boasts during the "Switch" campaign, Macs aren't immune to crashes. So, yeah, you can stick with OS 9 in perpetuity, but life's too short to settle for second-best.

illustration: Dean MacAdam

When peripherals fail to gel with a new computer, it's usually a matter of a missing driver. The websites of scanner vendors teem with updated OS X drivers, although it's always a crapshoot as to whether your model is fully supported. Canon, for example, has OS X drivers available for 20 of its 24 most popular scanners. But an OS X version of CanoScan Toolbox is only available for 11 of those models, and that means that, unless you have Adobe Photoshop 7.0 or Photoshop Elements 2.0, your scanner's just a big paperweight.

HP is even spottier when it comes to sating OS X-ers. Take your beloved 5300c; a quick perusal of hp.com reveals that, yes, there's a driver to be downloaded for OS X, but only for versions 10.1.3 to 10.1.5. Um, what? Isn't everybody and his cousin Jimbo using 10.2 or 10.3 nowadays?

Actually, you should consider yourself blessed, seeing as how lots of other ScanJet owners don't even get that much. According to e-mails from HP's customer support department, posted at macdevcenter.com, the company promised way back in 2002 that OS X drivers for its ScanJet line were forthcoming that summer. But there's still zilch for the 4400c, as well as other legacy scanners.

Good Samaritan that he is, Mr. Roboto tried to aid the cause by calling up HP and asking when the company was going to get on the Mac bandwagon for real. The very pleasant public relations bloke said he'd hop right on the question and get back to me in a matter of minutes. That was the last Mr. Roboto ever heard from HP, at least up until press time.

Fortunately for you, Hamrick Software (hamrick.com) is on the case. The company offers VueScan, a mighty little Mac utility that supports the 5300c, among scores of other popular models from HP, Canon, Epson, and Microtek. The software's not dirt cheap at $60 a pop, but it's certainly more economical than forking over for a brand-new scanner.


History channel

A few months back, Mr. Roboto met a friendly video producer named Michael Ragsdale while taping a panel discussion for C-SPAN. Turns out Ragsdale's passion is gathering flyers, letters, cards, and other documents related to 9-11. Check out his massive, moving collection at 911digitalarchive.org; simply click on Documents, then click on Flyers. Be prepared to spend a few hours trolling through the compendium, as it's fascinating stuff—alternately disturbing, heartrending, and hopeful. And if you've got something to add, by all means, send it in.


Photo op

In case you're unexpectedly flush with cash, the new Canon PowerShot Pro1 digital camera is definitely worth a gander. It's a screamer of a digicam, with an 8-megapixel CCD sensor, 7x optical zoom, and an adjustable two-inch LCD monitor attached to the back. It'll set you back a cool $1,000, at least according to Canon's suggested price, but that's actually not a terrible deal considering the performance and features. You don't need this for merely taking photos on Christmas morning, but if you're a serious hobbyist, the PowerShot Pro1's likely an upgrade on your current kit.

 
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