Aunt Tillie's OS X Adventure

In a pair of recent essays, Eric Raymond tears into the open source community -- rightly so -- for its failure to deliver software that Aunt Tillie can use. He's spot on. One of his comments got me wondering, though:

If the designers were half-smart about UI issues (like, say, Windows programmers) they'd probe the local network neighborhood and omit the impossible entries. If they were really smart (like, say, Mac programmers) they'd leave the impossible choices in but gray them out, signifying that if your system were configured a bit differently you really could print on a Windows machine, assuming you were unfortunate enough to own one. [Eric Raymond: An Open-Source Horror Story]
As it happens, I'd never tried printing to a Windows XP queue on my home network from my Mac, and I wondered how well those Mac programmers Eric talks about handled that case. So here, for your Flash viewing pleasure, is Aunt Tillie's OS X Adventure.

Actually this was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone experiment. I've been wanting to be able to record screen videos on OS X, just like I do on Windows using Media Encoder 9, but I didn't have the software to do it. Or thought I didn't. Then I remembered VNC. I pointed a VNC viewer on Windows XP at a VNC server on OS X, and ran Media Encoder on the viewer. It works.

The upshot, for you fast-forward types, is that Aunt Tillie didn't have a picnic on OS X either. Raymond wrote:

Clicking on the menu, I am presented with the following alternatives:
Networked CUPS (IPP)
Networked Unix (LPD)
Networked Windows (SMB)
Networked Novell (NCP)
Networked JetDirect
Here is our first intimation of trouble. If I were Aunt Tillie the archetypal nontechnical user, I am at this point thinking "What in the holy fleeping frack does that mean?

Rather to my surprise, I found an oddly similar set of choices on the Mac:

  IP Printing
  Open Directory
x Windows Printing
Windows Printing was the default, but no other choice was dimmed. That was the least of Aunt Tillie's worries though. In the finale she has to choose between HP LaserJet 4 Plus, v2013.111, and HP LaserJet 4 series, CUPS+Gimp-Print v4.2.5. The latter was the correct choice, by the way.

I'm sure that on OS 9, talking to a PostScript printer, Aunt Tillie would never have needed to know about the dreaded CUPS (Common Unix Printing Systems) which provoked Eric Raymond's rant. Even so, I don't think her OS X misadventure blunts the force of that rant. Aunt Tillie has always been the problem. Her life may be a bit easier on Windows and on Mac OS, but it is far from comfortable. There's room for order-of-magnitude improvement. Will open source folk ever conclude that Aunt Tillie represents a hard engineering problem, and decide to wrap their collective heads around it? Stranger things have happened.

Former URL: