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Canon MultiPASS C5500 **

This is one of those fax/printer/scanner/copier things. I picked it up for ~$350, minus the $100 rebate which they eventually sent me (anybody else find the whole rebate thing annoying?). Anyway, the machine itself is fine. It's based on the ubiquitous color ink-jet technology, and it makes a pretty decent fax machine, a passable copier for low-volume needs, prints reasonably well, and scans acceptably if you're not too picky.

But the software is horrific. Why do hardware vendors invent such bloated installation processes for their drivers? What's wrong with Win9x's "Add New Hardware" wizard (well, aside from the obvious litany...)? Bloat aside, the dang thing is broke. The first time I installed it, it would only print garbage. Reinstalling didn't help. At first I thought it was a hardware problem, and was on the verge of packing it up and returning it, until I tried it on my wife's computer just in case. It worked on her computer. So I uninstalled all traces of Canon software on my machine and then reinstalled the drivers, which did the trick.

So last week I cleaned off my machine and did a fresh install of Win98 to fix some other problems I was having. It took a few tries to get the MultiPASS up and running again -- apparently the planets need to be aligned perfectly before you run the install program. Then, later, I decided to try installing the extra CD's worth of free imaging shovelware, just in case Adobe PhotoDeluxe was worth trying (it wasn't). The printer promptly stopped working. Documents would go into the queue, and never come out. Once more, I uninstalled everything "Canon", and reinstalled. It seems to be working... for now.

Apple Studio Display ***

A big nerd fetish item. This is a 15" flat panel LCD monitor with 1024x768 max resolution. The actual image size is about the same as the 17" Dell CRT it replaced. Overall I'm pretty happy with it, although it falls short of perfection.

Among the good things: it is in fact flat and quite small and light, especially compared to the CRT. The image quality is excellent; in my judgement it's slightly sharper than the CRT. I don't think there are any dead pixels in the unit I received. The stand is pretty nifty; it's counter-sprung in such a way that you just move the display where you want it, and it stays. There's also a very svelte picture-frame style stand which I haven't tried yet. And, as Julie points out, it looks like something from Star Trek.

Among the petty annoyances: it really only looks its best at 1024x768. Any other display setting is somewhat blurry, although I've seen laptop displays that have much uglier scaling. The interface is via the standard analog Mac or VGA monitor connector, which means there's an inherent mismatch between the analog nature of the signal and the digital nature of the display itself. In practice, this requires the user to occasionally fiddle with the "tracking" control on the display in order to get perfect sharpness. After the first couple of days, when I averaged a fiddle every few hours, the tracking has settled down and it's been rock steady for a week or so. Occasionally, though, the display seems to have a nervous breakdown and go blank (it seems to be associated with mode changes), and the on-screen controls don't respond. When this happens, power-cycling it seems to consistently fix the problem.

Another small flaw is the time response of the monitor; it's not as fast as the typical CRT, so moving images blur slightly. The Studio Display performs about the same as a good active-matrix laptop display in this respect, so it's not a huge deal, but it's something to be aware of. So far it hasn't bothered while me playing games, but it is noticeable. Actually, there's a slight benefit to this as well, which is that I can detect no flicker in the image at all, unlike with a CRT.

There's another interesting feature which I haven't played with yet, which is the set of video input jacks. Apparently it can display NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, which could come in handy for emergency TV viewing.

At two grand a pop it's not an impulse buy, but boy is it cool. I've also noticed that good quality monitors tend to outlive the computers they're attached to. With its unobtrusive size and likely future price reductions, I can even forsee the day when I have more than one of these guys on my desk.

tu@tulrich.com | Thatcher Ulrich