Monday, 25 February, 2002

Epson MX-80 Printer

A couple of months after I bought my Osborne I computer (see December 4, 2001), Dad and I bought an Epson MX-80 F/T printer from Orange Micro.  That would have been in March of 1982.  For $625, we got an 80-column printer that would print 80 characters per second (about a page a minute) in four different type faces.  The printer's base price was about $500, but we had to spring for the special serial interface card because the Osborne's parallel interface wasn't compatible.  The printer was nothing fancy, but combined with WordStar on the Osborne I, it beat my old typewriter hands down.

Somebody at the office last week was looking for a dot matrix printer to test some label printing software they're writing as part of a larger custom solution.  The only dot matrix printer at the office is connected to the phone system for some kind of logging or another, so I offered to bring mine in.  Yes, I still have that old Epson.  20 years and still going strong.  I'll post a picture if I can remember to take the camera to the office.

So we connected the printer to a computer and told Windows that it was an Epson MX-80 F/T.  Started Notepad and sent some text to the printer.  The printer didn't like it—started spitting out pages, beeping, and printing all kinds of weird characters.  Why?  Because Windows was sending graphics output to the printer, expecting the old Graphtrax option to be installed.  At first I thought there was an option on the driver to disable graphics output, but no luck.  Then I thought that maybe Epson's web site might have the answer.  (It didn't, by the way, but I did find a place to download a PDF of the original user guide.  Go to http://support.epson.com/cgi/find_product.pl?product=Dotmatrix&tab=documentation.html, and then pick your printer.)  After an hour, I finally remembered that Windows has a "Generic/Text" driver.  Once we installed that driver, the printer worked.  Watching and listening to that little printer go brought back some fond memories.

In retrospect, I'm astonished that hardware from 20 years ago still works with current machines.  Perhaps more astonishing is that I was able to find a ribbon for the printer at Fry's.  As long as Epson continues to design new printers that use that type of ribbon, I'll be able to get ribbons for my old printer.  I like that idea.  It's the ultimate expression of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality that I wish the computer industry as a whole and most other industries in general would adopt.