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Ask Slashdot: Can Linux use Parallel Port Scanners? 45

Quite a few submissions have come in about parallel port scanners, but Quicker was the first to ask a question generic post (others were about specific scanners, but they neglected to include models and manufacturers) : "I'm looking for a scanner for my Linux box, and the only support I see is for various SCSI scanners, namely HP, which is fine, but they are expensive. I see all these less expensive (but lower quality) parallel port scanners and would like to get one, since they are good enough for what I do. Anyone working on support for these devices?" SANE supports Plustek Parallel Port scanners, but I don't know if there are any other parallel port drivers in that project. Can anyone shed more light on this subject?
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Ask Slashdot: Can Linux use Parallel Port Scanners?

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  • If you don't have it in your distribution, you can always get it from the Linux Documentation Project []
  • Give SANE the prorocol and they will give you a driver. The problem is everyone feels that their way of doing the parrell port is so wonderful they don't want the compitition to use it. The consumer loses, but they don't care.

    It comes from the fact the the parrell port was designed for use ONLY with a centronics brand printer. The centronics printers didn't send anything from the printer to the comtpuer (except paper out and "on fire, eh?", maybe one other) They decided not to bother with a general input output port, and saved the 50 cents or whatever it would ahve cost in the '70s to do it right. We have been suffering with the lack of a universial standard for input since. Every scanner company invents their on way of doing it, and it never works with anyone else's.

    USB is shaping up a little better, but only time will tell if scanner makers release the specs like they feel safe doing for scsi scanners.

    Write the scanner manufactures, and don't buy the parrel port hacks. SCSI is better anyway.

  • Well it could work, but there is a problem. You see IDE has a standard that devices follow, at least a little bit. There is no such thing for parrell scanners. In fact there is no standard for even decting what device(s) is hanging off the parrell port.

    What for one scanner might mean start scanning on the next might mean slam the carrage against the end hard enough to physically break the scanner. And if you send that same command to a zip drive by mistake you do a low level format. I have of course made the above up entirely, but you get the idea.

    Your also assuming we know how to talk to the parrell port scanners, but only one manufacture has told SANE how to do things. What your proposing is like asking an archioligst to translate linear-A to english. They don't know enough linear-A to do it, much as they want to they can't.

  • Am I being naive, or is a scanner driver one of the easier device drivers to write? It seems like the protocol is fairly simple: computer tells scanner parameters, scanner sends back binary picture data. Of course the formats of the messages are the hard part, but it seems doable. I'm thinking of giving it a try.

    One thing I've noticed in Win95 with my scanner is that it basically locks up the computer while scanning. Maybe Linux isn't real time enough to handle these things.
  • It seems to lock up because most of Windows 95's GDI code is still 16 bit, so when the 32-bit subsystem's sucking CPU time like nuts, the 16-bit process gets no CPU time. (Yes I know, I even scare myself sometimes.)

    Also, scanner drivers aren't that easy to write if you have no documentation for the scanner's control language (or even how to speak to its interface).

  • My parallel-port QuickCam also turns Win95 into a slug.

    I swear I will never again buy another parallel port device, EVER. From now on, it's either SCSI or USB. Does anyone know the status of USB on linux?
  • Parallel Port Devices are not well suited for multitasking, multiuser systems. Pushing data through the parallel port is slow, and wastes tons of CPU time. Being able to do other things while you scan may not seem important at first, but keep in mind that a high resolution 8.5x11 scan at 1200x1200x32bpp represents over 100mb of data and on a parallel port scanner can take upwards of 2 minutes to complete! A decent SCSI interface can move 10-40mb/sec. Even the best parallel port interfaces won't move more than 2-3mb/sec.

    With scanners, like all things, you get what you pay for. Shell out the extra $30-$50 to get the SCSI scanner and you'll find it performs much better. Scans complete faster, and your computer stays completely responsive while they're in progress.

    If you still want to use a parallel port scanner, a small number of them are supported by SANE. Check the list before you buy.

  • Does it support serial port scanners?
  • ...I'll complete the driver I'm working on for my Mustek 600 III EP Plus. If only I could code all day without this "school" thing putting this "homework" stuff in the way...
  • Parallel port scanners are difficult to support because the protocols are specific to each model, and often companies don't release the info so someone can write a driver. This is similar to video cards, where companies are also reluctant to release programming info; most of the video card manufacturers such as Diamond and Matrox are cluing in, and maybe scanner manufacturers will figure it out, too.

    SCSI scanners, on the other hand, are much easier to support, because there's a generic spec for scanning over SCSI. I've also noticed USB scanners appearing in stores; judging by the USB device class documents [], USB scanners will be closer to SCSI than parallel-port. While there's no document on that page which mentions scanners, USB does seem to work by having different devices supporting the same interface. So maybe, once USB replaces the parallel port at the low end, we won't have to worry about getting stuck with a scanner that doesn't work.

  • I don't think Umax's sales/ support/ technical people are very smart...

    As far as I can tell from talking to them, when people say "what is the protocol you use for talking to your PP scanners?" they think they are saying "please write a linux scanner driver." and reply that they don't support Linux. We're not asking them to, we just want information...

    They also seem to think that if they released the information that would allow Linux users to use their scanners, it would damage their sales. Go figure...

    Try contacting a manager and point out that if the information was released, more (linux using) people would be happy to buy their scanners- managers *love* getting extra sales...
  • I recently asked mustek for some specs on one of their parallel scanners so I could write a driver for mine. They told me they wouldn't give info to anyone.
  • The old version of SANE I'm using with my parallel
    port Epson GT-5000 does work, but is not officially
    supported. Relying on this is, of course, a bad
  • Yes,

    I am using a zip parallel port drive. It works with the standard Debian kernel which.

  • Off topic, but if you would like some help with documentation or something like that, email me at the address above. I have the same model, and it's one of the few things that keeps a Win 95 partition on my HDD!
  • I understand that Sharing a Scanner with a Windows (TWAIN) System is nigh-on Impossible. Using a Scanner on the "Alternative" OSs like Linux, Other Unixes and OS/2 uses the SANE interface in most cases.
    TWAIN (Technology without an Interesting Name) doesn't support Network Interfaces for Scanners.
    SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy) supports Network Scanners.

    The other Option would to use a USB Scanner.

    A Win98 box and an IMac can share a USB scanner nicely.

    I maybe wrong, however.
  • UMAX and other manufactures have dropped prices on their SCSI models right down to the level of the Parallel Port scanners. Plus, USB scanners are available too - often for the same price as parallel port scanners.

    IMO, stay away from the parallel port scanners. You can pick up a UMAX Astra 610S for around $100 and Linux drivers are available for it already.

  • ... and also supported, I believe.

    -- Elflord
  • This might not help you at ALL, and certainly doesn't answer your question, but...

    If you have a fax modem AND an external fax machine, I believe the mgetty+sendfax manual describes how to set up an external fax machine as a scanner.

    You say that the quality is not so important, so if you already have that equipment, that might do it for you. Of course, if you already have a faxmodem, I dunno why you'd buy an external fax machine, but you might already have one...

  • Over the years, I've seen Parallel ethernet adapters, joysticks, modems, vidcap devices, cameras, scanners, SCSI adapters, drives, and even sound cards.

    What do all of these devices have in common? A bitchy setup and endless driver and BIOS incompatiblities. If you've been through this and keep buying this crap you might as well write IDIOT on your head with a permenant marker. Then go to the flea market and buy and old Adaptec ISA SCSI board for $5. Trust me, it's alot better.

  • I have a Scanport 36bit scanner running on a parallel port. The scanner can go between SCSI and parallel and I have tried it on both systems. The driver CD says it has "Unix" drivers, I installed and they didn't even come close to working. I contacted Scanport and they said that they "no longer support Unix systems" ... wow, maybe I should try using some SCSI drivers on that thing.
  • I'd have to agree with the speed factor. I use
    a UMAX Astra 1220P parallel port scanner, and to
    scan a single photo (normal size) can take up to
    and over 2-3 minutes on bad days... I'd take a
    serial over this anyday.

  • Just a thought: some of us happen to be really ghetto, running Linux on a 486/100 and feel blessed to have a scanner at all. Telling us to get a new scanner isn't really that helpful. What's more in the spirit of Linux that getting anything to work.
  • I have a HP1100A Laser Printer / Copier / Scanner which uses the parallel port under ECP operations. I have noticed that a> ECP is not presently supported under Linux (EPP is under source code /linux/drivers/scsi/ppa.[hc]) which is the basis for the Zip drivers etc; b> SANE indicate that parallel porting is not supported; So I am trying to see (don't hold your breath) if I can get my HP scanner working by reverse engineering the Win95/HP protocol for scanning a page. I am presently considering the best means of intercepting the protocol between scanner and ECP port by possibly using some type of ECP sniffer under Linux (via an addtional ECP port on my machine). I am seeking helpful comments on how to do this, noting that I have the IEEE-1284 Extended Capabilities Port info, some basis source code from Linux drivers and THE WILL to positively add value to the Linux community ?
  • I have one of those scanners as well. If you wouldn't mind, could you email me what you have done so far? the email is
  • >... and also supported, I believe.

    There are several problems--
    1. They're not affordable enough, yet. When I bought my parallel-port one [~1 month ago], it was that for US$39.99 [w/o rebate] or the cheapest SCSI ones for about 100. When it's $39.99 v. $39.99, the incentive to go parallel-port is gone.
    2. They aren't as readily available. A great number of the scanners, esp. at the consumer stores, are parallel-port. Same in most advertising.
    3. Because they're the high-end devices, they're often more than someone needs/wants/will pay for. I wanted a replacement for an old, nonsupported handscanner, and this did essentially what it did, only in a convinent flatbed.
    4. I don't need my kernel further enlarged with a driver for an SCSI card for one device on an all-IDE system, nor the loss of another slot; ideal solutions are ones that require the least bother in many cases.

    What I don't get is why one manufacturer doesn't capitalize on the linux market, singlehandedly claiming 90% of the cheap-scanners-for-Linux market and differentiating its product from all the other cheap scanners, by throwing together a driver and slapping a penguin on the box. Even a binary-only driver might be stomachable if it would get support.
  • If it doesn't, try running a WinScan program under WINE and see if it works. Technically, parallet port scanners and printers should work the same, but you'd need the drivers for Linux to get the scanner to work, and thats where the difficulty lies. Most of these drivers are built for 95/98 (and that SUX). I can't even use my scanner with NT.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham