Geek Note: This week’s issue is for all of you in the “I hate Windows 10” camp. I recently fielded a question from a longtime reader who wrote in to ask for help when her printer stopped working. The original question was:

I have been trying for weeks to print a document from Open Office. I get a message containing this:

“Communication Not Available

"Try these solutions:

"Ensure the printer is powered on

"Disconnect and reconnect the printer's power cable

"Disconnect and reconnect the USB cable

"Check your firewall settings to ensure printer communication is not blocked

"Restart computer.”

I have done all these steps except check firewall settings, which got too complicated for me to figure out. Scan and test print works.

— Nancy C., Fort Walton Beach

The problem looked a little suspicious to me, since the error “Communication Not Available” seemed to indicate that the computer was failing to talk to the device, yet Nancy said she could perform test prints, and even scan, both of which naturally require communication with the device.

I also noted some other information wasn’t provided that would be useful in analyzing the problem, such as whether the printer was networked or connected directly to the PC, and if networked, was it connected via CAT5 or Wi-Fi? I also had some questions about whether she could print from other programs, since she only mentioned OpenOffice. Finally, I thought it was relevant if there were any other printers in the house that OpenOffice could successfully print to.

So, I put all my questions together into an email reply to Nancy, and also did a little independent research into the error “Communication Not Available” to try and determine common situations that generate that error. Regarding the latter, most of what I found tended to indicate the PC couldn’t talk to the printer, which didn’t make much sense given the other extenuating circumstances.

Nancy wrote back to tell me she had taken her computer to a local shop and got the problem corrected “fairly cheaply,” so she was happy again. Still, I thought it would be beneficial to know more about how it was fixed, so I wrote to her again, and she was kind enough to write back, and said:

“First, my DellV305 printer is directly connected to my Dell Inspiron 17. I have had the same printer for at least a dozen years. The tech told me that my printer was not combatable with Windows 10, which he had upgraded my computer to back in January. He has put me back to Windows 8. It's working.”

First, let me say I’m in love with Nancy’s charming malapropism, “not combatable with Windows 10.” I’m going to tuck that one away for future use. Beyond that, I felt like, and said to Nancy, that this was a pretty crummy fix for her problem. It seems like Dell created a good, solid printer that has provided an exceptionally long service life to a very happy customer. If her tech is correct and Dell has failed to provide a device driver for it that is Windows 10-compatable, that forces Nancy to either stay on Windows 8 or purchase a new printer. Neither one of these are acceptable options in this Geek’s opinion.

As I said to Nancy, she won’t be able to stay on Win8 forever. Eventually, she’ll want to purchase a new computer and she’ll be right back in the same boat. My bottom line is that these hardware vendors should have enough pride in their products and their brand name to support the products that their customers have paid good money to purchase rather than driving a schedule of planned obsolescence that forces people to scrap perfectly good hardware periodically.

A good portion of the blame lies with Microsoft, too. Why must the operating system interfaces change so radically from version to version that drivers specifically written for one Windows no longer function with another?

What I see that comes out of practices like this is that consumers eventually get sick and tired of it, and do the only thing they feel they can, and that’s switch platforms. Whether they jump ship to Mac, or Linux, or something else, the point is that they are no longer a Microsoft customer. I don’t think that’s what the big-picture product obsolescence cycle is intended to do. Perhaps Microsoft just has so many billions of customers that they don’t notice, or care. If that’s the case, the only thing left to say is “Thanks, Bill.”

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