The Sad State of Sucky Scanning Software on Mac OS X

Wednesday, 2006-02-08; 03:31:00

[UPDATE: Here's some news about good developments with regards to scanning software on Mac OS X.]

I previously ranted on the HP psc 1210 all-in-one multifunction "printer". It doesn't support printing through the USB on AirPort base stations. It doesn't support TWAIN scanning via Image Capture. And it includes really crappy scanning software. In short, I wanted to take a baseball bat to the damn thing.

sim smashing a scanner

Well, I wanted to do some scanning here at home of some drawings I made, and the only scanner in my house is that fucking HP psc 120 printer. So I reluctantly connected it to my computer and went in search of some software that would support it without having to install HP's own software. (I won't touch that software with a 10 foot pole, because of the aforementioned crappy software that installs a non-traditional login item that forces you to setup the printer the first time you install the software, and that briefly launches every time you log in.)

Please note that the following may likely be a continuation of the previously-linked rant, complete with lots of swear words and capital letters. You've been warned.

VueScan: Software that should be Shot

The first application that I naturally turned to was VueScan. I seriously thought this was going to be the end of the line for me in my brief search. I was wrong. Oh how so incredibly wrong I was.

Let me first note, before I get into the absolute STEAMING PILE that is VueScan, the reviews it gets on MacUpdate and VersionTracker. Yes, you, right now, go and take a look. MacUpdate: out of 433 reviews, it gets an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Not too shabby. VersionTracker: out of an astounding 2520 pieces of feedback, the average rating is 4 out of 5. The current version number of VueScan is 8.3.27. Given it's reviews and the fact that it's at version 8, one would think that the application is reasonably well matured and would work well. All I have to say is... you LOSE! Good DAY, sir!

OK, so I downloaded VueScan. It came in a disk image, and on it was a single folder inside which was a single application package. Despite the slight weirdness of the extra folder, the fact that VueScan was a simple drag-and-drop install boded well for the application. But when I launched it, I was greeted with this horror of a window:

VueScan main window

Actually, that's a lie. I was first presented with a similarly horrid looking window that notified me that VueScan was unregistered and that I should consider purchasing a serial number. After dismissing that, I got one of those annoying "tips" windows that purports to offer helpful things that you may not know about the application, but really only succeeds in getting in your way just like Clippy did when asking if you were writing a suicide note. That was when I got to the main VueScan window.

You may not really be able to tell that there's much wrong with the interface unless I describe it's behavior. But first off, you can immediately tell that this is a Carbon application, because the font for the buttons and the tabs is not Lucida Grande. Furthermore, the whole side of the window where it shows you the preview or the scan is just superfluous at this point, because I haven't done anything. And then there's the random buttons that are images, whereas all the other buttons are regular buttons.

But here's where everything gets weird. At this point, let's say you wanted to adjust something before scanning. You'd initially think to choose one of the tabs at the top. Bzzzt, WRONG. No, if you try to do that, VueScan puts you back at the "Input" tab. You scratch your head. You open the Task popup menu, see nothing relevant, so you decide to choose the "Next >" button. This just takes you through a 5-step Windows-like wizard that guides you through the scanning process. OK, that's fine, but I want to CHANGE SOME DAMN OPTIONS. So I try clicking on the "Prefs" tab. Nope, you're still plopped back to the "Input" tab. OK, so I choose "Preferences..." from the VueScan menu. For some dumb-ass reason, this puts you into the "Prefs" tab WITHOUT forcing you back to the "Input" tab. So... why couldn't the prefs be implemented in a separate window like almost any other well-designed Mac OS X application?

Briefly before this point, I also noticed that when I went to the VueScan menu, the "Quit VueScan" menu item was grayed out. WTF? I can't even quit this program? Seriously. W. T. F. Command-Q didn't even work.

OK so whatever. Fuck the quit menu item. I just want to scan something. I decide to use the damn wizard. So you go through five steps corresponding to the first five tabs that you see there in the main VueScan menu. Don't get me started on why using tabs for a wizard is completely wrong, especially when you have a 6th tab that you can't actually access by clicking on it. Also, note that most of the five tabs in the wizard waste half of the window space just as you see in the screenshot. The entire wizard could probably fit in that left half of the window. Each tab has two steps numbered 1 and 2 (which is also completely wrong since you would think that later tabs would have steps with higher numbers since you've already gone through a few steps, but no... you have ten steps, five of which are labeled 1 and five of which are labeled 2). The five steps labeled 2 are completely superfluous anyway, because if you combined all five tabs of the wizard into one pane, you wouldn't need to press "Next >" five times! And oh my FUCKING GOD do you really need a greater than sign to indicate that you're going onto the next step, WHEN IT FUCKING SAYS "NEXT" RIGHT ON THE BUTTON?

A plus is that VueScan immediately recognizes my psc 1210 all-in-one and initiates a preview scan. All looks well during the preview scan -- I'm scanning a line drawing (and I chose "Line Art" in a popup menu in the wizard that asks what type of thing you are scanning), and the preview window updates to show my gray drawing as it gets scanned. But nooooo... that's just a FUCKING OPTICAL ILLUSION. Yes, AN ILLUSION. VUESCAN WILL NOT LET YOU SCAN YOUR DOCUMENT SO EASILY! No, as soon as it finishes the preview scan, the preview image turns to color and shows red and yellows and blacks at the edge of the drawing. NO I DO NOT WANT MY FUCKING GRAY DRAWING TO SPONTANEOUSLY TURN IN TO RANDOM COLORS THANK YOU.

Back to square one in the wizard. This time I choose "Color Photo". I go through the preview process, and again, the preview initially scans as a nice gray just like it's supposed to, and then changes to the reds and yellows. W. T. F. Back to the start of the wizard. This time I choose "B&W Photo", and the scanning seems to work as expected, and the preview image doesn't spontaneously turn to colors. But the save panel comes up and only allows saving as a jpg, even though the app is supposed to allow saving as a PDF as well. So I cancel the save and go back to square one, choosing to output to PDF instead.

This time, when I go to scan, VueScan simply scans a portion of the image that's about 42x24 pixels in width and height. Scan. The. Whole. Damn. IMAGE! Try again from the Input tab, selecting a different type of scan. Same effect -- just a small rectangle of scanning area. Weird. Quit and restart VueScan a few times (which involves force quitting the application, because, if you recall, the FUCKING quit menu item was grayed out -- and this means that every time the stupid tips window comes up again and I have to dismiss it each time, even though each time I also unchecked the box that tells VueScan to open the tips window up at startup). Still no dice.

At this point I'm getting frustrated and swearing at a supposedly 4 out of 5 star program. I go into my troubleshooting mode which tells me to delete any pref files that VueScan might have created. Then I try to launch VueScan again. No dice. Still the same rectangular strip.

sim bashing the VueScan software icon

So I'm talking to my friend over IM, and he suggests reinstalling the application. But since the installation simply consisted of a dragging-and-dropping of the application package, why would that do anything? That shouldn't change a damn thing, and for all well-designed Mac OS X applications, that's the case. But not VueScan. No, not this fucking piece of crap that calls itself "software".

No, I decide to re-copy the app package on a whim, and what do you know, VueScan starts right up and seems to scan the whole document again. The Quit menu item even seems to be working this time! (Later it goes gray again, after accessing the preferences.) I finally get all the settings correct and save the scanned file. Phew.

I open my scan file in Preview to take a look at it quickly, and what do you fucking know, VueScan has watermarked my image with 20 images of a small gray dollar sign all over my image. I'm scanning a drawing that I want to post on the web or show to my friend.. HELL IF I'M GOING TO DO IT WITH DOLLAR SIGNS ALL OVER IT. Grr. Roar. I'm ready to bash something in because of this, yes I WILL SAY IT AGAIN, a supposedly four-out-of-five star program. The only reason that this piece of UTTER JUNK deserves ANY praise WHATSOEVER is that it had no trouble talking to the scanner -- it just had trouble doing anything else.

Scratch that. VueScan sucks. Not using that piece of damn crap. (Incidentally, VueScan also seems to like to start hanging sometimes when you scan something and then immediately try to preview something else. And when it does that, it really doesn't like to be force quit. The Dock doesn't help, and even my own MUG fails to force it to be killed. I've encountered a few apps that refuse to be killed even with a "kill -9" command, but VueScan seems to be the most notorious of any that I've seen. Noo, it wants to wait a minute or so before it goes away in your Dock, because it likes to mock you for using such a crappy piece of software by refusing to quit.)

(Other things that I've noticed about VueScan: it uses popup menus in a horrible horrible way to reveal more advanced options. When you click the "Advanced" button in the main menu, the tabs actually seem to show many of the settings for scanning rather than being just little pawns for the wizard. However, there are usually only a handful of settings unless you click the bottom popup in each tab and set it to "advanced". This reveals previously unknown and hidden preferences in that tab, which should instead be simply grayed out instead of hidden. Actually, the window should be designed with disclosure triangles or even better, just two sections that divides the prefs into a basic section and an advanced section. Furthermore, the prefs are arranged in a single column, when the space could be used much more effectively by grouping similar settings together and on the same line.

Finally, VueScan just isn't launching for me anymore, so I can't say that all of the above statements are definitively true with 100% accuracy. All it does now is launch and hang, and uses up 140 MB of memory even though it hasn't even displayed a window! Oh, and yes, it still keeps refusing to be force killed. ROAR!)

Other Solutions?

So what's another scanning software solution besides crappy VueScan? Besides the standard scanning software that comes with the psc 1210 series that rivals VueScan in utter crappiness, another solution I found was SilverFast. The unpleasant website and the fact that it also ran on Windows didn't inspire any confidence, however. Indeed, I even had to tell the website what specific scanner I was using (which, of course, didn't include the psc 1210 series) before downloading. It seems that the download is tied to your specific scanner hardware, instead of providing a one-size-fits-all download like VueScan (which is another of its few virtues). And, as expected, when I launched the bizarre SilverFast Launcher, it didn't detect any scanners. The installer also strangely asked for my administrator password and I initially cancelled and was about to throw it away. However, I wasn't having any luck on any other front and I installed it anyway. I don't know if it installed anything anywhere else other than the Applications folder, but I didn't really trust it since the download had a weird, cryptic name. There's probably some cruft on my system somewhere now.

I also reluctantly downloaded HP's ImageZone software that looked vaguely promising, but turned out not to be. Ironically, the interface on this piece of HP software actually seemed to be decent, even though I didn't really see any purpose to the application. It seemed to look for images in your Pictures folder and then display them in an iPhoto-like fashion, but it didn't seem to have anything to do with scanners.

How About Open Source?

So then I turned to Eoban of AppleXnet to see if he knew anything. He's pretty open-source savvy and uses Linux a lot, so I figured he might know some piece of open-source software I didn't know about. Sure enough, he pointed me to the SANE project, which endeavors to offer lots of scanner drivers that can be accessed through the standard TWAIN software. Well, he actually pointed me to a page that a guy put up specifically about using SANE with Mac OS X, and it provided five regular installer packages and I'd be up and running.

So I installed them (bottom to top, since the top ones seem to require ones lower down in the graph). Then I launched Image Capture, which should work with SANE, and nothing came up. Logged into another user, got a brief bit of hope when Image Capture came up with a scanning window that said "SANE is in use by another application", but when I quit Image Capture from my main user and switched back to the other user, Image Capture again said that there was no attached device that was supported. I even restarted to try and shore up the software, and it still didn't work. *sigh*

The FAQ page noted some Terminal commands that I could use to troubleshoot the problem, and it seemed that my scanner just wasn't being recognized. Indeed, when I went to the SANE project's contributing page, they recommended the "sane-find-scanner -v -v" command, which outputs a bunch of text about all your devices. Sure enough, buried in the hundreds of lines of output text was my scanner, the vendor ID and the product ID, and a bunch of lines that tried to identify the chipset and failed... which basically means that the scanner isn't supported via SANE. Damn.

At this point, I reverted back to some last-gasp Google searching, and ended up finding an open-source project called hpoj, apparently funded by HP, that provides scanner drivers for Linux. This seemed to be my lucky search result, so I downloaded the source and tried to install it. The "autoreconf -i" and "./configure" commands worked as expected, but when I got to the "make" command, what I feared most happened: it didn't make. Here are the errors on Mac OS X 10.4.4 Tiger:

powerpc-apple-darwin8-gcc-4.0.1: unrecognized option '-shared'
/usr/bin/ld: unknown flag: -soname
collect2: ld returned 1 exit status
make[1]: *** [] Error 1
make: *** [just_compile] Error 2

If anybody can help me get around these errors to compile the latest version of hpoj, that'd be great.

I also noticed that there is a binary package specifically for FreeBSD, upon which Mac OS X is based, and that seemed like it might provide some success as well. Unfortunately, that also led me on a wild goose chase. It seems you need a FreeBSD package manager that includes the command "pkg_add" in order to install the FreeBSD binary (which, from the hpoj project page says didn't support USB devices, but apparently now does as of December 2003 with version 0.91), and this package manager isn't included with Mac OS X by default. A bit more hunting around produced this page, but it still doesn't help in figuring out how to download and install this package manager, and even then I'm not sure everything would go smoothly.

And so ends the quest I had for good scanner software. Apparently it still doesn't exist on Mac OS X.

frustrated sim


What really surprises me is that so many people like VueScan. VueScan sucks by ANY stretch of the imagination! I don't understand how out of almost 3000 reviews, it gets over a 4 star rating. This application deserves 2 stars at the most. It's unstable, it has a horrible interface, and it's just plain annoying! It also doesn't let you get pristine images using the unregistered version -- come ON, would it kill you to take a page from Snapz Pro X's book and give me a few days leeway before planting all those dollar signs over my image? Seriously. W. T. F.

I suppose that in the absence of any other software that works with non-TWAIN scanners, VueScan still is the best scanning solution for Mac OS X. And that's terrifying, given the quality of that piece of shit.

To end on a positive/hopeful note, if anyone would be willing to help me with figuring out how to get the official hpoj source to compile, or how to get pkg_add installed so I can try out the FreeBSD port of hpoj, I'd be eternally grateful. I would also post any solutions/attempts as followups here, too, with appropriate credit.

And as for those drawings that I was trying to scan? I ended up just using my digital camera. At least that works directly in iPhoto.

... whew. That was incredibly cathartic. (With credit to a friend for the amusing illustrations. He should be commissioned to do such illustrations for all of my entries, or at least all of my rants.)

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