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foomatic-rip and Foomatic Explained

Nowadays, most Linux distributions rely on the utilities from the Linuxprinting.org to create their printing-related software (which, by the way, works on all UNIXes and on Mac OS X and Darwin, too). The utilities from this sire have a very end-user-friendly interface that allows for an easy update of drivers and PPDs for all supported models, all spoolers, all operating systems, and all package formats (because there is none). Its history goes back a few years.

Recently, Foomatic has achieved the astonishing milestone of 1,000 listed printer models. Linuxprinting.org keeps all the important facts about printer drivers, supported models, and which options are available for the various driver/printer combinations in its Foomatic database. Currently there are 245 drivers in the database. Many drivers support various models, and many models may be driven by different drivers its your choice!

690 “Perfect” Printers

At present, there are 690 devices dubbed as working perfectly: 181 are mostly perfect, 96 are partially perfect, and 46 are paperweights. Keeping in mind that most of these are non-PostScript models (PostScript printers are automatically supported by CUPS to perfection by using their own manufacturer-provided Windows PPD), and that a multifunctional device never qualifies as working perfectly if it does not also scan and copy and fax under GNU/Linux then this is a truly astonishing achievement! Three years ago the number was not more than 500, and Linux or UNIX printing at the time wasn't anywhere near the quality it is today.

How the Printing HOWTO Started It All

A few years ago Grant Taylor started it all. The roots of today's Linuxprinting.org are in the first Linux Printing HOWTO that he authored. As a side-project to this document, which served many Linux users and admins to guide their first steps in this complicated and delicate setup (to a scientist, printing is “applying a structured deposition of distinct patterns of ink or toner particles on paper substrates”), he started to build in a little Postgres database with information about the hardware and driver zoo that made up Linux printing of the time. This database became the core component of today's Foomatic collection of tools and data. In the meantime, it has moved to an XML representation of the data.

Foomatic's Strange Name

Why the funny name?” you ask. When it really took off, around spring 2000, CUPS was far less popular than today, and most systems used LPD, LPRng, or even PDQ to print. CUPS shipped with a few generic drivers (good for a few hundred different printer models). These didn't support many device-specific options. CUPS also shipped with its own built-in rasterization filter ( pstoraster , derived from Ghostscript). On the other hand, CUPS provided brilliant support for controlling all printer options through standardized and well-defined PPD files. Plus, CUPS was designed to be easily extensible.

Taylor already had in his database a respectable compilation of facts about many more printers and the Ghostscript “drivers” they run with. His idea, to generate PPDs from the database information and use them to make standard Ghostscript filters work within CUPS, proved to work very well. It also killed several birds with one stone:

  • It made all current and future Ghostscript filter developments available for CUPS.

  • It made available a lot of additional printer models to CUPS users (because often the traditional Ghostscript way of printing was the only one available).

  • It gave all the advanced CUPS options (Web interface, GUI driver configurations) to users wanting (or needing) to use Ghostscript filters.

cupsomatic, pdqomatic, lpdomatic, directomatic

CUPS worked through a quickly hacked-up filter script named cupsomatic. cupsomatic ran the printfile through Ghostscript, constructing automatically the rather complicated command line needed. It just needed to be copied into the CUPS system to make it work. To configure the way cupsomatic controls the Ghostscript rendering process, it needs a CUPS-PPD. This PPD is generated directly from the contents of the database. For CUPS and the respective printer/filter combo, another Perl script named CUPS-O-Matic did the PPD generation. After that was working, Taylor implemented within a few days a similar thing for two other spoolers. Names chosen for the config-generator scripts were PDQ-O-Matic (for PDQ) and LPD-O-Matic (for you guessed it LPD); the configuration here didn't use PPDs but other spooler-specific files.

From late summer of that year, Till Kamppeter started to put work into the database. Kamppeter had been newly employed by Mandrakesoft to convert its printing system over to CUPS, after they had seen his FLTK-based XPP (a GUI front-end to the CUPS lp-command). He added a huge amount of new information and new printers. He also developed the support for other spoolers, like PPR (via ppromatic), GNUlpr, and LPRng (both via an extended lpdomatic) and spooler-less printing ( directomatic).

So, to answer your question, “Foomatic” is the general name for all the overlapping code and data behind the “*omatic” scripts. Foomatic, up to versions 2.0.x, required (ugly) Perl data structures attached to Linuxprinting.org PPDs for CUPS. It had a different “*omatic” script for every spooler, as well as different printer configuration files.

The Grand Unification Achieved

This has all changed in Foomatic versions 2.9 (beta) and released as “stable” 3.0. It has now achieved the convergence of all *omatic scripts and is called the foomatic-rip. This single script is the unification of the previously different spooler-specific *omatic scripts. foomatic-rip is used by all the different spoolers alike, and because it can read PPDs (both the original PostScript printer PPDs and the Linuxprinting.org-generated ones), all of a sudden all supported spoolers can have the power of PPDs at their disposal. Users only need to plug foomatic-rip into their system. For users there is improved media type and source support paper sizes and trays are easier to configure.

Also, the new generation of Linuxprinting.org PPDs no longer contains Perl data structures. If you are a distro maintainer and have used the previous version of Foomatic, you may want to give the new one a spin, but remember to generate a new-version set of PPDs via the new foomatic-db-engine!. Individual users just need to generate a single new PPD specific to their model by following the steps outlined in the Foomatic tutorial or in this chapter. This new development is truly amazing.

foomatic-rip is a very clever wrapper around the need to run Ghostscript with a different syntax, options, device selections, and/or filters for each different printer or spooler. At the same time, it can read the PPD associated with a print queue and modify the print job according to the user selections. Together with this comes the 100% compliance of the new Foomatic PPDs with the Adobe spec. Some innovative features of the Foomatic concept may surprise users. It will support custom paper sizes for many printers and will support printing on media drawn from different paper trays within the same job (in both cases, even where there is no support for this from Windows-based vendor printer drivers).

Driver Development Outside

Most driver development itself does not happen within Linuxprinting.org. Drivers are written by independent maintainers. Linuxprinting.org just pools all the information and stores it in its database. In addition, it also provides the Foomatic glue to integrate the many drivers into any modern (or legacy) printing system known to the world.

Speaking of the different driver development groups, most of the work is currently done in three projects:

  • Omni a free software project by IBM that tries to convert its printer driver knowledge from good-ol' OS/2 times into a modern, modular, universal driver architecture for Linux/UNIX (still beta). This currently supports 437 models.

  • HPIJS a free software project by HP to provide the support for its own range of models (very mature, printing in most cases is perfect and provides true photo quality). This currently supports 369 models.

  • Gimp-Print a free software effort, started by Michael Sweet (also lead developer for CUPS), now directed by Robert Krawitz, which has achieved an amazing level of photo print quality (many Epson users swear that its quality is better than the vendor drivers provided by Epson for the Microsoft platforms). This currently supports 522 models.

Forums, Downloads, Tutorials, Howtos (Also for Mac OS X and Commercial UNIX)

Linuxprinting.org today is the one-stop shop to download printer drivers. Look for printer information and tutorials or solve printing problems in its popular forums. This forum is not just for GNU/Linux users, but admins of commercial UNIX systems are also going there, and the relatively new Mac OS X forum has turned out to be one of the most frequented forums after only a few weeks.

Linuxprinting.org and the Foomatic driver wrappers around Ghostscript are now a standard tool-chain for printing on all the important distros. Most of them also have CUPS underneath. While in recent years most printer data had been added by Kamppeter, many additional contributions came from engineers with SuSE, Red Hat, Conectiva, Debian, and others. Vendor-neutrality is an important goal of the Foomatic project. Mandrake and Conectiva have merged and are now called Mandriva.

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