CUPS is the standard print system in SUSE LINUX. CUPS is highly user-oriented. In many cases, it is compatible with LPRng or can be adapted with relatively little effort. LPRng is only included in SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server for reasons of compatibility (see Section 13.1. “Updating, Upgrading, and Migrating the Print System”).
Printers can be distinguished in terms of the interfaces (USB, network) and the printer languages. When buying a printer, make sure the printer has an interface that is supported by the hardware and a suitable printer language.
Printers can be roughly categorized based on language into the following three classes:
PostScript is the printer language in which most print jobs in Linux and Unix are generated and processed by the internal print system. This language is already quite old and very efficient. If PostScript documents can be processed directly by the printer and do not need to be converted in additional stages in the print system, the number of potential error sources is reduced. As PostScript printers are subject to substantial license costs, these printers usually cost more than printers without a PostScript interpreter.
Although these printer languages are quite old, they are still undergoing expansion to address new features in printers. In the case of known printer languages, the print system can convert PostScript jobs to the respective printer language with the help of Ghostscript. This processing stage is referred to as interpreting. The best-known languages are PCL, which is mostly used by HP printers and their clones, and ESC/P, which is used by Epson printers. These printer languages are usually supported by Linux and produce a decent print result. Linux may not be able to address some functions of extremely new and fancy printers, as the Open Source developers may still be working on these features. Except for the hpijs drivers developed by HP, there are currently (2004) no printer manufacturers who develop Linux drivers and make them available to Linux distributors under an Open Source license. Most of these printers are in the medium price range.
Usually only one or several Windows drivers are available for proprietary printers. These printers do not support any of the common printer languages and the printer languages they use are subject to change when a new edition of a model is released.
Meanwhile, the Open Source community has abandoned the policy of supporting such printers via reverse engineering, as the success is very short-lived compared to the effort required. Inexpensive Lexmark printers, which are now also offered under the Dell brand, are a typical example for this kind of printers. These printers are frequently included as give-aways in PC bundles. A set of new cartridges often costs more than the printer itself.
Most of these printers are in the low price range. They are usually not suitable for Linux.
Before you buy a new printer, refer to the following sources to check how well the printer you intend to buy is supported:
http://www.linuxprinting.org/ — the printer database on linuxprinting.org
http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~ghost/ — the Ghostscript web page
file:/usr/share/doc/packages/ghostscript/catalog.devices — included drivers
The online databases always show the latest Linux support status. However, a Linux distribution can only integrate the drivers available at the production time. Accordingly, a printer currently rated as “perfectly supported” may not have had this status when the latest SUSE LINUX version was released. Thus, the databases may not necessarily indicate the correct status, but only provide an approximation.