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The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF Colour Laser MFD with Linux

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Greetings Linux boffin. If you are reading this Web page you’ve probably been searching for a colour laser multi-function device that works with the Linux operating system.

Well search no more. I’m pleased to report the Epson AcuLaser CX11NF – a combined laser printer, scanner, copier and fax machine – works like a charm. What’s more the drivers are all open source – how about that!

By way of a backgrounder, I’ve been using Epson kit under Linux for several years now (read this post) and have been very satisfied. In my experience the hardware is good and so is the print and scan quality. And while I’ve never had to deal with Epson’s customer service and support, a faulty part in the CX11NF prevented it from working out of the box, but the fault was reported and tended to by an Epson dealer all within seven (7) days. Well done!

About the unit itself, the CX11NF is one of the more recent additions to Epson’s line up as the vendor branches out from consumer inkjets to business colour lasers. The CX11NF received favourable reviews from both Macworld and PC World. At the very least, the CX11NF is a modern, fully-functional device that’s not yesterday’s hardware and is definitely no compromise for Linux users.

USB printing and scanning with Epson machines has been available for Linux for at least six years now and was even backported to late 2.2 series kernels if I remember correctly. But you know how it goes with these types of peripheral devices, support for Linux usually ranges from nothing to very little. So hats off to Epson, a company that seems to actually care whether its devices will work with Linux.

Printing

Okay, let’s get started. While many of the Epson printer and scanner drivers ship with the Gutenprint (formerly Gimp-Print) package, the AcuLaser CX11NF does not. Surf on over to the Avasys Download Service for Linux and grab the source file for the driver – Epson-ALCX11-filter-1.1.tar.gz for your preferred printing system, CUPS or LPR. Most people will be using CUPS by default these days.

Before you attempt to install the driver, make sure you have the CUPS development headers installed along with build-essential if you’re an Ubuntu user.

# apt-get install libcupsys2-dev

With that done you should be able to compile the driver.

# tar -zxvf Epson-ALCX11-filter-1.1.tar.gz
# cd Epson-ALCX11-filter-1.1
# ./configure
# make install

If you get an error message during the configuration process along the lines of “‘cups-config’ missing, please install CUPS or fix your system” then go back and install the CUPS development headers.

With the driver installed, you’re now ready to setup the printer with CUPS or a suitable CUPS front-end. For the purpose of this guide I will show how it’s done with KDE. If you’re a GNOME user you can just download and install KDE.

Go to the KDE Control Centre -> Peripherals -> Printers. Once there Select “Add -> Add printer/class” and the new printer wizard will begin. Select the type of connection (disclaimer: I’ve only tested this will it connected locally via USB and not over Ethernet yet) and the select the printer shown on the correct USB port. When selecting the driver choose Epson as the manufacturer and ALCX11 as the model.

Once setup, the printer will be visible in the KDE Control Centre’s printers section.

The printer should now be available to all applications when the cupsys daemon is running. File -> Print should give you the option of using it. If so desired you can then set the CX11NF as the default printer by right-clicking on its icon in printer settings section. Then ctrl-p will default to the new MFD.

If everything went well you should now be enjoying your new printer. Print a test page to confirm this happiness.

Scanning

Like printing, USB scanning under Linux can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. But for the AcuLaser CX11NF it couldn’t be easier and the drivers are part of the Ubuntu Linux distribution which means no third-party software to compile! It is supported by the SANE project.

You need the Epkowa driver which is not part of the standard sane package so install the extras.

# apt-get install libsane-extras

For some reason the package installs the drivers but does not create the config file. I’ll send a message to the maintainer about that. For now, manually create it like so.

# cp /etc/sane.d/epson.conf /etc/sane.d/epkowa.conf

Make sure its using USB by editing the file and placing (if not already there) usb on one line within the file. Sane sees the config files and uses the driver of the same name accordingly. Now install a scanner front-end so you can actually do some scanning. I recommend Kooka.

# apt-get install kooka

Select the Epkowa driver when starting Kooka as the standard Epson driver doesn’t work, and make that the default if desired.

You should then hear the scanner initialize. When Kooka starts, put something on the scanner (in this case, its the CUPS printer test page) and hit “Preview Scan”. If the image appears on the right, you’re successfully configured the CX11NF for scanning!

So there you have it. The Epson AcuLaser CX11NF colour laser MFD works with Linux using industry standard, open source drivers. Regarding the built-in fax, I’m yet to test it but you can be most certain that it will work as usual when faxing straight from the device. As for faxing from the PC, I’m yet to look into that. I’m also yet to look into the intricacies of the device itself and whether the open source drivers support 100 percent of the CX11NF’s features. So while the CX11NF “works well” with Linux, the functionality may not be on par with the proprietary drivers for Windows. Perhaps someone from Epson or Avasys could fill us in on that.

This guide is representative of the philosophy that many of the industry’s hardware and device manufactures just don’t understand when it comes to software drivers. Literally hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars are spent every year engineering proprietary device drivers that are forever playing catch-up with operating system development. It seems both Windows Vista and Linux users are sharing the device driver pain.

Contrary to what these retarded hardware manufacturers think, having open source drivers available actually facilitates uptake of the product. Who the hell is going to buy a add-on for their computer if the damn thing isn’t supported and doesn’t work at all? With open source drivers, however, they can be quickly ported by anyone to a new operating system release. Not to mention the reduction in R&D expenditure for driver development. An open source driver can be freely deployed on any computer, as well, making the notion of “this computer doesn’t support that peripheral”, nonsense.

If it’s competition they fear then that’s misguided as well. Let me get this straight, a competing vendor is going to attempt to clone a hardware device, change its manufacturing and design processes, and offer the same level of marketing and technical support because it can view the source code of a device driver? I’ll print to that…

[Disclaimer: I don’t work for Epson, don’t write about Epson, don’t have anything to do with Epson, don’t think I will ever have anything to do with Epson, I just want a bloody MFD that works with Linux]

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