February 3, 2004

Printing remains free at USITE computer labs

"Printing is still free! Temporary pay-for-print amnesty. Charging will begin soon @ $.06 per page," reads the whiteboard in front of the USITE lab in Crerar. The lab and the Harper cluster are the last bastions of free PDF printing at the University. With a glitch still blocking the pay-for-print software—supposed to be implemented at the beginning of the calendar year—student reaction to the unexpected free printing has changed from a frenzied anxiety to print anything and everything to a disquieted anticipation.

USITE's policy change from free printing to charging $.06 per page, slated to begin winter quarter, has been plagued by various system bugs. Counting pages incorrectly remains the major problem, overcharging patrons who try to fit more than one page of a document on a sheet. This process, known as 2-up and 4-up—for fitting two and four pages per sheet, respectively—charges patrons for each page they compress onto the sheet, as opposed to $.06 for the one page actually printed.

The bug appears to be limited to Adobe documents, and is further complicated by differing behaviors of Macs and PCs. With the new pay policy, students are expected to minimize expenses by reducing the amount of paper needed to print out their documents. The delay in charging per page reflects USITE's refusal to implement a system that may overcharge students.

During shifts at USITE, employees administer two or three checks to see if the glitch has been corrected. "Every now and then, I fit two pages on one sheet and the system calculates it correctly," stated one employee, who wished to remain anonymous. "But then it will screw up again, so we know the problem isn't fixed. It seems completely arbitrary."

USITE employees are responsible for running check-ups and forwarding results to the tech support from GoPrint, the company installing the new system. It is unclear if GoPrint will reimburse USITE for the cost of printing since the beginning of the quarter while bugs have postponed putting the system into practice.

Emily Baker, Director of Learning Environments for NSIT Academic Technologies, suggested that GoPrint would compensate for installation difficulties by offering USITE additional features not included in the original contract.

"This is GoPrint's first attempt at installing a Linux-based system, and they have been very responsive to our feedback," Baker said. "Our relationship is akin to a creative partnership. We are helping them to develop their own technologies."

Students still fill the labs, but printing has declined dramatically from the first two weeks of the quarter, when USITE saw an average of 230,000 sheets printed per day.

"It was definitely nice to be able to print for free," said first-year in the College Jane Shiu. "I still print things occasionally, but basically I printed everything I needed first week."

While many students continue to take advantage of the free printing, others are not waiting for USITE to begin charging before changing printing habits. "After some reflection, I've decided that we should pay for printing," said third-year in the College David Miller.

"The articles students print for courses often serve the purpose of a textbook or a course packet, neither of which are free. Students are spoiled by free printing and print out a lot of unnecessary stuff. Someone has to pay for this excess, which means someone is getting screwed."

Amid the confusion and system flaws, some are optimistic about the new system. Leigha Dillman, a USITE employee, spoke of the advantages that the new system will offer students. "Not only is the new system similar to the old one and easy to use, but it also allows a higher limit on how many pages you can print at once," said Dillman, adding that there will be a new web page that will show students how much they've printed and spent.

Baker admitted to being disappointed about the delay but not entirely surprised, saying she believed the new system would be implemented soon. While reluctant to give a specific timetable, Baker said that she and her staff would do their best to give ample notification of the change.