Power Printing With MagicFilter

Here's a program to take the work out of printing—just like magic.
Applixware

For real, actual word processing, I don't think you can beat Applixware, especially since its price just dropped to $199US a copy. As a matter of fact, I'm typing this article on the Applixware word processor. It's only officially supported on Red Hat Linux, but it works fine on Slackware 96, too. When installing, be sure to set your DISPLAY environment variable to:

export DISPLAY=:0

On a 486 platform, commenting out Speedo and Type I fonts in the /etc/XF86Config file allows Applixware to load fast enough to prevent the X server connection from timing out. This tweak makes Netscape load much faster, too. Also on a 486, Applixware works in an X-only environment, i.e., restart /sbin/init at level 4 instead of the usual level 3. Finally, to run Applixware in general, have a whole lot of RAM.

To print a project with Applixware, push the print icon on the top menu bar and note the print dialog that follows. Just press on lp under “Printers”, set “Class” to PostScript (should already be there), make sure the “Print to File” button is not pressed and click OK. With MagicFilter installed, Applixware should literally print right out of the box. Figure 2 shows how the print dialog appears just before printing.

Figure 2. Applixware Dialog

TeX/LaTeX

Ordinarily, printing a .tex file is a three-step procedure. First, you run tex on the .tex file, then dvips on the .dvi file and then ghostscript on the .ps file. With MagicFilter, you just run TeX or LaTeX on your document file, shoot the resulting .dvi file straight to lpr and let MagicFilter handle the rest. One caveat here—if the .dvi file contains references to PostScript figures, you must run dvips manually and send the generated .ps file to lpr. Since the default for dvips is to send the output to the printer, you can simply think of it as running dvips to send the document to the printer. This is not a MagicFilter flaw, but rather it's a “miss-feature” in the way .dvi files handle embedded PostScript.

Conclusion

After using MagicFilter for a while, I thought it would make a great addition to commercial Linux packages as part of their initial installation. But on second thought, this would be easier said than done, given the many kinds of printers and file formats we have today. One of MagicFilter's strong points is the fact that it is tailored to your personal system, printer and printing needs. To try to integrate it into a distribution's installation process might turn out to be counterproductive. MagicFilter and its supporting packages are easy to build, and they're readily available. It's probably best to leave things the way they are. If you've never compiled software on your own system, MagicFilter makes a great first project and could be a big confidence builder for a new Linux user.

Brian McCauley makes the point in the Linux Printing-HOWTO that MagicFilter prevents the user from printing a listing of, for example, a binary file, and he's right. However, I think most people would prefer to turn off MagicFilter, if this situation ever came up, print the listing and turn MagicFilter back on. It just makes life so much simpler.

Software Sources

MagicFilter's Author

Gunnery Sergeant Bill W. Cunningham, U. S. Marine Corps, is the Network Administrator at Marine Forces South, Panama Canal Zone. He, his lovely wife, and four wonderful kids will return to the United States this fall. He enjoys running, biking, playing Tetris late at night and plans to develop children's software for Linux in his soon-to-commence second career.

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