Our cat went missing. Our beautiful, old Siamese. "So what are we going to do?" said my wife. "You're always talking about information technology. So put out some requests for information about the cat's whereabouts. Can't you use that thing cluttering up the desk?" She was pointing at the Sharp JX-9210 laser printer. Small, but perfectly formed, "cluttering" hardly seemed to be the word. Compared to the elephantine footprint (the space taken up on the desktop) of earlier laser printers, this machine's delicate paw print was more akin to that of our late- lamented feline. I glanced apprehensively at the printer and at the PC nestling alongside it.
I surprised myself. The computer I had borrowed was pre-loaded with Windows 95 and all manner of (for me) alien software. Within an hour the leaflets had been designed and were rolling off the press.
Enough of the anecdotage; let's get technical. These models are at the forefront of a new generation of smaller, cheaper laser printers. The JX series print at four pages per minute. The 9210 has a resolution of 600-dpi (dots per inch) and the 9200 prints at 300-dpi. Both are noiseless in standby mode and very quiet in operation. And they really are small, measuring 299 x 291 x 185 mm (11.8 x 11.5 x 7.3ins) and weighing 5 kgs (11 lbs). The machines are configured for the Windows platform and, unfortunately for Mac users, there are no current plans to bring out an Apple Macintosh model.
The JX-series handles transparencies, labels and paper up to 120 grams, but the drum mechanism does not like the thicker quality envelope. The last time I saw creases like that was when my Mum ironed my trousers for junior school. Sharp recommends that customers use envelopes which have been produced specially for laser printers and many, of course, will prefer to print their addresses on labels.
The liaison between Sharp and Microsoft on the printing software for these machines has resulted in a true "plug and play" environment. Paper jam? No need to panic. An on-screen prompt shows you exactly what to do. A further attraction of this all-encompassing software is that the printer itself has fewer buttons for stubby fingers to jab.
Although Sharp has pitched these printers for the SOHO (small office, home office) market where robustness of construction and heavy-duty performance are, perhaps, not as important as ease of use, compactness and affordability, they should prove an attractive proposition for buyers in many areas of education.
Both the smaller school which needs a good quality printer but doesn't have large print runs and the larger establishment where information technology suites are equipped with one printer per computer unit might well consider these models. And as teachers come to terms with the demands of the curriculum, more and more of them are using word processors to produce pre-formatted reports at home. At Pounds 329 the 9200 is a high-quality alternative to the bubblejet. It's quiet and it's fast.
One word of caution, though. Using the Sharp with an RM Multimedia PC upgraded to Windows 95 produced spectacular crashes. The reason is still unknown, although Sharp insists that there has never been a problem with PCs pre-loaded with Windows 95.
Great printers; shame about the cat. He still hasn't come home.