Adrian worked for a document services company. Among other things, they provided high-speed printing services to clients in the financial services industry. This means providing on site service, which is how Adrian ended up with an office in the sub-sub-basement of a finance company. Adrian's boss, Lester, was too busy "developing high-end printing solutions on a Unix system" to spend any time in that sub-sub-basement, and instead embedded himself with the client's IT team.

"It's important that I'm working closely with them," Lester explained, "because it's the only way we can guarantee true inter-system compatibility." With disgust, he added, "They're mostly a Windows shop, and don't understand Unix systems, which is what drives our high-speed printing solution."

It was unclear to Adrian whether Lester was more interested in "working closely" or "getting access to the executive breakroom with free espressos", but that's what Lester got, while Adrian made do with a Mr. Coffee from 1987, while fielding emails from users trying to understand why their prints didn't work.

Bobbi was one such user. She was fairly technical, and had prepared some complex financial reports for printing. Because she was very aware how she wanted these reports to look, she'd gone the extra step and made them as a PDF. She'd sent it over to the high-speed-printer and it got kicked back with an error about invalid files. Adrian reviewed her PDFs, couldn't see any errors or problems, tried submitting the job himself, and a few minutes later it got kicked back.

Eventually, he called Lester.

"Hey, I've got a user trying to send some files over to the high-speed printer, and it doesn't seem like it'll take them."

"Oh, is that where all these PDFs have been coming from?"

"Uh… yes?"

Lester sighed. "See, this is why I need to be embedded with the team, they're so Windows biased, and now it's even infecting you."


Adrian somehow could hear Lester rolling his eyes over the phone. "The high speed printer is a Unix system, you know this."

"I do know that," Adrian confirmed, still mystified.

"PDFs are only good for the Windows operating system," Lester said. "It's not going to print properly on a Unix operating system."

"Our… high speed printer can't print PDFs?"

"If your users want to print PDFs, they need to print on their Windows-based printers."

"I just want to confirm," Adrian said, "again, our printer can't handle PDFs, the most common print format in the world, which is 100% supported by CUPS, and probably supported directly by the printer itself?"

"Adrian, this is why you're down in the sub-sub-basement doing support, you have a lot to learn about cross-platform interoperability."

Adrian related this information to Bobbi, and worked with her to convert the files into one of the "Unix-friendly" file formats Lester approved. After that, though, he did his own digging, and tried to understand why PDFs were forbidden.

It didn't take long. Lester handled all the print jobs through a set of homebrew shell scripts. Their main job was to prepend a banner page for the print job, but they also handled details about copying files, managing the queue, and had grown into a gigantic, unmanageable mess. It wasn't that Unix couldn't print PDFs, it was that Lester couldn't hack his already hacked scripts any further to support the Portable Document Format, and thus their high-speed print system couldn't handle the standard Unix printing format of PDFs.

Adrian eventually left that job. Lester, however, was still there, and so were his scripts.

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