Opinion: Better network printing

Print system turns everything into PDF

That "paperless office" idea was nice, but it may be time to give it up. Quit wishing and hoping you will no longer buy paper by the case load. Quit dreaming of the day when an easy-to-use and inexpensive electronic document management system falls into your lap. People love to print on paper, so it's time to get the company printing system organized. It's even more critical when the company uses some type of non-Windows host. Those add a new level of printing complication.

I've seen companies take long journeys toward printing nirvana, only to find the way full of detours. First, everyone gets a printer, because ink jets are so darn cheap. Then they realize they're still buying paper as well as liquid ink that is costlier than the finest French parfum (even more expensive when the French spelling for "perfume" is on the bottle).

Second, people jump into networked printers, buying new printers with network connections and adding external print servers. Better, but they still have a variety of printer types and models, meaning client computers using them must have the right drivers. Cost of printing supplies drops as laser cartridges replace ink cartridges, but the cost of support rises, and it zooms again when larger host systems need printers. Then someone suggests jumping into the world of Intelligent Printer Data Stream (IPDS). Sounds good, especially the All-Points Addressable (APA) printers, until management gets the price quote. Back to Square One.

Odd that an office service as critical as printing doesn't have many good answers. That adds up to opportunity, according to the folks at Ingenica, a company that made its mark in printing support in the Citrix and Windows Terminal Services environment.

Ingenica recently revamped its popular UniPrint printer system to work with general Windows servers and standard Windows clients, along with all types of host systems that need printer support.

Ingenica's new UniPrint Host Edition is a centralized, managed print system that cleverly jujitsus the problems with printer incompatibility, odd print streams and the driver dance on client machines by throwing them all over for the Portable Document Format (PDF). All print output from any system gets converted into PDF, just like it was heading for an HP LaserJet 4. Once the print output gets converted, technical life gets easier. Every decent printer in the world handles PDF files without a hiccup, remote printer redirection becomes a snap, and print output can stay as files on hard disks rather than smearing ink on paper.

All host output routed through UniPrint ceases to be AS/400 or Unix or iSeries or whatever print output and becomes a print job that works on just about any Windows-supported printer. Still have ink-jet printers on every desk, but can't convince your 5250 terminal emulation program to upgrade the driver and support those ink jets? UniPrint makes it happen.

AS/400 systems and their brethren often live in back offices, warehouses and manufacturing sites. But reports must be printed through Windows clients to Windows printers back in another office. Print streams, designed for locally attached printers, look pretty bloated compared with PDF print jobs. UniPrint says a one-page document may be 1MB of normal print-control language stream, but only about 100KB as a PDF file. In other words, data links for remote print support between offices suddenly see one tenth the amount of traffic for the same amount of printing. That's like getting a new "turbo" data link for free if you do lots of remote printing.

Pricing will seem high for those companies that have never priced "grown-up" printing support: $3,999 for one Windows server for up to 60,000 printed pages per year. Those companies used to fighting ornery print streams and a lack of printer drivers for AS/400 systems will realize the price becomes an investment in better printing. And if the company has AS/400s or the like, "cheap" as a product description disappears.

It seems odd to charge for pages printed, because computer people in small and midsize companies don't see that pricing model often. Yet those same companies pay for copiers on a sliding scale based on copy volume, so it won't be a total surprise.

UniPrint works through resellers only, and it has over 150 in North America. Many Citrix resellers also sell UniPrint because the company cleans up Citrix printing problems as well.

One server installation can usually handle up to 25 normal print-happy users, and those users can be spread between offices. And no one will blow the whistle on companies attempting to use the searchable PDF output provided by UniPrint to dream, once again, of a paperless office. And we won't laugh at them, either, for chasing that dream yet again.

This story, "Opinion: Better network printing" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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