Technology Positioning Statement Report

4.1.3 Network Printers

Description: Local and network peripherals and accessories for desktop computers.

Category: 4 - Client Platforms   Subcategory: 1 - General Purpose Client Platforms
Old Category: none




Industry UsageSC Usage

Performance Metrics

Printers: network standards, image quality, speed, total usage cost. Scanners: scan speed, resolution, automated feed capability.

Usage and Dependencies

Industry Position:
Printers: Despite the presence of formal standards for printing, the long-standing standards have been the de facto options of the Printer Control Language (PCL) from Hewlett-Packard or else the PostScript language from Adobe, supported by Microsoft. These two printing protocols long ago came to determine how all other printer manufacturers positioned their products in the market. Most products offer compatibility with both protocols.

Color printing is becoming standard practice as product quality improves and prices drop. Three color technologies compete with one another: multi-pass laser, ink jet, and solid ink. A fourth, relatively new technology, the use of light-emitting diodes (LED's) as an alternative to lasers to charge the toner drum, also is contributing to the price drop.

Ports: PC connections to the outside world include serial, parallel, USB, and Ethernet ports with DHCP-based IP-addressability. Medium to high-end product lines offer all four communications options, and high-end equipment also permits network-based remote printer management, such presenting a web page to function as a remote printer-control console. Also, standard desktops contain analog ports for microphone and stereo line inputs and stereo speaker/headphone outputs.

Scanners: Flatbed scanners are used to convert paper to an electronic image or (via OCR, Optical Character Recognition) back to text data. Cost of scanners has declined rapidly in the past few years, and there are numerous competing products. All use the TWAIN standard scanner interface via USB or parallel connection to the PC. Key performance features (often neglected in ad copy) are: scan speed, resolution, and document feeder capability. Note that a scanner with appropriate software can also serve as a FAX-sending device.

Multifunction devices (MFD's) combine a printer and a scanner. Together these can be used for faxing, copying, scanning, and printing. Extensions to such systems often include OCR of scanned text, speed dialing, or enhanced memory. On the other hand, MFDs are not yet as reliable as single-purpose devices. Usage rates also figure large in such scenarios: if an MFD is used for copying 90% of the time, then a copier would be the logical machine for that particular installation, rather than an MFD. In addition, specialty functions available in a single-purpose device -- such as auditing, forwarding, and storage of faxes within a fax-server system, or OCR and document management associated with a scanner installation -- are often unavailable in an MFD.

SC Usage: Printers: It must be recognized that printers, as a source of paper, may impede some business processes by increasing storage needs; paper-based documents are not as searchable or editable as an electronic file. SC has done a good job of reducing paper generation from copiers by reducing their number and requiring individual metering/auditing of copies. A similar strategy should be extended to printer usage, by discouraging the use of local desktop printers. Network-connected printers offer more efficient service, since they can serve several users at a much lower cost per user than standalone printers. The industry is clearly moving toward IP-addressable and Web-based printers; some models already present themselves as Web sites and can be accessed, used, and managed via the Web. This trend will also make it easier to reduce the number of standalone printers.

Most SC network printers are laser-plus-toner technology printers, except for some color printers that use solid waxy inks, which present certain technical disadvantages operationally. A few ink-jet standalone printers also continue in use. The trend toward true photographic resolution also entails remaining with laser-plus-toner print systems, particularly as even toner technology itself is improved.

Scanners: Conversion of paper documents to electronic formats is an occasional need within SC. Large-scale conversion, e.g. for the transformation of a legacy business process or archive, should be handled by a high-end, high-speed scanner or outsourced to a scanner service. Typically, bulk scanning cost is about 50 cents per page. If manual editing and correction of OCR text is necessary, this becomes the cost driver.

SC Application Impacts: Applications in IMSC will be web-based and will support digital signatures and workflow processes where needed. This will minimize the need for paper-based processes in the future.

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