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Originating publication
June 05, 1997, TechWeb News

Internet Printing Deal Unraveling
By Evan Schuman

A multivendor plan to allow printing over the Internet by early next year is starting to unravel with political infighting, according to participants of a late Wednesday meeting. By early next year, users should be able to send documents to printers thousands of miles away via the Internet, potentially saving dollars that would have otherwise have been spent for long distance calls to fax machines.

But whether they'll be able to give instructions along with those documents -- such as paper size -- is the subject of a standards committee debate involving more than a dozen companies, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, Xerox, IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Companies Take Sides

A tentative deal worked out with the companies began to fall apart when the participants divided into two factions -- one lead by Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., and the other by Novell, in Orem, Utah, meeting participants said.

Despite the debates within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Internet Printing Protocol working group, vendors said they are still shooting for a tentative deal by an August IETF meeting, with a prototype by September and a proposed standard to the full Steering Committee by December, said Scott Isaacson, the print services architect at Novell.

It was Novell that started this ball rolling, when it and 13 other vendors proposed an extensive Internet Printing Standard. (Full text of the Novell November 1996 statement.)

The supporters of that Novell proposal included many of the most active print-related vendors including HP, Xerox, IBM, Intel, Adobe, Canon, Lexmark, QMS, Ricoh, Sharp, Tektronix and Toshiba. Notably absent were Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, Netscape Communications.

The original Novell proposal not only would have supported printing to remote machines, but also promised the ability to manage those Internet-connected devices.

Although that proposal received a lot of industry support, the realities of the glacial-like standards process suggested to some participants that a more modest proposal might have a better chance of quick success.

HP and Microsoft announced last month what they dubbed The Simple Web Printing (SWP) proposal. That proposal provided for printing documents via the Internet, but little else. It claimed initial support from Adobe, IBM, Lexmark and Xerox.

Among the capabilities absent from the SWP proposal include the ability for a user to stop a print job, as well as to get a status on queued print jobs.

It's not as though Microsoft would have users do without those capabilities, but they'd rather they get those capabilities from the upcoming NT 5.0. Novell would rather see those features made standard.

Novell's Isaacson said the absence of those printer management issues -- plus lack of security specifications and the ability to change the basic attributes of an existing document -- makes the Microsoft-HP proposal unattractive.

"Critical" Set Of Operations

"I believe the basic set of operations above and beyond what Microsoft and HP proposed are not only useful, but actually border on critical," he said, adding that Novell does not want to wait until next year to add those capabilities.

Isaacson said it is practical to add those capabilities immediately and he is still hoping to negotiate.

Carl-Uno Manros, the chairman of the Internet Printing Protocol working group and a Xerox principle engineer, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon the plan was to offer the Microsoft-HP small subset proposal as well as the broader proposal Novell is pushing. But later in the day, a conference call of working group members made that approach much less likely, he said.

"It became clear that there is some disagreement in the group about how to make the Microsoft [effort] fit in with the rest," Manros said. He added that there was fear among members that the support of a small subset "might discourage adoption of the fuller offering."

Ultimately, printing management via the Internet could control every aspect of the printing effort, with detailed information about every printer available on the Web. For example, a user could learn which printers can handle color, double-sided documents, stapling, oversized paper, letterhead, etc.

Location of printers could even be entered, with printers that are behind locked doors separated from those in the middle of a hallway -- security concerns -- and a map to identify the printer nearest the intended recipient -- whose location is determined by phone extension number. Information could also be available on maintenance of the printers, including how much paper and toner is left in a particular machine.

Common Ground

The one element all the IETF Internet printing proposals have in common is the way the print is initiated.

Let's say an employee of a Wall Street brokerage firm in New York wants to send an elaborate report of multicolor graphics to a colleague in San Francisco. A fax could be expensive -- because of a long distance through a typical fax machine's 9600 baud modem -- and the quality could be weak. The image could be E-mailed as an attachment, but incompatibilities are common with different application versions and various operating systems. Also, E-mail would require a system and a power supply, which is not always easy when traveling.

For the document to be printed over the Net, the New York user would go to the Web page of the recipient and find the printer page. For that matter, the destination might be a print shop or an airport lounge near whatever city the recipient was in that day.

The user would then use a prearranged printer password to access a precise printer URL plus to download an appropriate printer driver and related software. The user would then add that data to his system as though he was just adding another printer to the LAN.

Once the system accepts the new printer information, the user can just print using the most appropriate application and his application doesn't even know that the printer is 3,000 miles away.


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