Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Do Not Mail

In a move that may radically change both the direct mail and the printing industries, bills to create “Do Not Mail” laws have been filed in fifteen states. The movement is an extension of the Federal “Do Not Call” concept that pretty much put an end to consumer telemarketing.

One of the key motivators is concern for the environment. We’ve all received a truckload of catalogs and mail solicitations over the past two months, 90% has gone directly into the trash, or at least the recycle bin. According to one source, the U.S. Postal Service last year delivered some 213 billion pieces of mail, and well over half were unsolicited advertisements and bulk mail. Another source notes that every mail carrier in America has carried nearly 18 tons of junk mail this year.

Direct mail, which already has a low response rate, risks alienating customers who actually might want to buy the products the senders promote. As a recent BrandWeek opinion piece (“Really Pushing The Envelope”, 12/10/07) notes: “The fact is, today's green-conscious consumers expect the companies they patronize (and even ones they don't) to engage in some semblance of environmental stewardship. When the marketers of those companies mercilessly clog mailboxes with irrelevant and duplicate solicitations, what kind of message are consumers getting?

It would be ironic if just as the technology for printing mass mailings becomes more affordable and available, key states start making it more difficult than ever to deliver those solicitations. The result has been that even the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the trade group for junk mail, has been calling for significantly smaller but more finely targeted mailing campaigns to keep the backlash movement that threatens to wipe out all unsolicited mailings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2008 Color Laser Printer Guide Available

The Better Buys for Business Color Laser & Business Ink Jet Printer Guide for 2008 has been published. The guide contains information about over 180 models from 21 vendors, including reviews, specifications, and cost-per-page breakdowns. It also includes a glossary of relevant terms and a briefing on the printer industry, as well as our award picks for the best buys in each category.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lawsuit claims HP, Staples colluded on cartridges

A suit has been filed in US federal courts claiming that Hewlett-Packard and office superstore Staples broke antitrust law. The suit claims that HP paid Staples more than $100 million to carry only HP ink cartridges in its stores, and to avoid stocking lower-cost third-party refills. The plaintiff is asking that it be made a class-action suit on behalf of all printer owners.

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, it does put a focus on ink prices, a major part of the income of HP and rivals like Epson and Lexmark. It has been estimated that the real cost of ink refills can be as high as $8,000 a gallon. At those prices, there’s lots of room for third-party underselling. The result has been an all-out war, where the major printer developers have tried to limit the sales of unauthorized sellers. This lawsuit, whatever happens to it, is just another skirmish in the long war.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New GelSprinters

Ricoh continues to release new models in its GelSprinter line, based on its unique “viscous ink” technology. That approach, while similar to conventional ink jet printing, is far faster (thanks to print head technology) than conventional ink jets. It also gives users the ability to print on both glossy paper and recycled paper.

The GelSprinter line doesn’t get a lot of press next to the standard color laser and Xerox’s solid ink lines, but it is finding a niche in the office market due to its low sticker price and moderate cost of operation (especially when compared to standard ink jet printers). Clearly, Ricoh has enough confidence in the line to keep issuing new models.

The new Ricoh GX2500 ($169) is aimed at desktop and small workgroup use. It prints at a real 28ppm in both black and color. Ethernet is optional.

The GX7000 ($749) is a ledger-size model that features duplex printing. Ethernet is an option.

Both models are relatively straightforward ones with few bells and whistles. It will be interesting to see how far Ricoh can take the technology and how well it can establish awareness of the brands and the technology in a crowded field of color business printers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

3D “printers” go mainstream

A recent Wall Street Journal article (“How 3-D Printing Figures To Turn Web Worlds Real”, 12/12/07) reported on the changing world of 3D printing. The “printers” are in fact automatic model makers that take 3D designs generated on a computer and sculpt models based on the digital information. There are various technologies, including ink jet-like versions, but the result is a three-dimensional model in plaster or composite materials, including starch, paper, metals, or sand.

Until recently, these devices were used almost exclusively for high-end product modeling and prototyping for companies like automakers and aircraft manufacturers. They are also used in medical labs, engineering firms, and the industrial design departments of high-tech firms.

But the cost of these devices is coming down. While such machines used to cost $300,000 or more, they now run for around $20,000, and there are newer machines in the pipeline for $5,000 or less. This is spurring a new set of companies that target 3-D models at specific niche markets, such as architects, role-playing game enthusiasts, custom toy makers, and designers of keepsakes and souvenirs (custom doll-house furniture).

At $5,000, 3D printers start looking like Easy-Bake ovens for tech geeks. And the latest models will be almost desktop-size in dimensions. One application that is starting to appear is food sculpture, using chocolate, Cheez-Whiz, sugar, or dough. Think of favors for a birthday party or 3D bride and groom statuettes on a wedding cake. A brave new world of “printing” is just beginning.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Xerox opens solid ink factory

Xerox sales of its solid ink office printers is doing so well that they’ve opened a new $24 million plant to make the crayon-like solid ink sticks. The new Oregon-based facility, according to Xerox, increases the company’s solid ink manufacturing capacity tenfold.

This seems to be a sign that Xerox’s campaign to push its color printers, especially its Phaser 8860 line, is doing well. The 8860 offers remarkably low costs per page for both color and black-and-white. Xerox also promotes the fact that the solid ink produces far less waste than toner-solutions, and that its lower heat requirements cut power use.

We’ve long thought that Xerox would extend the solid ink technology, one of the company’s biggest advantages, both up and down the product line, perhaps even into the copier market. The new plant may be an indication that’s what is in the cards, and the modern, high-capacity factory may allow Xerox to get decent margins, even with the lower cost per page.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

HP expanding its wide-format lineup

Hewlett-Packard announced the purchase of Israel-based wide-format printing company NUR Macroprinters in a $117 million deal. This follows the recent purchase of MacDermid ColorSpan, another maker of wide format printers, used especially in signage, backdrops, and billboards.

NUR makes continuous-feed color ink jet machines that can output images up to 17 feet wide, based on digital input. It can print on such media as canvas and vinyl, in addition to paper.

HP already had a strong position in the wide format area, and the two purchases only expanded that. HP has an announced intention of moving upward in the printing market from its strong base in home and office machines toward professional printing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Used toner cartridge? Sit on it

Here’s a creative new use for those spent toner and ink jet cartridges. It’s true that some vendors have a cartridge return program where they can re-use or recycle them, but many do not. It’s especially bad on the off-brand toner and ink market. What’s an eco-conscientious user to do?

Now a UK recycling company called Waycam has a new idea – they use a process that transforms cartridges into a plastic called TRI Wood, and then turn it into fence posts and garden furniture.

While the furniture aspect is a great stunt, the serious issue, as they acknowledge, is recycling the (highly toxic) used toner. It’s another step in the effort to keep more toxins out of landfills. This kind of thing is becoming increasingly a legal necessity in Europe, and it is something that should spread in the near future to the US.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday fun: Office Space

The classic scene of printer "deconstruction" from everybody's favorite office movie. Of course, that was from the days when printers jammed all the time.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Avoiding unwanted e-mail

A recent survey by market research firm Ipsos for e-mail consultant Habeas points out that end users are finding new ways to avoid spam and unwanted e-commerce e-mails. According to the study, over 50% of users maintain three different e-mail addresses. In addition, 81% do not forward e-mails from one address to another, keeping the mailboxes distinct. Half of the respondents with multiple e-mails said that they maintained multiple accounts to avoid unwanted e-mails.

As reported in an article in Network World “Consumers deal with ‘e-mail insecurity factor’”, 12/4/07) , the survey found that users “create one for work, another for friends, family and trusted brands, and one for signing up for online offers and lists.”

As companies depend more and more on e-mail marketing, customers are increasingly finding ways to avoid their urgent communications. As the CEO of Habeas is quoted as saying “It’s easy for an enterprise to run afoul of consumer willingness to engage in a dialogue.”

Over the last ten years, one of the big stories has been the growth of e-mail as a marketing strategy. Over the next ten, the avoidance of e-mail will become as big.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

True Adobe PostScript

Back in the late eighties, PostScript clones entered the market with a bang. An attempt to avoid Adobe’s then stiff licensing fees, there were many flavors of them, and for a while they all had various oddities, shortcomings, and downright bugs. Over the years, Adobe moved to Level 2 (1991) and finally PostScript 3 (1997). The clone makers hustled to catch up. But the stability of PostScript 3 since 1997 has meant that they’ve had a long time to fix bugs.

Generally speaking now, we don’t see any real difference between real PostScript clones and genuine Adobe PostScript, especially when we are talking about normal office printing. It’s been years since we’ve head of any office users complaining about problems caused by using, say, Brother's, Lexmark's, or Konica Minolta’s clones.

One area where it may make a difference is in high-end printing, and there is comes up in two issues. One is in color calibration, where vendors like EFI, say that the Adobe version it has better built-in tools for color control. This isn’t a particular issue for most office printing, where color need only be good enough. The second area in which some problems come up with users of Adobe’s In Design software, which makes use of some Postscript features that other programs hadn’t, and thus test a feature which may not be implemented in some printers. There are also reported problems with an Adobe product called Multiple Master fonts that sometimes don’t work correctly with some clones.

These are issues likely to be found by high-level designers, usually proofing files to be sent to the printing press. Our view: don’t worry about PostScript for everyday office use; do get true Adobe PostScript for printers used by professional designers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Just released: Better Buys High-Volume Copier Guide

Hot off the press is our High-Volume Copier & Multifunctional Guide, which covers black-and-white copier/multifunctionals with speeds from 50 to 150 pages per minute. The guide presents our Editor’s Choice selections of the best buys at various speed ranges, along with specifications and a discussion of industry trends and terms.

The big trend: the number of high-end copiers is increasing, with more vendors selling more models than ever. One key differentiator is workflow software, important for these machines that are often called on to output complex jobs. To order, here is the link.

Monday, December 3, 2007

“No Vista, please!”

Microsoft’s Vista version of its Windows operating systems is having a hard time getting traction, as many corporate users are waiting to find out a reason why they should replace their PCs running Windows XP. According to one survey, only 13 percent of businesses have adopted Vista.

Microsoft has released its first service pack update for the Vista version of its Windows operating system, but according to neutral lab testing, Vista is still twice as slow as the most up-to-date version of Windows XP. Vista retail sales are over 50 percent lower than sales of XP.

Microsoft is also having a hard time convincing IT departments that the hassle of training users on a whole new interface and supported a new set of problems (including file incompatibility) is worth the effort. As a result, many companies are still buying replacement computers that still feature XP, and Microsoft has been forced to set back the eventual phase-out of XP until next summer.

In the printer world, that slowdown affects the urgency to support Microsoft’s new XPS printing protocol. So far, only Xerox and Konica Minolta, as far as we can tell, have announced XPS-capable printers. Sharp has announced that it is working with a third party to support it.

Even more pressing is the problem of drivers on existing printers. Most printers and copiers need installation of a new driver to work with Vista. But for older models, most vendors aren’t bothering with an upgrade. So a perfectly good printer from two years ago that worked fine with all your XP machines might not be able to function in a Vista environment.

One article quotes a Microsoft vice president as saying “Frankly, the world wasn't 100 percent ready for Windows Vista.” Instead it’s clear that Vista is still not 100 percent ready for the world, even after a long-awaited service pack update.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wi-Fi: a growing requirement

A recent study, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Lexmark, shows the growing demand for wireless accessibility for printers in the SOHO market.

The survey interviewed some 9,000 “tech-savvy” end-users across the globe, over 700 in the US. 40 percent of respondents had wireless network (Wi-Fi) in their home and over 80 percent of these had experienced productivity benefits. The benefits cited were enhanced flexibility and added mobility. More and more offices, the study says, are getting used to mobility, given the use of PDAs, laptops, and digital cameras.

Furthermore, the study notes that 94 percent of respondents “say they need a printer in order to be able to do their jobs effectively.” Also that “access to a printer is perceived to be as, if not slightly more, important as having access to the Internet (93 percent) and e-mail (92 percent).” In addition, 92 percent claim they want to be able to print without being hooked by cable to a printer. That’s true at home, at work, and while traveling (especially in a hotel or airport business center).

Given all that, relatively few printers are Wi-Fi ready. Lexmark has been introducing a growing number of wireless-preconfigured models, and it only makes sense that Wi-Fi will soon be as standard equipment on many printers and MFPs as Ethernet and USB ports are.

Let’s face it. The current crop of laser printers and MFPs are more than fast enough and they have appropriate printing features for the majority of users. The big challenge is to make them more usable and for an increasingly mobile workforce, the ability to piggyback onto different printers at different locations (with proper security of course) is becoming more and more of a basic requirement.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Authentication at your fingertips

One of the hottest new security features for the office product world is biometric authentication, especially in the form of finger-based identification. The use of analog fingerprint identification over 140 years has proven that no two people’s fingerprints are identical. Now that expertise has gone digital, with major breakthroughs over the past year.

The technique available for office use is finger vein authentication. This involves placing a finger on an authentication device which scans the blood vessel patterns, and cross-checks them with a database of previously stored scans. Manufacturers (Hitachi is the leader) claim that this is even more secure than regular fingerprint identification, since you are measuring internal, rather than external, patterns. According to claims, the method is highly accurate, with virtually no mistaken rejections of valid users.

Finger vein authentication devices are fast and compact, and it is getting better rapidly. Hitachi is the main manufacturer, and it is introducing the technology into door handles, automobile steering wheels, PCs, and ATMs. Hitachi has also released software development kits, and we expect that the applications will multiply.

Konica Minolta has been a leader in applying this technology as an option in its copiers (and now printers). It enables secure print, secure fax, and mailbox access. We expect that it will become an option on virtually all office equipment over the next year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


We’ve all done it. Clicked on “Send” and immediately had our heart miss a beat as we realized that the e-mail was on its way to someone it wasn’t intended for.

No surprise, but a recent study found that 50 percent of all workers admitted to sending e-mails to the wrong person. Of course, most of the other 50 percent are probably in denial.

The survey, conducted by IT security firm Sophos, found that misdirected e-mails happen all the time. It’s not just the spectacular blunders we hear about – intending to send to a fellow employee an e-mail that makes fun of the boss, but mistakenly addressing it to the boss himself. More likely, it’s the inadvertent misdirection of confidential material, related to personnel, finances, or business strategy.

It’s a real concern. 75 percent of surveyed companies worry about sensitive information being leaked by e-mails.

Sophos, naturally, is interested in selling its software product that scans e-mail for critical keywords to filter out some of the problem, but that’s unlikely to plug all holes. The natural thought is that employees have to be educated to double-check messages before clicking on “Send,” but that it is not a trivial task. Somewhere between technology and training lies the solution, and this is a problem that more and more companies will have to struggle with.

Monday, November 26, 2007

TCO Wars

Over the past few years, the prices on low-to mid-range color laser printers have fallen ever lower even as the cost of consumables has gone up. The price of equipment acts basically as a loss leader, whereas the real money is in toner.

Are buyers of color laser printers finally starting to think about more than the sticker price? Is the total cost of ownership or TCO (a formula that combines average cost per page along with machine price) becoming a factor in purchasing decisions?

That’s an assumption that OKI Printing Solutions is working under. The company just announced consumables price reductions on its C8800 and C6000 color laser printer lines. Cost per page on the ledger-size C8800 have been lowered by 11% to 9.1 cents a page, while those on the letter/legal-size C6000 were lowered by 25% to 19.0 cents for color and 1.6 cents for black. OKI is claiming that TCO has been reduced by 30%.

Changes in consumables prices is a rare event in the printer business, and these are pretty significant reductions. The compelling reason for lowering the TCO is allowing a vendor to gain traction in what is now an extremely competitive market of very solid office color printers. The big target of course is Hewlett-Packard, whose dominant market position allows it to maintain higher consumables costs in some of its models. But beyond HP, there is a confusing array of choices from over a dozen serious rivals.

After talking to key OKI product managers, it seems clear that the price shift is likely to have most impact on large corporate and governmental purchasers, where a realization has already taken hold that more goes into costs than the sticker price. And OKI will need well-tutored salesmen and resellers to push the kind of three-year cost timeframe that’s behind total cost estimates.

Of course, the TCO argument is nothing new. Kyocera, especially, has been making it for years, with mixed success in the marketplace. Clearly, OKI is betting on a shift in thinking in the market, which is starting to get the idea that the long-term costs of color are far higher than they expected. It will be interesting to see if others follow suit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Secure printing: getting hot

The hottest issue in the printer/MFP world is secure printing. And the reasons are well illustrated in a survey that tech consulting firm IDC did in the UK for Canon. The survey results, according to a CRN article (“VARs must switch on to secure printing”, 11/12/07:
▪ 72 percent of office workers have picked up personal emails belonging to their colleagues
▪ 18 percent have looked at personnel records including salary info ▪ 70 percent have found and looked over job applicants’ résumés

In another recent survey commissioned by Brother, it was found that three out of four small and medium-size firms were unaware of the issue of unsecured printing. And in the companies that were aware of it, only about 40 percent had policies in place.

These surveys were made in the UK, but the results would likely be similar in the US and the increasing push for document confidentiality is similar in both countries.

The CPN article, which is mostly aimed at telling dealers how push security as a selling point for new machines, stresses the increasing legal requirements many companies face in keeping data confidential. It also outlines the various techniques from PIN entry to encryption to biometrics that are being currently featured in more and more products. As the article puts it, “Secure printing is mainly used in government and in defence industries, but has filtered through to large enterprises, mainly in the legal and financial services industries.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Print assessment through Technesis

Any company that wants to improve its document workflow needs to start with the most basic of facts: how many printers, copiers, and MFPs do we have; who uses them and how much; and what is the balance between color versus black-and-white pages. For many workplaces, even well-managed ones, these numbers are unknown.

Even when companies use the accounting software on their copier-multifunctionals, they usually get limited information. Most companies have a wealth of smaller devices from a variety of vendors, including ones that are not attached to the network, but rather connected though a USB or parallel port to desktop computers.

Only when you have made a systematic analysis with hard numbers can you properly get a handle on printing costs and allocate office equipment. To do that, you need one of several software packages on the market.

US-based software company Technesis has recently updated its Print Control System. The software, originally developed for the large-format printer market, is scalable so both small and large companies can use it. It consists of centralized software which resides on a server on the network to gather stats and client applications on each computer on the network to capture the parameters of each print job.

The software, installed on both servers and workstations, can capture all printing that goes through networked print servers on the network, plus, for Windows machines, any locally attached models. It allows a variety of reports for identifying use by user and group. For PCL and PostScript jobs, it can also estimate the amount of color or black toner used on each job.

The result of the survey is an attempt to right-size the printer fleet. One manufacturing customer of the company with 3,500 users started with 600 machines. After using the software and making an analysis, they consolidated the fleet to 190 MFPs.

Much of Technesis’s sales come through third party consulting services, including groups from major equipment. The company also will lease the software direct, in 90-day increments and on a per-seat basis.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Xerox declares a dividend

It’s a mark of Xerox’s progress away from the brink that the company today announced that it would start paying dividends again, after a six-year hiatus. The dividend is small enough (4.25 cents per share as the stock is worth around $19 a share), but it is hopeful sign for the company.

In addition, Moody’s recently raised the company’s bonds up one notch. Xerox’s bonds made it out of the junk category to investment grade only this year.

The Bloomberg News report gives the details:
Chief Executive Officer Anne Mulcahy is raising revenue by adding color products that print, copy, scan and fax. Color pages are five times more profitable than black-and-white prints. The company has introduced 18 color devices this year. Xerox boosted operating cash flow to $1.5 billion this year, and said it will increase to $1.6 billion in 2008.

Congrats to Xerox for its amazing recovery.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gigabit Ethernet and specmanship

An increasing number of office products are now boasting of a new advanced feature: compatibility with Gigabit Ethernet. This strikes me as a case of utter “specmanship,” a feature of no real use.

Gigabit Ethernet (also known in its usual setup as 1000BaseT) is a version of Ethernet that is (in theory) ten times faster than everyday 100BaseT Ethernet. It was made a standard in 1998 (IEEE 802.3 for international standards buffs), and it is slowly growing in importance. The original intention was to use the protocol for high-capacity backbone networks, where massive amounts of data were being transferred between servers and network switches. Soon, some desktop computers became Gigabit Ethernet-compatible. This setup is especially useful for streaming video across a network. Gigabit Ethernet requires special network routers, hubs, and cables, which can also work with lower Ethernet speeds.

The real issue, as we see it, is that printers and scanners work just fine with regular Ethernet. You can deliver data far faster as it is than any printer or scanner can handle it – the limiting factor is not network speed or processor power but the mechanical speed of the hardware. We can imagine that some very high-speed digital printers doing variable data printing might get an advantage from the boost in network speed, but as it stands, no regular office equipment will run one bit faster by adding a Gigabit Ethernet link.

We see Gigabit Ethernet as a classic “check-off” spec. Big government and some business buyers require that equipment be able to check off compliance with a number of requirements, some of them not really relevant to the functions of the machine. Sales staffs need such features just to get in the door. Gigabit Ethernet is harmless, but it adds nothing to productivity for most offices.

What's next? 10-Gigabit Ethernet? Or maybe you'd prefer 100-Gigabit Ethernet?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Konica Minolta’s new printer strategy

The printer product line at Konica Minolta has always seemed a little confused to me. In 1999 Minolta bought controlling interest in QMS, an Alabama-based pioneer in color laser printing. At that time, the printing operation seemed to be run as a separate organization with a different audience (often low end) than that for Minolta’s copier products. From the outside, at least, there seemed to be little shared technology.

In 2003, Minolta and Konica merged, and the situation didn’t change, as the new Konica Minolta had its hands full, combining both two sets of personnel and a confusing array of copier products with little in common. Starting in 2004 and moving forward, Konica Minolta started releasing the bizhub copiers and gradually built the newly unified technologies into to one of the most comprehensive and unified product lines in the business. Just last year, Konica Minolta had built a series of very successful color production MFPs (including the now top-of-the-line bizhub PRO C6500), which are giving Xerox’s DocuColor models a run for the money.

Now it is the turn of the (somewhat) neglected printer line. Konica Minolta just announced the release of two new PagePro black-and-white printers, two new families of magicolor color lasers, and an updated magicolor MFP. These new products are based on some of the technology developed for the bizhub copiers, including the same Emperon print controller. They use the same advanced Simitri toner and they share some of the same administration and security software from the bizhub line.

The most interesting product is the magicolor 8650DN, which looks like a 35ppm, printer-only version of the high-end color MFPs. It has a generous paper supply, solid finishing capability (including a booklet maker), and works with appropriate productivity software available with the higher-end bizhubs. We don’t have any prices yet, but this elegant and versatile printer looks like it will be leader in its market, somewhere between serious office use and light production.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is e-mail almost obsolete?

An insightful article on (Chad Lorenz, “The Death of E-Mail,” 11/14/07) analyzes the way in which under 20s are increasingly abandoning e-mail in favor of more instant means of communication.

And Lorenz is no old fogy whining about the young-uns: he's in his 20's. But he’s dismayed at the way in which teenagers are switching off from e-mail. As he writes: “According to a 2005 Pew study, almost half of Web-using teenagers prefer to chat with friends via instant messaging rather than e-mail. Last year, comScore reported that teen e-mail use was down 8 percent, compared with a 6 percent increase in e-mailing for users of all ages. As mobile phones and sites like Twitter and Facebook have become more popular, those old Yahoo! and Hotmail accounts increasingly lie dormant.”

Lorenx points out that among the teens he surveyed informally, most “signed in to IM or Facebook from the time they get home from classes until they turn out the lights.”

As he points out, just as even older users have become addicted to e-mail connectivity, a whole new generation has gone way past that. What will be interesting to watch is how all this works out when that generation hits a workplace now dependent on e-mails.

As Lorenz points out, it looks like the oldsters will have to follow in the wake of the kids, as more and more adults are being pulled into the Facebook world. And as cell phones get smarter and smarter, all of us are going to have to become expert at more modes of interaction. “You can now send and receive every kind of message—texts, IMs, e-mails, and Facebook posts—with most new mobile phones.”

For all of us who seem to spend too much of our workday sorting through e-mails and being pestered by colleagues we don’t respond fast enough to, the onslaught is just beginning.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Security certification

As security becomes an ever bigger deal, vendors are claiming different levels of security certification. This is a relatively new area, and you may not understand the buzzwords.

The security features in most copier/multifunctionals make use of a standardized model called the International Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation (ISO 15408). This is generally shortened to the term Common Criteria or even CC. For many corporations, CC certification is a requirement for all products added to the network.

Common Criteria is used to define the security levels for a wide variety of devices on the network, from servers to routers to PCs, as well as to the software that runs them. It is an international standard based on the security requirements from several sources, including those used buy the U.S. Department of Defense. Adherence to the standard is certified at a set of accredited neutral testing laboratories.

Most mid- to high-end copier/multifunctional released over the past year have some level of certification. Older models are less likely to be certified.

Among the features required for certification in copiers and multifunctionals are:
▪ Hard disk encryption
▪ Hard disk overwriting
▪ Hard disk removal protection
▪ Memory overwriting
▪ Digital watermarks
▪ Network job encryption
▪ User authentication
▪ Secure print and fax
▪ Job auditing and accounting

The report cards on CC testing is presented in term of EAL (Evaluation Assurance Level), ranging from EAL1 to EAL7, where the higher number indicates a higher level of security tested. Most office machines come in at EAL2 or EAL3. But don’t be too impressed by these terms. For general office use especially, EAL2 is quite sufficient. It’s sometimes just a matter of how much time and money a company is willing to spend on such testing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lexmark study: Med offices nix color

Amidst the mass rush to color laser printing in the office at least one major sector is sticking to monochrome: the healthcare industry. That’s according to a study by Lexmark, which commissioned a survey of doctor’s office and healthcare service locations in the US, UK, Italy and France.

The result: color printing was seen as incidental for industry, with very little color printing in day-to-day operations, some color used for marketing materials, newsletters, and mailers, and much of that outsourced. While the industry is a massive user of laser printers and multifunctionals for printing out everything from insurance forms to prescriptions, to referrals, the survey sees no demand for that printing to be converted into color.

The survey also found that, more than in other offices, speed was a critical consideration (after all, there is usually a patient and doctor standing around waiting for a form to be printed out.)

The breakout of printed documents in the office surveyed came to:
▪ 52% text documents
▪ 26% forms and record
▪ 26% short reports
▪ 21% invoices and purchase orders
(Clearly, some documents fell into several categories.)

Lexmark is earnestly targeting this vertical market with its Lexmark Clinical Assistant package, which includes an X646dte MFP (black-and-white, of course) plus a set of targeted workflow software for medical offices.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

RFID from ink jets

Here’s one use that inkjet printers are being put to that doesn’t involve printing pages or photos. It is generating RFID-enabled labels and smart tickets.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), if you haven’t yet come across it, is a technology for adding tags to any item, tags that emit low frequency radio waves that can be read without having to physically touch an item. Think of them as barcodes that can be read with a scanning device just by walking by them. RFID is used in such fields as warehousing, theft protection, and manufacturing.

Up until now, one of the big problems with RFID has been that it has been slow to make the tags and attach them. The older technique involved copper etching. But new technologies are allowing companies to print out RFID-enabled labels on special adhesive tags that can be automatically applied to any item. Typical systems cost as little as 25 to 50 cents per tag.

Because this method uses printing technology, it can be set up to print with variable data, if you need, for example, to add a unique serial number for each item. The printer uses special conductive inks. It’s a technique that’s gaining wide acceptance in consumer products, crates, or packages.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Samsung floods desktop printer market

Samsung, already the world’s #2 laser printer manufacturer (after HP) and the #1 maker of monochrome desktop laser MFPs, has upped its position in the US office market with the release of a cascade of new black-and-white and color printers and MFPs.

Recently released are three families of color laser printers, three families of monochrome laser printers, four families of color laser multifunctionals, and five families of monochrome laser multifunctionals. These include models ranging in speed from 16ppm to 55ppm.

One of Samsung’s big advantages is its ability to source many of its own hardware components, including processors, LCD panels, and memory chips, along with design and software. This means faster bring-to-market times, it claims, than its rivals. Already, it is OEMing its technology to widening number of companies, including Xerox, Ricoh, Lexmark, and Dell.

At an analyst meeting earlier this fall, Samsung shared the following predictions about the overall industry:
▪The total US market for printers and supplies (around $60 billion) is flatlining, with minimal growth expected over the next five years.
▪ As you might expect, the color MFP (desktop) market is expected to grow, while black-and-white printing and MFPs stay stable or decline. What’s surprising is that they see minimal growth in the color laser printer area.
▪ Samsung plans to compete mainly in the A4 (letter/legal-size) market.
▪ Samsung is trying to differentiate itself by adding memory, increasing processor speed, and beating the competition on consumables costs and street prices.

Clearly, Samsung sees itself grabbing a bigger market share in a basically static market, and that increase had to come at the expense of one or more competitors.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Paper Mountains

A recent survey in the UK indicates that office workers print out “a paper mountain more than eight miles high every year.” The survey, commissioned by Fujitsu and Siemens, concluded that half of the pages printed in a typical office went unread.

According to a story in London newspaper The Telegraph (“UK offices 'print paper mountains', 10/15/07), the average office worker has grown used to “carefree printing habits.” Half of the workers surveyed admitted that they had printed out the same pages more than once by mistake.

According to the Telegraph story “Two in five workers (43 per cent) said they had picked up someone else's print-out by mistake and 8 per cent admitted to printing emails before they had read them.”

In other interesting results from the survey:
▪ Three out of four workers says that they have fixed paper jams themselves.
▪ Two thirds say that they have changed toner.
▪ A quarter said that they had walked away from an out of order printer, letting someone else fix it. (I’m sure someone is lying here)
▪ 17 percent admitted they just threw printed pieces away with no thought of recycling.
▪ Two-thirds of UK firms provided paper recycling bins, and almost half had ways for recycling confidential materials.

These are figures for the UK, but the US results are probably no different and may even be worse. If the UK has paper mountains, the US has Himalayas. And since the survey was based on self-reporting, you can be sure that the numbers look better than they really are.

Not surprisingly, two-thirds of all companies had no policies setting guidelines for what should be printed. It’s not simply a matter of “saving trees,” though that is important. It’s the enormous expense that unneeded printing costs in both paper and toner, and wear and tear on equipment. As has often been pointed out, printing and copying costs are one of the least controlled areas of office expense, and few companies have even a clear idea of what they are paying for it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Lexmark study shows faxing still alive

A recent Lexmark-commissioned survey studying workflow requirements of small and medium manufacturing businesses revealed some surprising findings. The survey, conducted in the US, the UK, France, and Italy, showed that these businesses, while paper-intensive, put a high emphasis on functions other than printing.

The survey asked users to classify various functions as “very important”, allowing them to choose more than one function. The results were:
● Making copies, 76 percent
● Faxing, 73 percent
● Scanning to e-mail, 35 percent
● Printing photos, 32 percent

It’s strange that straight-up printing is not included in the survey, but perhaps it is assumed that all MFP users have printing as a prime requirement. In fact, the number who needed to print photos in a manufacturing environment is strangely high.

But the real takeaway for us is that faxing is still much in demand, and that while scanning-to-email has some importance, at least in the manufacturing sector, faxing is still the technology of choice.

In addition, and this is no surprise, manufacturing sites are very concerned with machine performance and durability, since most machines have to working in rugged conditions, with dirt and variable temperatures. For that reason, laser machines are favored over inkjets.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Unauthorized copier lease costs big

From Jacksonville, Florida comes the story of how an unauthorized city employee signed 48 copier leases and cost the city over $3 million to clean up the mess. According to a story in the Florida Times-Union (“Copier contracts will cost taxpayers”, 10/29/07), the CFO of Jacksonville’s library system signed a series of 48 contracts with IKON Office Solutions to lease copiers for the library system. That’s particularly troubling since Jacksonville only has 21 library branches.

City rules specify that only eh mayor can authorize such deals, and the whole arrangement was only discovered by the city four years after it started. The employee has been dismissed, but the city had to settle with IKON for $3 million to clean up the mess.

According to the article, the problem was compounded due to lazy oversight in the accounts payable stage: “The city didn't detect the problem with IKON in part because it had other contracts with the Ohio-based company. The library was authorized to make some purchases from IKON off a state contract and a city contract. So when McDowell [the employee in question] did turn invoices over to the city's finance officials for payments, the checks were authorized under the existing contracts.”

The take-away for every institution is to set up clear rules for purchasing and leasing office equipment, enforcing those rules, centralizing all decisions in excess of a preset limit. In addition, a frequent audit of all office equipment assets is a must, for, in addition to the unauthorized decisions, there clearly was a problem of bringing in far too much copier capacity.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Scan it or Quipit?

You know the scene in the spy movie. The hero finally gets into the room and opens the safe with the documents, whether the plans for the new weapon or the proof of the villain’s crimes. So he (or she) takes out his concealed mini-camera and snaps the photos while the villain’s henchmen are about to burst into the room. The critical thing is to get the film to the authorities (usually accomplished after a long martial arts scene and desperate chase through the night.)

Well, now that spy can use Quipit. This product from an Austrian company turns your cell phone camera into a document scanner. The scans are transmitted to the company’s servers, where they are cleaned up, translated using OCR software, and tagged, ready for reading.

It’s an interesting twist on digital document scanning, and, aside from the spy uses, may be just what’s needed for someone on the road or in an archive where you can’t remove the material. It could also be used to confirm a contract on the spot, save a whiteboard, save handwritten notes, or to quickly backup information passing over your desk. This is a great supplement to standard desk-bound document scanning.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Canon and the dollar

A Wall Street Journal article today tracks the finances of Canon Inc. The company is reportedly ready to set a record profit for the year, yet its stock price has been tumbling.

The reason for this seeming contradiction, according to the article, has to do with the falling dollar. “The company, which takes in three-quarters of its sales overseas, is one of Japan's biggest exporters. In this position, it is more vulnerable than most Japanese companies to fluctuating exchange rates and a slowing U.S. economy.” When the US economy sneezes, Canon is in danger of catching cold; the biggest decline, the article notes, came during the August mortgage-credit crunch in the US.

All this in spite of eight years in a row of record earnings and continued growth. But while Canon has hedged against currency fluctuations, the rapidity of the dollar’s decline versus the yen has surprised everyone. Investors are speculating that the dollar’s decline is not over. And 60% of Canon’s sales are in the US.

The point is that if Canon, with its strong market position and sustained profits is feeling the threat, its rivals, likewise highly dependent on Asian manufacturing, are likely to be suffering even more. For buyers of office equipment, it may be a mixed deal: the real cost in dollars of copiers and printers has to be going up, while the vendors, worried about a decline in sales, may be open to more aggressive bargaining.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Health and laser printers

A recent Australian study of office air quality raised some concerns about laser printers, more specifically the toner particles emitted by them. This so-called “ultra-fine particle pollution” can contribute to respiratory illnesses, much like having secondhand smoke from a nearby indoor smoker, something no office these days permits. As one of the scientist from Queensland University is quoted as saying “If a printer operates in an indoor environment, the concentration of ultra-fine particles would be of the same order of magnitude as if there was secondhand smoke in a similar environment.”

The curious thing is that some laser printers emit no or little toner, while others emit a high level. And even printers from the same vendor can range from totally clean to polluting. While all printers pass federal safety and health regulations, the Australian study points out a new area for concern.

The Australian group is still continuing its studies (they have found, for example, that copiers are generally less of a problem), and they may well discover why some printers emit give off more particles than others. There may be a manufacturing fix that can lower the particle count on the worst offending machines.

In a practical sense, offices should become more aware of general ventilation and air exchange, something that would be useful in general, for cutting down on colds and other air-borne viruses.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sharp’s new fax-based MFP

Faxing may be moribund, but some new products are adding new value by looking at these machines as appliances for routing documents and for enhancing office workflow. Such a machine scans in documents and distributes them using fax, email, FTP, or scan-to-folder.

That’s the approach Sharp is taking with its brand-new FO-IS125N fax-based multifunctional. This $600 (list) machine prints, copies, scans, and faxes. It uses Sharp’s Image SENDER™ technology, based on the same sophisticated scanning software that Sharp has on its high-end copier/MFPs.

According to Sharp product manager Gary Bailer, the concept was to make scanning to a destination as easy for non-tech-savvy users as faxing is. “How do I get a piece of paper form point A to point B very simply? We wanted to keep the simplicity of faxing while responding to current needs for document distribution.” Indeed, no other fax machines on the market offer the full range of scan-to options of the FO-IS125N.

In addition to allowing for the various scan-to options, the FO-IS125N offers a number of security features: including facilities for user authorization, fax rerouting, secure fax, and call restriction. For highly security-conscious sites, it offers a way of having each transmission, whether fax or scan-to-email authorized before being sent. The purpose of this feature is to automate some of the steps in gathering approvals for contract, press releases, and financial documents before they get released. That’s an area that such mandates as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA have made much more important.

Sharp has added some nice user features as well: a functional keyboard, dual-sided scanning, and LDAP addressing. True, the machine is on the slow side (prints and copies at 12ppm), but the concentration on providing an inexpensive station for secure document sending is a smart direction for prolonging the life of the past-its-prime fax machine market.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Money of Color

This summer, a survey by print-industry experts Lyra Research and by Recharger Magazine confirms what we

have long thought — typical office users do not have the slightest idea what it costs to print or copy color pages, whether laser or ink jet.

Users were asked what it cost per page to print in color compared to black-and-white. 15% of those surveyed thought that it cost the same, while 39% thought it cost twice as much. Only 9% knew that the actual cost is usually around four times as high for color as for black-and-white.

That’s a pretty costly knowledge gap. It surely comes from an environment in which no user is accountable for costs and where there has been no education about the consequences of color printing. Before installing more color in your office, you may want to tackle the problem of ignorance.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talk about hi-res!

IBM, along with ETH Zurich (a Swiss research lab), recently announced the development of a technology called nano printing. (The original of the much-enlarged image on the left was created by putting down 20,000 gold particles, each about 60 nanometers in diameter.) The researchers came up with a technology that can lay down dots at a resolution of 100,000dpi, using dots of about 60 nanometers in width, a little higher solution than your standard 600dpi or 1,200dpi office printers. Now, this not something that is going into your office. It is clearly intended for creating tiny impressions on optical; chips or wires on tiny devices like biosensors. It could be the way in which semiconductors designers can put even more information on silicon. I like to imagine spies encoding vast databases on a Post-It note. This isn’t going to affect how you print your next memo, but advances in technology have a tendency to migrate both uphill and downhill. Office printers have improved over recent years due to increased accuracy in placing toner and ink, and the IBM breakthrough shows that accuracy can be taken to the ultimate degree.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Green faxing

Here’s another good reason for managing fax traffic—the ecology. According to business consultant Heather Clancy, the best thing would be for everyone to convert to scan-to-email. But many small businesses, in particular, still have customers and business partners that are still very much wedded to the fax age. But traditional fax machines, as Clancy points out,“are notorious paper wasters and energy drainers to boot.” U.S. government stats show that “paper production is second only to petroleum in terms of energy used by U.S. industries.” And if your fax machines are like ours, sometimes they print almost as many ads for replacement toner, software bargains, and deli menus as they do real faxes. Even more wasteful is the cost of just sitting there waiting, according to Clancy: “Energy Star rates fax machines among the most energy-intensive types of business machines out there because most of the time they sit around turned on, basically doing nothing.” She points to an Energy Star Web page with a linked calculator that can help you determine the hidden costs of faxing here. The solutions are more scan-to-email and high-end network fax software that can intercept faxes, digitize them, store them in a secure environment, and perhaps reroute them by email. Being green may not be a priority of your business, but when being green means saving money and increasing security, it makes sense. Network fax software is available, for example, from MyFax, Equisys (Zetafax), and Captaris (RightFax) among others.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Print 2.0 — Part Two

Hewlett-Packard’s Print 2.0 initiative, once you get past the marketing hype, is about a series of packages that extend the usefulness of printing for different classes of users. We’ll give a few examples below of new applications where we think HP has made a step forward, and may well help in its goal to have people print even more pages on desktop printers.

Consumers and Small Businesses
One trend that HP has discovered is that while a few years ago, the large majority of pages were printed from standard PC applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop, etc.), now a growing number of pages come directly from an Internet page (48 percent according to their figures and growing). Web pages have several characteristics for the print market, not least being that (if printed in color) they use up a lot of ink or toner, thanks to colored backgrounds. But as we all know, Web pages often don’t fit on printed pages.

So HP has come up with a program called Smart Web Printing that allows you to combine selections from several Web pages on one printed page. It will automatically resize the content to fit on one or more pages. You can also edit text and delete or resize graphics. This software will be packaged with new HP printers due out in September.

Small and Medium Business
One of the new applications that HP recently purchase is one called Logoworks, a package that allows businesses to put together a whole suit of branding materials (stationery, business cards, etc.), without having to go outside to purchase design services or commercial printing services. The software includes a number of templates that users can simply plug in logo and text.

The big announcement its new Open Extensibility Platform, which provides an application programming interface (API) so that users and third parties can develop interfaces and workflows for high-end printers and especially multifunctionals. With this HP joins copier companies like Canon, Ricoh, and Xerox, which offer this capability for their copier/multifunctionals. It is clear that HP is aiming at that market as one of its key strategies, with both high-speed ink jet and laser multifunctionals that increasingly look like office copiers.

Printer Management
HP’s Web Jetadmin has been the standard for IT department management of printers on the network, and has been a major selling point for HP. HP has upgraded its Office Server software, which adds several impressive layers of administrative controls. It has an impressive list of features, including on-the-fly format conversion, group and individual privilege management, job authentication, accounting, and performance reporting. While this product and the suite of products that extend it has been on the market for a while, HP released a number of enhancements.

There were lots more new announcements (including hardware upgrades and new software alliances. If Print 2.0 is not as quite a big revolution as HP would like to have us believe, it is still an impressive campaign on every front. The HP juggernaut has shifted up a gear and its rivals in the printer market will have to catch up.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Print 2.0 — Part One

Hewlett-Packard recently rolled out its $300 million Print 2.0 marketing campaign. The term Print 2.0 is based on the growing concept of Web 2.0, generally seen as the second generation of Web use and services.

Basic idea behind Web 2.0 is an increased emphasis on user-to-user communication. Examples of Web 2.0 include YouTube (self-produced film clips), podcasting (shared audio information), FaceBook (social networking), and Wikipedia (an encyclopedia based on shared expertise). Some see the term as marketing hype, but there is no doubt that these programs and others have made it easier for end users to move from becoming simple consumers of the Web to producers and consumers.

So what is Print 2.0? It’s a little confusing at this point. HP sees it as an attempt to move “from selling printers to selling printing.” What that means is something like a move from selling boxes to selling solutions. And it makes sense. HP makes little if any profit on the sales of printing devices, especially in the competitive home and small-office markets. Where it does make money, and lots of it, is in selling consumables: toner and ink, which are high markup items. Hence HP’s emphasis not on selling more printers (they dominate the market for both lasers and ink jets), but on have customers print more pages on those printers (and buying more supplies).

HP, then, is in the midst of figuring out how to entrench and extend its domination. It’s pushing strongly in three areas:
* On the home consumer level, it is providing new software that encourages end users to get creative without necessarily having to buy or master Illustrator or Photoshop
* On the office level, it is putting a strong emphasis on multifunctionals as replacements for office copiers and on the workflow tools related to them
* On the high-end production level, it has been pushing it new Edgeline high-speed ink jet printer-multifunctionals along with a new generation wide-format printers and HP’s jaw-dropping Halo video-conferencing.

We’ll look at some of the specific new products in another post.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Color laser printers – down, down, up!

We’ve been looking back at issues of the Better Buys for Business Color Laser Guide, and are struck by the amazingly rapid changes in the market.

First, we looked at some typical models from major vendors in 2002. All of these models are letter/legal-size printers and come network-ready. Note that tandem color printers, those that ran at or near the same speed in color and black-and-white, were just coming on the market. These printers are all suitable for small workgroup use and they are pretty representative. At this point, there were very few printers that could print faster than 20ppm in color.
Vendor Product Speed Street price Est. cost per page
Brother HL-2400CeN 16ppm black/ 4ppm color $1,999 2.7 cents (black)/ 10.6 cents (color)
Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet 4550 N 16ppm black/ 4ppm color $2,369 2.2 cents (black)/ 12.7 cents (color)
Lexmark C750n 20ppm black/ 20ppm color $3,399 1.4 cents (black)/ 8.9 cents (color)
OKI C72000n 20ppm black/ 12ppm color $2,279 1.9 cents (black)/ 9.5 cents (color)
Xerox Phaser 750N 16ppm black/ 4ppm color $1,999 1.9 cents (black)/ 9.5 cents (color)
Now we’ll look at some parallel models from our upcoming 2007 guide. Note that there are many more models available, and lots of very speedy tandem models, running at 40ppm and faster in color. These models are again small workgroup-oriented, network-ready printers.
Vendor Product Speed Street price Est. cost per page
Brother HL-2700CN 31ppm black/ 8ppm color $450 3.3 cents (black)/ 13.4 cents (color)
Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet 3600n 17ppm black/ 17ppm color $1,199 2.2 cents (black)/ 12.0 cents (color)
Lexmark C532n 24ppm black/ 22ppm color $499 1.4 cents (black)/ 9.8 cents (color)
OKI C6000n 24ppm black/ 20ppm color $700 2.6 cents (black)/ 16.3 cents (color)
Xerox Phaser 6180/N 26ppm black/ 20ppm color $500 2.4 cents (black)/ 12.2 cents (color)
Two things are noticeable. First, and most obviously, the staggering drop in unit prices along with a major increase in color printing speed. Second, there’s an overall rise in cost per page for these lower-priced units. Note that the most moderate prices belong to the HP models, which has a far higher price tag than the others.

Conclusion: The decline in prices has been countered by a general increase in costs. And as, color printers get faster and users print even more pages in color, the lower unit prices are an enticement for users to buy more and more machines and eventually high-cost toner.