By harnessing the power of the World Wide Web, a recent wave of new printers that can reach out over the Internet is enabling companies to be more productive, while helping to re-establish the importance of printers in today's e-business networks.
The trend is growing for Internet-enabled printers that can connect to the Web and perform tasks that include printing pages directly from Web sites, scanning and sending images via the Internet, and manipulating advanced documents, all without the intervention of a personal computer.
Keeping in step with this trend, companies such as Hewlett-Packard., Lexmark., Hitachi., and others have been quick to deliver their own Internet-enabled printers to market.
Hitachi began shipping its iDoc 400 Internet-enabled printer late last year. One of the earliest Internet-enabled printers, the Hitachi iDoc 400 offers an Internet print controller that frees the printer from the confines of a local user network and allows any authorized user, anywhere in the world, to send print commands directly to the printer via the Internet. When the print command is sent directly to the printer, companies can save precious data storage space by not having to load large print files onto PC hard drives prior to printing them.
Hewlett-Packard recently released seven Internet-enabled printers that deliver options such as running Java applications to extend the printer's capability of interacting with Web-based services, sending digital faxes via the Internet, and offering full Web browsing.
"It's all about awareness. Most people don't realize that printers now have a lot of capabilities that can really save companies time and money," says Weili Su, a senior analyst for printer research at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.
Jamie Brown, the assistant general manager for the Vancouver Canadians baseball team, recently put one of HP's new Internet-enabled printers in the team's home office. Using the HP LaserJet 1220, Brown and his co-workers can print color documents, as well as scan and upload those documents to the Web, right from the printer.
"With [Internet-enabled printers]," Brown says, "you have taken three or four devices and compacted them into one."
Instead of having to master sometimes difficult graphics programs on a PC, pictures of the team's roster can simply be scanned and uploaded from the printer for fans to review on the team's Web site, Brown says.
"[The printer] was cake to set up, and it gives you the ability to edit and crop the images. The functionality of the software makes it easy," Brown adds.
Features available on Internet-enabled printers allow users to enter a URL, hit a Web site, and print pages directly from it. Many models offer options such as document printing capabilities from PDAs with infrared or faxing capabilities.
Lexmark, a recognized leader in label and form printing, has been delivering Internet-enabled printers to the pharmaceutical and retail industries with its Optra T line of printers. Pharmacies can print labels and price tags from remote corporate databases, according to Joel Schulman, a senior product marketing manager at Lexmark International, based in Lexington, Ky.
Color versions of Lexmark's Optra T series Internet-enabled label printers, which will save companies even more money on preprinted label stock, known as shells, are on the way soon, Schulman says.
"Right now, most pharmacies have preprinted shells with [information] about the pharmacy or the type of prescription. Soon pharmacies anywhere in the world will be able to select the type of prescription, have the printer contact a database over the Internet, and print the entire label right from the database," saving money on preprinted shells that could become obsolete if the preprinted information changes, Schulman says.
Internet-enabled printers also help network administrators better manage the demands placed on printers in an e-business network, IDC's Su says. Because most printers in a network have access to the Internet through the network's Ethernet, Internet-enabled printers can give network administrators the power to remotely check the operational status of a printer, its toner level, or even the capacity of the printer's paper trays.
Sending a file directly to an Internet-enabled printer also helps ease the strain placed on networks that must juggle data-heavy print files. Print files can hinder other network traffic, even if dedicated print routers are in place, Su says.
"Because of the advantages of [Internet-enabled printers], eventually I think all printers will have Internet capability," Su believes. "Printers are something companies often take for granted, but the Internet is making them more useful, and hard copy will always be important."