HP signs up FedEx, Hilton for public cloud printing service

BlackBerry users will be able to print supported file types to public locations

FedEx, Hilton and AirCanada have joined HP's PrinterOn network partnership, and will implement the company's ePrint technology in public locations from June 2010.

The service will allow users to print supported file types from BlackBerry smartphones to printers throughout 1800 FedEx Office stores, as well as 1300 Hilton hotels and AirCanda VIP lounges.

The ePrint Enterprise service, which can also be implemented within a company's managed print service fleet, has been in development by HP in conjunction with BlackBerry makers Research in Motion for the past year. Based on the CloudPrint technology HP launched in 2007, it effectively bypasses vendor-specific drivers as well as standard driver languages such as PCL to directly interface with the printer's or multifunction's capabilities.

Documents printed from the smartphone are set to the CloudPrint virtual print server, which sends a confirmation SMS back to the user. The printer or multifunction prints the document once a unique ID included in the SMS is entered into the website.

The service will be available on BlackBerry smartphones through a Java application, with plans to expand the capability to other smartphone platforms in the future. A CloudPrint driver is available for Windows XP, but it is unknown whether this will work with the public printers using ePrint Enterprise technology.

Supported file types include PDFs, images, HTML and text files, XPS documents as well as Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

Google has recently announced its own attempts to develop a cloud-based printing platform for its forthcoming Chrome OS.

The cloud-based printing platform won't kill the driver, however.

"While some situations work well with driver-less printers, there are certain workflow processes that require specific integration with the printer," HP vice-president of imaging and printing group in Asia Pacific Richard Bailey told Computerworld Australia in an email.

HP's CloudPrint service will purportedly work with the enterprise's or public location's existing printer fleet, regardless of brand.

"Ultimately what we would like is not only for the company that's buying this to be a managed print service customer, but our intent is for the partners to be managed print service," Bruce Dahlgren, HP senior vice president of managed enterprise solutions, imaging and printing group said.

BlackBerry users will be able to find available public printing locations once the smartphone application is released next week. Pricing and the application used to print will vary depending on the location, with some potentially offering the printers as a free service.

"Some [partners] see that as good traffic, like a coffee house, figuring that they're going to go in there and buy something," Dahlgren said. "Others would charge for that."

HP managed print service customers will be able to implement ePrint Enterprise as a private or public cloud printing service, using the same interface offered to official partners like FedEx and Hilton.

"What we've realised is that in today's work environment, not everybody just walks into the office and does their job," Dahlgren said. "These people are virtual workers."

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