Kinko's works out kinks in Web services

Kinko's and Microsoft have created a prototype Web service that lets a Microsoft Office application, such as Word, print out to a system at any one of 1,100 Kinko's locations.

Programmers from Microsoft's .Net team, using MS Office .Net Toolkit, worked with Kinko's to create an MS Office add-in program. This program modifies the "print" dialog box: users see one printing option as "file print Kinko's."

SOAP messages carry the XML-encoded documents to the Kinko's systems, where the print job is processed. One Microsoft Web Service, MapPoint, lets the user select a location and find the nearby Kinko's locations. Another Web Service, .Net Alerts, pops up a box to tell the user that the print job has been accepted, and later that it's completed, giving a summary of what's been done.

Kinko's now gets about 20 percent of its business through digital documents submitted via hand-carried diskette or through its online Web site, says Daniel Connors, Kinko's senior vice president of corporate strategy. The prototype application lets anyone working with a standard application such as MS Word or Excel, do the same thing without logging into a separate Web site, or trudging to a Kinko's location at 6 A.M. on a rainy morning with diskette in hand.

Connors describe the prototype project as a "virtual printer cable for our customers."

Both Connors and Neil Charney, director of .Net platform strategy for Microsoft, said that no decisions had been made on how the service would actually be implemented. Kinko's plans to have it ready in mid-2003. Charney said initially it might require a small download to each client system, or an enterprise IT shop could choose to make use of the service as one corporate print option.

Eventually, some kind of online discovery mechanism, via a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) directory, would let users "find" the Kinko's service and use it.

Payment options have not been decided either, but Connors pointed out that Kinko's already lets its Web site users either pay online, or submit the job and pay when it's picked up. Another option is to allow some 200,000 Kinko credit card users to input their card number.

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