Network Printing Hits Its Stride

If costs can be kept in line, printing and delivering documents could change the way printers print

The way documents are printed and delivered may change considerably if AT&T and six other companies get their way.

The company and its partners, which include Xerox, Sir Speedy, Moore Corp., Stream International and Crestec Los Angeles, and Unisys, are setting up an electronic network over which images and text can be delivered to printers in locations where the document is needed. This would be a distribute and print model, as opposed to the current model where an item is printed and then distributed.

In a bold statement, Kathleen Earley, vice president of business and multimedia groupware services for AT&T, proclaimed that the company's series of futuristic "You will" commercials is coming true today and would "fundamentally change the way businesses and people work."

For example, a Los Angeles-based company that is holding a conference in Washington can send a computer file containing the conference materials over the network to a Washington quick-copy shop, such as Sir Speedy. The shop would output the document in a Postscript format and use high-speed copiers to reproduce it. This would eliminate freight charges for shipping the material cross-country and cut out the traditional printer.

Similar network printing systems have existed in the past, but they tended to accept documents formatted for specific machines or systems, said Janet Stone, AT&T spokesperson. The big advantage of the Network Demand system is that it's open and AT&T will be providing application programming interfaces for various systems, she said.

Right now, AT&T is working with Adobe to put its Acrobat viewer on the network. Quark's multimedia viewer should be available at a later date.

The potential impact on traditional printers and freight shippers is large. State Street Consultants, a Boston-based firm, estimates that in 1995, 130 billion pages that are printed on offset presses -- the more traditional printing method -- are eligible for print-on-

demand using the high-speed copiers. This figure is projected to grow to 205 billion pages by 2000. The growth will come through increased use as technology improves, so more kinds of documents can be printed and more color can be added, said John Windle, president of State Street.

There are two characteristics that most of these documents share, said Windle. First, they go out of date quickly and must be updated often. Second, they are black and white documents; any color is limited to spot art or highlights, not four-color artwork, he said. Good candidates for network printing include software manuals or documentation, descriptions of health care policies and their provider lists, or even books that might be needed in limited numbers for a university class.

Items with low page counts, such as price lists, also could be good candidates, Windle said. Printing a price list three times for five different office locations is not the best situation, he said. However, an ideal situation would occur if you needed to print 5,000 price lists for each of 10 offices.

While AT&T anticipates that much of the use of the Network Demand Printing service will be for high-volume print jobs, it may turn out otherwise. "I see it more practically used for one copy," said Phil Abraham, manager of electronic storage and retrieval systems for Unisys' Software and Publications division, which is participating in a market trial of the system.

Unisys has its own internal reproduction center that prints more than a million copies a day, Abraham said. Of those copies, 47 percent are low-volume jobs - but they may have a high page count, he said. The print costs probably won't change much and AT&T is working to keep delivery costs in line with overnight service. If the delivery costs are higher, Unisys will measure whether the quicker customer service is worth the increased cost before committing to use the network, Abraham said.

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