Thursday, May 25, 2006

More on HP's Share-to-Web

This month's Observations, the column, refers to software conflicts affecting users of Windows and HP (NYSE: HPQ) Share-to-Web software. Here's what HP says about it, as of yesterday:

Microsoft has issued a patch to fix the problem some customers are experiencing with the earlier Microsoft security update MS06-015 that conflicted with HP's Share-to-Web software. Such software was distributed prior to 2004 with HP cameras, printers, scanners and CD and DVD drives. HP's Share-to-Web software has not been distributed since 2003 and services that were used by the software have been discontinued. HP does not believe there are many customers using the Share-to-Web software today.

Which also relates to another of my recent blog entries, regarding the "Shoebox Print Market" and my belief in the importance of an attractive and catchy name or label as applied to a new or growing product/service/activity. Seems like HP did have a good one in "Share-to-Web" that they've pretty much abandoned -- it's so good that a friend of mine, still at HP, swears he's recently used "Share-to-Web" to upload photos to Snapfish.

This takes me WAY back in HP history, when customers of HP 3000 systems were offered a "Guaranteed Uptime Service", aka GUS. The legend was that many customers claimed to have it, while in reality a very very few really did. Their ultra-reliable HP minicomputers had never failed, so they must have GUS! Hey, perception IS reality, right?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Big Week for Laser MFP's

On Tuesday, May 23rd, Lexmark International (NYSE: LXK) announced the X642e monochrome laser MFP, rated at 45ppm and priced at $1,499. This follows Dell's (NASDAQ: DELL) day-earlier announcement (see below) that included multiple laser-based stand-alone and MFP devices. A couple of the more interesting features of the X642e included a user interface via an adjustable 5.7" monochrome touchscreen, mimicking a feature of higher-end models from both Lexmark and competitors like market leader HP (NYSE: HPQ), as well as "...the first multifunction device in its class with the ability to scan to or print PDFs and images from a USB flash storage device."

Monday, May 22, 2006

More on Dell's Printers

Making good on their printer comments from last Thursay's earnings announcement, Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) has detailed their new offering of laser printers. Aimed squarely against market leader HP (NYSE: HPQ), their new lineup include monochrome and color laser printers and MFP's ranging in price from $379 to $999, and also includes a software management tool they're calling OpenManage Print Manager. The new products, hardware and software-wise, are clearly aimed at businesses rather than consumers, and they're clearly positioned against HP. Once again, Danit Lidor of Forbes is on top of the story, complete with quotes from The Hard Copy Observer and IDC.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dell's Printers

After the Thursday market close, Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) announced earnings and some news (they're going to start using AMD processors in some of their servers). And like HP (NYSE: HPQ) the other day, their stock is up 4% at the open of the markets the next morning. And also like HP, they included some interesting factoids regarding their printer business. They report that their overall imaging products business grew 10% year-over-year revenue-wise (compared to HPQ's 5%), aided by 54% growth in the consumables (such as "ink and toner cartridges and paper") portion of the business (compared to HPQ's 10% growth in this area). They also noted the consumables portion now represents over half the category's total revenues (this split -- supplies making up over half of total revenues -- has been the case in the printing industry at large for some time, but would be expected to take some time, for the installed base to grow, in the case of Dell). Dell also pre-announced "a new generation of business color, mono and multi-function laser printers" to be detailed later this quarter -- also in-line with HP's emphasizing "color laser printer shipments and printer-based MFP shipments up 38% and 44% year-over-year, respectively" in their May 16, 2006 announcement. Low-end consumer hardware continues to be de-emphasized in both camps, with HP noting a revenue decline of 8%.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

HP Beats the Street -- Again

Hewlett Packard's (NYSE: HPQ) Quarter Two revenues held to Wall Street expectations, and profits exceeded the analysts' consensus. Forbes' Danit Lidor reports the results and focuses in on the fact that the Printing and Imaging business contributed almost $1 Billion of the company's $1.7 Billion of operating profit ("HP Prints Money"). At the open of Wednesday's NYSE, HPQ is reported to be up about 4%, per CNBC.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Digital Photography Usability -- A Story With Everything?

Robin Raskin, of Yahoo!Tech, blogs about her experiences on yesterday's Today Show. A chimpanzee that had been trained to use a digital camera and photo printer was faced off against short-timer Katie Couric in a "shoot-off", with mixed results. Robin was the emcee, and writes about what can be learned from the less-than-totally-successful exhibition. But like I say, what story has more? All in one brief morning show snippet we've got Katie's final days doing this kind of thing (think she'll work with chimps on the CBS Evening News?), usability issues with today's high-tech gadgets (Robin's got some ideas), even video-on-demand over the Internet (I learned don't wait a day or Today's VOD is gone, at least everything after the show's first hour). And Katie, there's something Reagan-esque here!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lexmark's Web Toolbar

The Lexmark (NYSE: LXK) introduction of three new all-in-one printers a couple of weeks back included a new software tool called the Lexmark Web Toolbar. It's offered as a free download and helps Internet users print web pages, by scaling web pages to the size of the desired printed page (8.5"x11" or smaller for the US, A4 or smaller elsewhere in the world), allowing printing of web pages with only their textual content, or conversely printing only the photos from a web page, and offers black-only (ie. ink-saving) printing as well.

I'll be putting the tool through its paces in the coming days so stay tuned.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Shoebox Print Market

One of my major career learnings related to marketing is the correlation between business success and a good name or label -- and I'm not talking just about the obvious case of branding. Commercial growth and development of an activity, let alone the products and brands associated with that activity, often depends* on its attracting a descriptive or catchy phrase. "Desktop Publishing" is my favorite positive example. "Network Scanning" is the first negative one that comes to mind.

So here's one we can watch: "shoebox marketing", as reported on imaginginfo.com, a site for professional photographers. They have an interesting item about Walgreen's using their existing photo printing infrastructure in some of their stores to take on the market of converting all those shoeboxes full of old snapshots that can gain new life being digitized. (The market need focuses less on the printing than it does on the scanning and storing it would seem, despite how the story is headlined.) So stay tuned!

*my statistical-purist side cringes at the use of the word "depends" as it denotes cause and effect. Actually a good name may come about or be popularized as a result of commercial success.

Dell out of favor

Today's WSJ's "Heard On The Street" column analyzes the recent trend among investors favoring "onetime laggard" HP (NYSE: HPQ) over "onetime darling" Dell (NASDAQ: DELL). Columnist Christopher Lawton reports on differences in distribution strategies among the two PC giants, including HP's growth outside the US and their continued successful emphasis on consumers and retail. And there are product differences too, with Dell's continued reliance on Intel as sole source supplier of its microprocessors. And even the delay of Microsoft's Vista is hurting Dell, according to one Wall Street analyst. Most interesting of all, to me, is the assertion that Dell is in denial about issues with their business, fervently defending their direct sales model.

Not surprisingly, no mention is made of the printer business at either company. Dell's entry into printers has been highly interesting for those of us in the industry, but doesn't even seem to warrant a footnote in the PC battle being reported on these days.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hardware/supplies business models under pressure?

A great blog entry from "Seeking Alpha -- The Consumer Electronics Stock Blog" came to my attention this morning. It covers the threat to the business model that dominates consumer printer sales, made famous by market leaders Lexmark (NYSE: LXK) and HP (NYSE: HPQ).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Observations: Be Careful What You Wish For?


by Jim Lyons

The Hard Copy Observer, May 2006

Recent news reports have pointed out security issues with HP printing and imaging software—in one case via a Microsoft security patch and in the other via vulnerabilities in HP’s software. Jim Lyons, a 25-year veteran of the printing and imaging industry and an HP printer user, delves further into these issues in this month’s column. He also tests the reported workarounds and contemplates the connection between printers and the Internet.

_______________________________________________________

An online news item caught my attention the other day for several reasons. Although it has become easy to ignore the seemingly endless stream of stories about PC software security flaws and their corresponding fixes, the title of an April 17 story in PC World Online made me want to read more.

The article, “Critical Windows Security Patch Butts Heads With HP Software,” was about an automatic Windows XP update conflicting with an HP (NYSE HPQ) printing and imaging application called “Share-to-Web.” According to the report, this conflict could potentially lead to “lock-ups” in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office Suite applications, and the good news was that “a workaround exists.”

The reasons this piece piqued my attention were as follows. First, I had experienced some mysterious software problems. I run Windows XP with automatic updates, and my installed HP printer software includes Share-to-Web. Second, the title was similar to one I had seen two weeks previously (“HP Warns of Printer Software Risks,” ZDNet News, April 5, 2006). Finally, I was on the scene when the “year of the LAN” finally came to pass and network printers were “invented.” But then the Internet and its bigger challenges loomed, and we in the printing industry dreamed—and eventually made real—the role of printers in that revolution, thus enabling them to become full-fledged citizens of the Web.

My initial reaction was that I needed to repair the problem immediately on my home-office PC. It is a fairly new and powerful HP Media Center model that has been rock-solid for the year I’ve been using it, but it had been exhibiting some strange hiccups of late. In the last year, I have transitioned from the luxurious position of having a large corporate PC support staff to maintain my office PC to actually being the support staff for my home-office PC. Nevertheless, I swallowed hard, pushed up my sleeves, did what felt like major surgery on my Windows registry per the PC World article, and got the fix in place. The result? The computer now hums along just the way it used to. Oh, what a feeling! (It was only in reflection that I identified my recent “lock-ups” as occurring while using Firefox, Quicktime, and Picasa—not Internet Explorer or Office, but close enough?)

Having tested my home IT skills as a result of the second article, I became more curious about the first. Initially, I was only mildly interested in the article on ZDNet News warning that the Toolbox software for certain HP printers can interact with Windows to open a security hole that could potentially give hackers access to the PC user’s files. Although I do have a Color LaserJet 2500 and run the HP Toolbox, I had not taken any immediate action. Now that I had the Windows/Share-to-Web issue resolved, I went online and quickly and easily performed the upgrade to solve the Toolbox issue. By the way, I use the Toolbox software all the time, unlike Share-to-Web, to monitor my printer’s supplies levels from my Web browser.

On a grander scale, these experiences made me reflect: just when did so much Web functionality become associated with printers? In the mid-1990s, the printing and imaging industry struggled to avoid being left behind in the Internet age. After creating a whole new category of network printers based on sharing and managing printers via local area networks, the fit between printers and the Internet and World Wide Web did not seem quite as obvious. Only a few die-hard true believers were proactive in establishing printing and imaging products as part of the “Internet tornado.”

The satisfaction of millions of users proves that we succeeded in this task. While I’m not a user of Share-to-Web, I publish photos and other files on the Internet all the time—today, there are so many ways to do it! (Share-to-Web is a tool that HP first introduced with its scanners, long before the ubiquity of digital still cameras, as a way for customers to upload scanned images to Web sites.) Once just a dream, printer management and monitoring from the comfort and ease of a Web browser (often from your adjacent desktop PC but if needed from anywhere in the world) is something that many printer buyers have come to expect. Consumers have also come to expect instantaneous and automated printer software and firmware updates. (Did we really used to depend on floppies and CDs for updates?)

A profound technology leader used to say, “The true measure of an innovation’s adoption is when it becomes conspicuous only by its absence.” This quotation certainly applies to today’s situation with printers and the Internet. I added a question mark to the cliché that serves as this column’s title because the warning “be careful what you wish for” has always seemed to me to be much too pessimistic. Sure, having printers and printing and imaging software as integral to the Web can lead to occasional issues, but the gains in convenience, ease of use, and productivity are enormous.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Lexmark's New Range

It may come from spending the good part of last week at a conference on the Digital Home, but my personal real-time filtering system is a bit askew I guess. While scanning Web headlines this morning I read "Lexmark’s New Range Listens To Consumers" and thought to myself, I've heard of net-connected refrigerators, so ranges could easily be next, but Lexmark (NYSE: LXK)? Now that's REALLY taking the multi-function thing to the next level! Of course, the reality is that the publication that featured this headline, Smarthouse, is referring to Lexmark's new MFP line ("range" in Australian). And those new products do indeed warrant some attention...stay tuned.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A little on the history of fonts

Guy Kawasaki really comes up with some amazing references, in addition to his own very worthwhile writing. One of his blog entries today links to a piece entitled "The Scourge of Arial" which I found to be a very informative and entertaining commentary and history of the typeface. I was a little relieved (disappointed?) to find "Helv" missing in the saga of how Helvetica was "replaced" by Arial.

Printing over the Internet

I've just used EFI's PrintMe, in my Bay Area hotel, to (un)successfully print my Alaska Airlines boarding pass -- but I can't blame EFI for my lack of success!

After the airline's web check-in process led me to the boarding pass page, when I'd normally just click "print", I used the "Save Page" command. Then, I navigated to the PrintMe site, where the simple PrintMe instructions really worked, where a nice clean and simple web interface allowed me to enter the hotel's code, my email, and attach the saved file. I then clicked "print" and the PrintMe site brought up a "completed" page with a six-digit code that I could use to retrieve my print job.

I went to the hotel lobby where I'd already scoped out the printer (a snappy little LJ 1320, just like I have at home). I entered my code into the PrintMe access device attached at its side, and out came my print job, just like that! But alas, the page was devoid of its original graphics, which in the case of a boarding pass means a couple of unique bar codes that are really the essence of the whole thing. A little research afterwards led to a little disappointment -- my hands-down favorite browser, Firefox, lacks the ability to save the full and complete HTML page image in a single file, a feature which is included with Microsoft Internet Explorer. (Seems like I should know all this...)

Next time I'll use IE, I guess, but the real solution is to probably remove the save/attach steps and just somehow incorporate PrintMe into the normal print menu.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Blurb Goes Public (Beta that is)

Blurb's BookMaker software is now available in public Beta. Stay tuned here for my experiences as a populist publisher. I see from the release that someone has already published The Pub Crawler's Guide To Portland. This could be a good companion to my Field Guide To Boise Coffee Shops.