Friday, June 30, 2006

Cheapest Laser Printer Ever? $39.99

Just checking Buy.com's daily deal and my unscientific research tells me this may be the cheapest deal for a new laser printer there's ever been! $39.99 after $50 rebate for the Samsung ML-2010. I guess they make up the margin by requiring you buy the USB cable separately?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Speaking of recycling...

It must be a slow news week, as recycling (first cardboard, now PC's and printers) seems to be grabbing all the attention online.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) seems to have once again taken the lead in good old price and ease-of-use over rivals HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) with yesterday's announcement of their new global recycling program for PC's, printers, and other Dell-branded tech gear.

Good for them. Looks like they're putting that world class supply chain operation to work in a different direction.

And the office products superstores seem to be doing their part too -- have you noticed their "dedication" to "recycling" used toner and ink cartridges lately??? (Wink, wink...)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Buying Tech Online

I'm just back from an early summer vacation that combined a college graduation ceremony, some family visiting, and some true fun, touristy stuff. It was the ideal trip that, as good as it was, makes you glad to be back home as well. And of course, one of the best things about getting back home is seeing that everything is pretty much in order. Thanks to an ultra-reliable neighborhood steward, the pets and plants have survived, the mail has been safely gathered, and, yes, the inevitable boxes of gadgets have made it from their UPS/USPS/Fedex outdoor drop-off points to safety inside the house.

On this trip, I was relieved the laptop computer and all-in-one printer I'd ordered the week before had arrived and were accounted for (two boxes of gadgets is an average haul for a week at our house). And in this spirit, I direct you to Jason Fry's piece in today's online Wall Street Journal, on the "green" impacts of E-commerce, complete with a link to a fascinating 10-page PDF on the history of corrugated cardboard (no kidding!).

More on that new all-in-one later this week, and in the spirit of the reduce-reuse-recycle model, I am a dedicated cardboard recycler and occaisonal reuser. The reducing? Well, I'm working on it...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lexmark (NYSE: LXK) Web Toolbar Screen Shot


Here's a screen shot showing the Lexmark Web Toolbar in action, as covered in my June 2006 Hard Copy Observer Observations column. Please note the browser I'm using is the beta version of Microsoft's ( NASDAQ: MSFT) Internet Explorer 7, which includes print enhancements of its own, and also please note the Lexmark home page, which features and links to the free download.

Observations: Printing from the Web—Are We Reaching the End Point?

In last month’s “Observations” column, I wrote about the development of Internet-based printer management over the last 10 years. This month, spurred on by a small part of a major introduction by Lexmark International (NYSE: LXK), I’m taking a look at the past, present, and future of the other important aspect of printers and their coexistence with the World Wide Web—printing Web content.

The Present: Lexmark’s Web Toolbar

The new Lexmark product that inspired this article is the Lexmark Web Toolbar. I have downloaded it and given it a run for its money, and I am pretty impressed, even though monochrome and color HP (NYSE: HPQ) LaserJet printers are my primary output tools these days.

Lexmark’s Web Toolbar is a Microsoft Internet Explorer add-in and focuses on four (and only four) tasks: scaling Web pages to print without cutting off text or images; printing Web content in text-only format, thereby eliminating images (read “ads”); printing in monochrome only “using the black cartridge”; and enabling “easy Web photo printing using the included Lexmark Fast Pics software.”

For Web support, Lexmark offers one page of FAQs, a grand total of seven problems with recommended solutions. Given that the Web Toolbar is so clean and simple in its approach and appearance, it is probably appropriate for its single Web help page to be spare as well. One of the “big seven” questions, the last one in fact, is quite interesting, suggesting that problems with non-Lexmark printers can be expected, given that the product is designed with the company’s products in mind, and “results may vary” with other vendors’ printers.

My results have been fine using the Web Toolbar with HP LaserJet printers, but it does give one pause—why, after all these years, are we still hassling with chopped-off Web pages and that seemingly ever-present nearly blank last page that is printed? For me, anyway, those are my only real pain points with Web printing—I can deal with my text-only and photo-only needs in a variety of existing ways. For that matter, the pervasiveness of “print-friendly” versions of pages has been the biggest aid to printing everything from recipes to news items, although I find it ironic that often I use “print-friendly” pages to construct a nicely formatted e-mail that may never be printed!

For completeness’ sake, before leaving the “present” section, I should mention that Oki announced a similar solution earlier this year (Observer, 3/06), an Internet Explorer “plug-in,” using the old-school vernacular rather than a term such as Lexmark’s “toolbar.” Oki’s WebPrint tackles a few more Web printing problems and features, such as margins and frames, but I have not had a chance to try it.

The Past

The history of printing from the Web is an interesting one, with a well-documented lack of association between the Internet and printing in the early days (mid-1990s). Following these pioneer days, the industry realized that the Web was the eagerly anticipated manifestation of the “distribute and print” model and that, to avoid being stuck in the “print and distribute” past, printers and printer vendors had darned well better embrace the Web.

True sticklers will tell you Bookmaker’s Surf’n’Print was technically the first such Web-enabled product (Observer, 3/96). In my opinion, however, the first significant announcement along these lines was documented in a February 1997 article in The Hard Copy Observer called “Canon Computer Launches New ‘Photo-Ready’ Ink Jets.” Canon announced WebRecord as part of a larger ink jet printer announcement, and the Observer described it as “a utility that stores and formats Web pages for later viewing and printing.” The article concluded with the company’s rationale for the development and introduction of WebRecord: “Canon hopes that WebRecord will encourage people to print off the Web, something … that they don’t do much now.” In addition to bundling this utility with its printers, Canon even attempted to sell a retail version of the product for a time, for use with all printers, not just Canon models.

Later, HP leveraged assets acquired via an acquisition of (you guessed it) Bookmaker and introduced Web PrintSmart (Observer, 6/98). The Observer story on Web PrintSmart highlighted the strategic importance of this product as a tool “designed to suck pages away from competing print technologies onto HP office and home printers.” HP’s software package, which was available bundled with new printers and via free download, was designed to meet a perceived user need to print Web “selections and collections,” and it actually survived through a 2.0 version. As is the case with any HP bundled software, millions of customers ultimately acquired PrintSmart. User adoption was another matter, though.

In retrospect, these were important products from both Canon and HP, measured not by their longevity (relatively short) nor by their revenue or profit production (none) but as statements of strategic direction by these two industry leaders.

Where the products went off base, especially HP’s Web PrintSmart (and maybe even more so its later “Instant Delivery” software), was in their attempt to understand and to ultimately modify the behavior of Web information seekers. The idea of automatically scheduling “harvesting” of Web content, to be pushed to end users’ printers, could be positioned as a great convenience for busy knowledge workers, but in reality, many users saw the process as a complicated hassle resulting in stacks of unread printouts. Basic printing improvements were crushed under the weight of these behavior-modifying (and supplies-business-building) “features.”

This misunderstanding was not unique to printer vendors, however. As the Internet bubble swelled, the entire Internet industry was enamored with “push” technologies. Early push technologies such as PointCast and others met their demise when the Internet bubble burst. Of course, instances of the general idea of push technologies thrive today, including e-mail and spam, the latter of which has proven cockroach-like in its ability to thrive despite a variety of legal and technological countermeasures. More favorably viewed subscription concepts such as RSS and podcasting are also alive and well.

The Future

Even in some of the earliest coverage I could find about printing from the Web, Canon and HP acknowledged that getting the browsers to enable better and easier printing was key. Browser-based printing has continued to improve, and almost all browsers have long offered enhancements such as “print preview” and improved frame printing.

Much of the media coverage of Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer version 7, available as a beta 2 version this spring, has focused on Google’s problems with the software’s built-in preferences for embedded search engine MSN. Less widely detailed is Internet Explorer 7’s inclusion of print-friendly features such as “Shrink to Fit.” In fact, Microsoft’s own Web site lists “Advanced Printing” as one of the key feature areas of the new Internet Explorer. Its new browser automatically scales a printout of a Web page “so that it’s not wider than the paper it will be printed on.” Internet Explorer 7 also includes a multipage print preview with live margins, resizes text to avoid document clipping, and includes an option to print only selected text.

As Internet Explorer 7 becomes used more widely, the end of the road may be near. I have been a dedicated Mozilla Firefox user for some time for almost all of my Web browsing—for non-print-related reasons, I might add. But maybe I will use Internet Explorer more often if its print capabilities have improved significantly. (When it comes to new technology, I’m anything but risk-averse, but beta versions make me a little nervous. That said, I will be playing with this new browser.) And if the much-maligned Internet Explorer leaps ahead on printing, watch Firefox and the others fight to catch up!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Seems nothing makes news like a recall

After HP (NYSE: HPQ) made headlines last week with its Printing and Imaging event in the Bay Area (an example being "HP Rolls Out New Line of Digital Products" from PopPhoto.com), they might have anticipated a slow news week following. Well it was, kind of. At the corporate level, they did announce a big tax savings, and in the Printing and Imaging space, they disclosed an interesting acquisition of Swiss-based Silverwire. But, alas, most of the press interest seems to concern the announced recall of the R707 camera.

Significant from a Market Analysis point of view was the number of cameras involved, 679,000, quite a respectable total.

From an Information Analysis standpoint, a search of Google News, as of this morning, yields four hits (yes, 4) for "HP Printer Introductions", and "about 182" for "R707". Now given the vagaries of search terms I'm sure there are many more actual stories covering the HP announcements at the end of May, but it's interesting HOW MUCH coverage there's been on the recall. Is this the technical press's equivalent of the gawker delay?

HP (NYSE: HPQ) Stock Below $30

At the risk of blogging about blogging (which must be well up there on the list of the seven most boring sins), I'm wondering why Google's Blog tracker, anyway, seems to come up with no one doing any substantive blogging about HP (NYSE: HPQ). All I get when I search are blogs with links to HP press releases. With HPQ stock trading below $30 today, one would think someone would have something to say?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

File Formats -- The important thing about Google Office?

I posted yesterday about the possibility that the Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Adobe Systems (NASDAQ: ADBE) battle over PDF and XPS might be missing the bigger picture, and Ken Fisher of ARSTechnica takes this argument in a slightly different but very interesting direction.

I've been playing with the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) spreadsheet today, and it's very impressive as a SIMPLE spreadsheet creation tool. Collaboration is the key to its power, but a mid-level number cruncher like me could never give up even the handful of advanced Excel tools that I use. I'm also running the beta versions of the MS Office suite (2007) and they (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) are each impressive in their own ways, but require quite a learning curve at least for this Office 2003 "old dog".

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Document Format Battle -- Fiddling Around?

The June 5th San Jose Mercury News recaps the recent PDF/XPS clash between Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Adobe Systems (NASDAQ: ADBE) in an article by John Boudreau. It's a great review of what's transpired (for ancient history, see my April Observations, and also my recent post) and relies on interesting sources from outside the usual printing and imaging community -- yes, there is a bigger world out there!

But, as I write this, I wonder if this is "yesterday's news", more than just literally? Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is out, officially, with the beta test of their browser-based spreadsheet, and has been in beta with a browser-based word processor since acquiring Writely this spring. While both of these products have a long way to go just to get out of beta, let alone present a market challenge to MS Office, there's a message here about looming transformational change.

A great web site, The Phrase Finder, offers the meaning of the old saying about "fiddling while Rome burns" as "to occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis". While Microsoft and Adobe continue to scrap it out like only they can, they both have much more to lose, together, if the proverbial paradigm shifts away from client-based applications.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Microsoft changing Vista and Office around XPS issues

CNET and others report on Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced changes to their upcoming Office and Windows releases based on potential legal threats from Adobe Systems (NASDAQ: ADBE). Months-long negotiations apparently broke down. Why are we not surprised? (See my historical take, in April's Observations.)

More HPQ Virus Trouble

Danit Lidor of Forbes continues excellent coverage of the printing and imaging beat, with this morning's story about HP (NYSE: HPQ) printer software and more virus problems. Her piece is entitled Virus Hits Joshi's Printer Drivers At HP which seems a little personal -- I doubt VJ had too much directly to do with this latest snafu, but I guess someone that reports to him probably did. (For my take on this year's previous issues, see Observations for May.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Big Day for HPQ

Beginning yesterday (May 31st), HP (NYSE: HPQ) is holding a major marketing event, announcing "over 100 new products" in the Imaging and Printing space along with noting a milestone -- 100 million LaserJets shipped. I remember helping pump up "a quarter million" sold, at the Fall 1987 Comdex!

HPQ stock is down a bit this morning, even in an up market, in what must be more of a sympathetic reaction to Sun's (NASDAQ: SUNW) problems than any statement about the pros and cons of the new printer, camera, and collaboration products.