Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ricoh gobbles up IKON

One of this blog's stated objectives, I once wrote, was to be "a clearing house of interesting print news and opinions including my own". That definition has evolved over the two-and-a-half years since, to being something more like the way Cornell Enterprise quoted me recently (see "Thanks for the plug, Cornell Enterprise"):

...a personal journal of sorts — a place to log interesting news tidbits and trends, and record a few of my thoughts about them. Then I have one place to go when I'm trying to dredge my memory. And that, in a sense, defines my readership as well — people like me who want a place to go to find news and information that is having (or has had) an impact on the business.

So one of those events happened yesterday -- the announced acquisition of IKON Office Solutions by Ricoh, to the tune of $1.6B.
(Google News index this afternoon is at 568, btw.)

While I will reserve discussion and analysis for other venues more in fitting with this area of the market, in keeping with my "product manager's notebook" idea, the news deserves a post!

Monday, August 25, 2008 "Memjet print head revolution delayed..."

John Sterlicchi, in The, has a piece on Silverbrook and Memjet titled "Memjet print head revolution delayed". In my opinion, Sterlicchi has put together the best of the three recent pieces, following Gear Log's "Memjet On Track for 2009 Products" and Recharger Magazine's "Memjet Now Eyeing 2009 Release". (Full disclosure department: I was consulted and am quoted in The Australian piece.)

I will take on this topic further, in coming blog posts, but I like one direction that the Sterlichhi piece takes, one that I introduced in a May post (see "Now hiring..."). A look at Silverbrook / Memjet job postings shows numerous openings in engineering, process, and quality-related positions, just what would be expected in the wringing-out stage of a component supplier getting ready to provide its customers (printer manufacturers) in high volume. So the pinpoint accuracy of dates as provided in early 2007 relative to those dicussed two-thirds of the way through 2008 may not be the most important key to understanding what's happening with Silverbrook and Memjet, and importantly, their customers.

Memjet's Bill McGlynn is quoted (also) in the Sterlicchi piece, and offers some interesting insight. I'll be back here with more of my own insights in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, see The article!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

HP (NYSE HPQ) Printer Metrics August 2008

Here are the HP Imaging and Printing (IPG) Q32008, as included in the company's Q3 2008 Earnings Presentation.

Interesting to note that HP is down to breaking out only two product-specific categories, printer-based MFPs and Indigo digital presses (pages). Latest category to be dropped from reporting is color laser printers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This is it --the last one, Lyra Power Panel

Moderated by: Ann Priede, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Observer

Charles Brewer, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Supplies Journal
Cortney Kasuba, Industry Analyst and Program Manager for Laser Consumables, Lyra Research
Andy Lippman, Industry Analyst and Program Manager for Ink Jet Supplies, Lyra Research

Some mixed times in the industry, as reflected by previous presentations.

A few random high points:

In color lasers, workgroup single-functions seem to be losing out to low-end color lasers and workgroup color MFPs.

Wide format opportunity for aftermarket supplies? Yes, in fact availability of third-party supplies (ink and media) is an important reason for customers to buy one printer model over another. This inhibits launch and take-off of new products that confine users to OEM-only supplies.

Will laser "flip to color" like inkjet did, and when/how/why? The business need (ongoing) for monochrome printing in the office will continue indefinitely, especially with costs associated with color supplies including both toner and paper.

Do they agree with the last panel that the current economic times may have led to reduced printing, whether consumer, small business, and/or enterprise? If so, do you see it coming back when/if economic times improve? Great question (ok it was mine) and excellent answers from Andy, Cortney, Charlie and Ann. Pressure on reduced printing in consumer markets is real, business (laser) printer volumes offset each other segment to segment and geography to geography, some verticals will come back (e.g. Real Estate) in terms of print volumes, and conversion on the commercial end of things, from analog to digital, can make up huge volumes.

And that's it -- on to the World Expo.

And see you at the next Lyra event!

Industry Leaders' Panel Discussion

Moderated by: Charles Brewer, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Supplies Journal

Panelists include Brad Roderick, Executive Vice President, InkCycle; Joy James, Senior Vice President, Cartridge World; WooJin Kim, President, Charm Regent; John Weatherup, Sourcing Manager, Tech Ed Networks

Here's a small sample (and not a complete transcript) of panel Questions and Answers. To distinguish between respondents the answers are coded without names, due to the unedited nature of any blog post:

1) Are tough economic times a positive for third-party supplies players? (respondent A) US is tougher than the rest of the world. Print volumes are down a bit though usage of third-party supplies might be up proportionately. Price increases are on their way. (respondent B) Aftermarket is recession proof, but overall printing is down 10%-20%. Three reasons 1) end users are cutting back on discretionary printing, 2) SOHO printing fewer emails for cost reasons, and 3) certain industries, e.g. real estate, finance, are down and print volumes go with that. Respondent B's organization is generally not seeing the declines. (respondent C) A client (law firm) reports overall printing reductions of 30%-35%. Awareness of lower cost and environmental issues is good for the aftermarket industry.

2) Are aftermarketers competing against OEMs or other aftermarketers? (Respondent A) Agrees that a big problem for the industry is competing amongst ourselves rather than against OEMs, in part because it's easier once the customer has crossed over to using non-OEM supplies. (Respondent C) This is an old topic, ten or fifteen years at least. All competing for 25% of the market.

Trying to capture the full range of discussion is impossible here, and actually provides a great incentive for readers to attend the next Lyra seminar!

Cortney Kasuba -- Printer & MFP Toner Cartridges: Examining Worldwide Usage Trends

Printer & MFP Toner Cartridges: Examining Worldwide Usage Trends, Cortney Kasuba, Industry Analyst & Program Manager for Laser Consumables, Lyra Research

As discussed at a high level by Charlie Brewer earlier in the day, Lyra sees the monochrome segment of the toner business as the larger of the two, with color the faster growing. A look at vendor shares both for 2007 and 2012 shows the dominance of Canon, with most of their cartridges being sold by HP.

Under the slide title of "OEMs Encourage End Users to return their used toner cartridges" Cortney reviewed a number of the cartridge-return programs by virtually all the OEMs, and the next slide she also discussed reseller return programs. Many of these are helping to promote corporate responsiblity and "Green" trends.

Cortney then reviewed numerous cartridge return and recycling survey results among end users and offices.

To wrap up, the Lyra’s Office Print Monitor (OPM), a service done in conjunction with PrintFleet, was referenced in attempting to add some light on office printing activity.

General observations and ongoing trends:
*A3 machines produce more output than A4 machines
*Color machines produce fewer pages than monochrome machines

Assessing user interventions and supplies costs:
*Printer-based MFPs tend to have fewer user interventions than copier-based devices
*But, the supplies cost more

Valuing Companies

Valuing Aftermarket Businesses, Dan Brinker, President & CEO, American TonerServ

As a professional in the Merger and Acquisition side of the industry, his firm (a public company) has talked to 300 companies, has done five acquisitions in the last two years. He notes that the time for consolidation is upon us -- quoting Gartner Group "Printing is like the copier industry last 10 years", Print industry growing 11% and copiers -2%.

When? The time is now, impacting all segments of the industry.

Why? -- creates economies of scale
Where? -- worldwide
How? -- must change to compete effectively; strong strategic relationships, managed print end-to-end
M&A generally -- credit turmoil since mid-07, private equity slow down, valuations down, strategic buyers, conclusion -- fewer bidders, debt terms more onerous to the private equity firms, larger amounts of equity required due to credit risks
Valuation considerations -- EBITDA analysis, Retenton of entrepreneur and key personnel, SWOT analysis, balance sheet review, inventory accounting
Strategic versus non-strategic buyers
Valuation issues for strategic buyers include: Management post-acquisition – stay or leave; 150 Day Plan to realize synergies; Integration Issues; Customer/Vendor Issues; and Corporate Culture Issues.
Final advice: Negotiate a win/win, and close the gap (seller and buyer valuation)

Laying Down the Law -- A legal perspective on the business

Laying Down the Law: Legal Issues and the Aftermarket,Tricia Judge, Executive Director, International Imaging Technology Council

The year of color? Tricia would argue 2008 is the year of patents! She offers some news developments within imaging and printing, and also an analogy with Ford trucks and wheels. A recent development includes the emergence of "patent trolls" in our industry.

Tricia offered background on Lexmark's prebate case, the Jazz Photo and Fuji Film case, and the recent Epson general exclusion order keeping competitive product out of the USA, as over-reaching of the patent laws and describes developments that may favor the remanufacturing industry and go against the OEMs. This all leads up to the June 2008 US Supreme Court's unanimous ruling favoring patent exhaustion, in ruling on the Quanta Computers vs LG Electronics case.

What this means and might mean? Tricia offered a list under both headings, including, under the former, "All of this activity creates opportunities and strengthens the aftermarket position. The impact of these cases and changes turn on the strength of the OEM patents, some of which may be 98-pound weaklings". And under the latter, "a renaissance for the US remanufacturer?"

Even with lunch waiting, the Lyra audience offered up nearly a dozen questions for Tricia Judge.

Thoughts from the industry -- Static Control, Amercan Ink Jet

We are now back in session following a mid-morning break. Following the usual information overload from the Lyra people, it's now time to hear from two of our industry participants at the conference.

The Impact of Color and New Technologies in Remanufacturing Businesses, Steve Weedon, CEO, Static Control European Operations, and Executive Vice President, Static Control Components, Inc.
Steve commented on the changes in the industry, including importance today of polymerized toner, and the complexities of color. Notes on Static Control's CTL Replenishment System™. And "Huge Profits in Chipped Ink Jet Cartridges". He provided a background of "chipped heads", which are not factory seconds similar to scratch-and-dent products (!) but chips on print heads that lock out all but OEM supplies. Static Control has inkjet chips for all chipset tank and bag cartridges, including CLI-8/PGI-5, BCI-7e/BCI-9. The also have a new Chip Checker, launching at World Expo tomorrow (Aug 20). Challenges in the industry include a fast-changing landscape. Education is critical -- "High Quality Parts and supplies are essential to consistently build cartridges with OEM like print quality".

Ink Jet Technology Advancements, Michael Andreottolla, President & CEO, American Ink Jet
Started his presentation with some "Fun Facts" (my editorial homage to The Late Show with David Letterman). For example, he stumped the audience with "name the date" test -- the first practical experiments on inkjet printing? 1867! And 1878 for the first description of the basic physics of drop formation. Bringing us up to modern days, Michael highlighted, as industry-landmark products, the HP DeskJet 500 in 1984, the Encad wide format printer in 1990, the Iris continuous ink jet printer in 1987. Ink and Media Longevity -- back to the Wilhelm studies of 1991 (of the Iris), ongoing. Now we're up to 200, 230 years, at least using pigmented inks, on certain papers, and put behind glass. Inkjet applications today include Digital Photography, Digital Fine Art, Proofing, Graphics & Outdoor Signage, Textile Printing and many Industrial Applications.

Andy Lippman, Lyra Research, Inkjet Supplies deep dive

Andy takes up where Charlie Brewer left off and drills down into the details of the inkjet market and implications for supplies vendors. Presentation is titled "Making Sense of a Complex Ink Jet Cartridge Market: Examining Worldwide Product Mix Trends".

Some highlights:
Canon has taken up a stronger low-end presence with a broadening product line and retreat towards higher-usage segments by Lexmark (and Dell) and Epson
Canon and Epson competitive strategies slow third-party suppliers, HP ink tanks more open to aftermarket, currently little aftermarket volume for Dell, Lexmark and Kodak
Average cartridge price points declining over time is putting pressure on third parties
North Amercian revenue decline over time (2007-2012) leads to worldwide reduction of -0.3% CAGR, but rest-of-world grows.

Inkjet biz looking to small offices for growth, example products include:
Canon Pixma MX850 ($279), MX7600 ($399)
Epson Stylus C120 ($89), B-300 ($329), B-500DN ($549)
HP Officejet Pro L7590 ($299), Edgeline CM8060/8050 MFP ($19,000)
Lexmark X9575 Professional ($249)
Ricoh Gelsprinter Aficio GX2500 ($169)
Xerox Phaser 8560 ($699), Phaser 8860 ($2,499)
Canon LUCIA with PgR
Epson DuraBrite Ultra
Kodak Kodacolor Inks
HP Vivera Office, HP Edgeline Inks
Lexmark Evercolor 2
Ricoh GelJet Viscous Ink
Xerox Solid Ink

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is confusing -- Lyra has tested many combinations of printers/inks with widely varying results. Compares inkjets and laser printers as well. Monochrome versus color makes a big difference in how the products compare as well.

"Ink jet use is currently widespread in small offices. However, laser is replacing ink jet in developed economies and the preferred option in emerging economies"

"Non-OEM ink use is also common in SMBs. Channels and SKU availability are key to aftermarket penetration."

Does laser bias exist? "There are many attributes users consider beyond TCO. However, research shows that business customers prefer laser technology over ink jet in most cases."

NEXT SECTION of Andy's presentation: The Battle for Ink Cartridge Empties

HP's "closed-loop" recycling process
Also, Lexmark, Epson, major OEMs in Japan via post offices

Cartridge SKU fragmentation

NEXT: "Ink Cartridge Lifecycles are Shortening"
Andy offers lots of data, making the point that the market challenges continue for third-party suppliers

Charlie Brewer's overview continued -- Laser Hardware and Supplies

Charlie Brewer -- Laser printer hardware and supplies market overview:

Price performance ratio keeps improving
Hardware margins still shrinking as prices are compressed
Cost per page on low end is going up (20cents from 12 cents a few years ago)

Most segments are experiencing a shift in page volumes (pages are migrating to lower-end machines)
Monochrome dominates and the installed base is growing but the population of color devices is rapidly expanding
MFPS are in demand
Competitive landscape is changing
*Copier companies offer more low-priced MFPs
*Printer vendors also offer more MFPs
As shipments decline, the installed base of monochrome hardware continues to grow
New sub-segments are enjoying strong demand
OEMs are committed to monochrome
BUT Color Hardware Market is Maturing
Vendors fill out product lines in various categories
Prices are stabilizing (2006 saw demise of the $300 color laser barrier, now $200-$250 is seeming to hold)
Cheaper prices allow color lasers to further penetrate SOHO market

Firms are investing heavily in Toner and Cartridge Businesses
(Canon, Xerox, LG Chen, Mitsubishi, Tomoegawa)
Pulverized toners vs CPTs (chemically produced toners)
OEMs continue to move toward CPT (Xerox, HP, etc)
Various firms stress the "greener" aspects of CPT

Trends in the cartridge market
Printer populations fuel demand for supplies
Cartridge shipments and revenue are up
Third-party supplies gaining market share
Fierce competition between all players
OEM vs OEM; OEM vs Reman; Reman vs Reman
Persistent rumors that new-build cartridges are entering the market

Color offers revenue opportunities
Growth in units and revenues up through the end of the decade
Prices show no signs of eroding
Good news and bad news for third parties
Aftermarket gaining share in various segments of the color cartridge market
Wider availability of toners and parts allows third-party cartridges to come to market quickly
Cheap empty cores remain readily available
End users are looking for ways to control printing costs

Conclusion on laser:
Populations are changing
The market for cartridges is growing
Conventional ground toners remain important but CPT is gaining ground in various segments

Interesting question at the end: any evidence of companies shifting to third-party (i.e. cheaper) supplies as economic woes around the world mount -- Answer, not sure about that, but downturn in print-intensive banking, finance, etc, may be leading to reduction in print volumes.

Related question: will worldwide component price increases lead to higher prices in toner? Answer, not so far.

Another question: buy a computer, get a free printer, still popular? Answer, defintiely not so popular, partly because printer OEMs learned recipients of "Free"printers don't use supplies nearly at the rate that other users do.

Question about purchase price of inkjet cartridges, OEMs learned it's good to lower purchase price with lower volumes for some customers.

As OEMs seek heavy usage customers, how's it going? Photo printing was a promise but it's declining. Indicative of this ongoing effort is the interest of inkjet OEMs on the office market.

Charlie Brewer, continued (inkjet supplies)

More from Charlie Brewer's market overview

Comments from this post have been consolidated and moved here>

Charlie Brewer, industry overview (part one, inkjet)

Hardware and supplies overview from Charlie, of The Hard Copy Supplies Journal. Some highlights:

(Hardware Overview)
Noting some higher printer prices around the business but a great quote from Charlie's first slide: "despite claims to the contrary, OEMs are committed to ultra low-end machines".

Other hardware trends -- AIO/MFP popularity grows but single funciton not going away, nor is the "appliance" photo printer, despite declines. Inkjet is growing in the office.

The last year has seen results of investments in print head technology by all the major vendors.

Reviewing last year -- "Kodak plans to make money on the razor" -- down to 10 cents a shapshot, but relatively high (noting special) for conventional page printing at 3 cents, and Silverbrook / Memjet -- "Delayed product introductions"

This year so far...Kodaks ESP line, Canon PIXMA MX7600 with PGR technology, HP new integrated cartridges, Brother ledger-sized office ink jet

(Supplies Overview)
More printer products with permanent print heads with ink tanks driving down the cost of consumables
Integrated cartridges deployed for low-use environments
Ink technologies provide enhanced performance, with more resilient dye-based inks and improved pigment-based inks
Forecast through 2012: Shipments are still growing on a units basis, but revenues are very flat
For Third-Party Suppliers, things are tough:
OEMs competing on price
Competition between third-party suppliers is fierce
Printer mfrs developing more complex technologies
OEMs successfully defend their intellectual property
Mfrs and distributors [resellers] are dropping products
OEMs -- Continue to focus on Consumables Marketing Tactics
Lyra forecasting that remanufacturers losing a bit of market share in both units amd dollars, from 2007 to 2012

Conference Opening Remarks and Introductions

Ann Priede, the managing editor of The Hard Copy Observer and VP Publications for Lyra, is covering the conference welcome and opening remarks, including sponsors American Inkjet, Static Control, and Grenk.

What else is going on today?

Before the Lyra conference begin, just a quick note to highlight a couple of other news events/items taking place today.

Also in Las Vegas and heading into its second of two days, there's the International Supplies Coalition's Anti-Counterfeiting Seminar. My colleague Ed Crowley, of The Photizo Group, is guest blogging from there. Like the Lyra event, it's timed to be a pre-show activity leading into Recharger Magazine's World Expo 2008.

Also, today after the markets close, HP will be announcing quarterly earnings. Watch this space for my usual breakdown, but please cut me a little slack on the timing, as the press release and then earnings teleconference will be going on simultaneous to the end of today's Lyra event.

Thanks for reading!

Let the Lyra Supplies Forum begin!

It's early morning in Las Vegas, and as the outside temps begin their daily march to triple digits, I will be inside in the AC, blogging from The Lyra Supplies Forum 2008: Challenges and Opportunities in Digital Imaging Consumables Markets.

On the agenda for today:

Industry News and Trends from The Hard Copy Supplies Journal, Charles Brewer, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Supplies Journal

Making Sense of a Complex Ink Jet Cartridge Market: Examining Worldwide Product Mix Trends, Andrew Lippman, Industry Analyst & Program Manager for Ink Jet Supplies, Lyra Research
In his presentation, Mr. Lippman will cover vendor-level ink jet cartridge forecasts, SKU-level demand analysis, selected vendor recycling and collection intiatives, and ink jet in the small and medium enterprise environment.

Ink Jet Technology Advancements, Michael Andreottolla, President & CEO, American Ink Jet

The Impact of Color and New Technologies in Remanufacturing Businesses, Steve Weedon, CEO, Static Control European Operations, and Executive Vice President, Static Control Components, Inc.

Laying Down the Law: Legal Issues and the Aftermarket,Tricia Judge, Executive Director, International Imaging Technology Council
It’s been a banner year for lawyers in the imaging supplies aftermarket. The Supreme Court decision in Quanta Computer v. LG Electronics could change the way the OEMs control the supply chain. And, Epson’s efforts to exclude competing imports may have some unforeseen consequences. Also, patent reform is rampant among Supreme Court decisions, at the USPTO and even in Congress. What could all this mean in terms of opportunities and challenges for the imaging supplies industry? Ms. Judge will discuss these opportunities and challenges.
Valuing Aftermarket Businesses, Dan Brinker, President & CEO, American TonerServ

Printer & MFP Toner Cartridges: Examining Worldwide Usage Trends, Cortney Kasuba, Industry Analyst & Program Manager for Laser Consumables, Lyra Research
In her presentation, Ms. Kasuba will cover vendor-level toner cartridge forecasts, selected vendor recycling initiatives, and home-user and small and medium enterprise recycling habits.

Industry Leaders' Panel Discussion
Moderated by: Charles Brewer, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Supplies Journal
Panelists include:
Brad Roderick, Executive Vice President, InkCycle
Joy James, Senior Vice President, Cartridge World
WooJin Kim, President, Charm Regent
John Weatherup, Sourcing Manager, Tech Ed Networks

Lyra Power Panel
Charles Brewer, Managing Editor, The Hard Copy Supplies Journal
Cortney Kasuba, Industry Analyst and Program Manager for Laser Consumables, Lyra Research
Andy Lippman, Industry Analyst and Program Manager for Ink Jet Supplies, Lyra Research

Monday, August 18, 2008

No more blog printing from HP (NYSE HPQ)

In an email that showed up in my inbox late last Friday afternoon (not my favorite time to send or receive emails, at least those I hope will be read), the message from HP (NYSE HPQ) had a subject line that was intriguing, "Changes to HP Blog Printing".

Well, in a case of classic marketing-speak, HP's "changes" actually only involve "discontinuing" their blog-printing service. (The entire message from HP is included below.")

I've documented the development and decline of the barely-year-old HP blog printing effort, including with "TechCrunch getting Hard Copy?" from last July, implementing it on my blog, but then noting that none of the extensive list of HP-generated blogs ever picked up the service, and TechCrunch quietly dropped their print buttons some time back.

A couple of highlights from HP's message? I like this one: "To ensure your blog readers continue to have a positive experience on your blog, we ask that you remove the print button". I have gone ahead and removed the print button from, though I wish that was all it would take to "ensure" my readers have a "positive experience" here! Ah, life would be so simple!

And sadly, the message is "signed" by "The HP Blog Printing Team". Does this mean they're history too? I hope not...

We are contacting you because our records indicate that you are currently using the HP Blog Printing service on your site. At this time, we want to inform you that HP will be discontinuing HP Blog Printing, effective Sept. 15, 2008, in order to invest resources on more expansive web offerings such as Smart Web Printing and the Tabblo Print Toolkit, a suite of developer tools for making websites more printable. Like HP Blog Printing tool, Smart Web Printing and the Tabblo Print Toolkit are free offerings from HP and are solutions designed to provide flexibility and choice when it comes to printing from the Web. By focusing efforts on these technologies, we’re finding new ways to provide our customers the freedom to control and print the Web content they desire in a convenient manner.

To ensure your blog readers continue to have a positive experience on your blog, we ask that you remove the print button that links to HP Blog Printing from your site prior to Sept. 15, 2008, when the tool will officially become unavailable. Please visit the following websites for step-by-step instructions on how to remove HP Blog Printing from your site:

If you have any questions about this change, please contact

We appreciate your understanding during this change, and value your participation in the HP Blog Printing program. We are continuing to invest in and expand solutions for the most optimal web printing experiences. Tools like Smart Web Printing and the Tabblo Print Toolkit ( are designed with consumers—your blog readers---in mind for more efficient and convenient printing from the Web.

Thank You,
The HP Blog Printing Team

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Livescribe Pulse Smartpen -- check your Target ad!

I blogged about the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen when I saw it at Demo 2008 in January (see "A Demo 2008 Desert Delight"). I've been due to revisit the topic, with their initial shipments in the Spring and then some interesting reviews and other bloggers taking on the topic. For example, see the Demo blog post by Mary A.C. Fallon, "Livescribe kicks off national retailing of its audio-recording pen", which includes the news that Target is now one of Livescribe's retail outlets. Mary's excellent piece even includes this on the "print-your-own" capability, which has been of most interest here as well:

Early reviews of the Livescribe Pulse complained it can't record handwriting on any kind of paper. Livescribe will offer free "print-your-own" dot paper from its Web site later this year. "We're not trying to squeeze people on the paper," [Livescribe Marketing Director Eric] Petitt said. "It's critical that our price points are comparable to the paper you're already buying."

Now word has it (thanks Livescribe CEO Jim Marggraff and LinkedIn) that Target's Sunday newspaper insert (that's August 17th) will include the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, as part of their back-to-school season ad. Take a look!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Observations: A Look at XPS and Printing—Two Years Out

A Look at XPS and Printing—Two Years Out

A few weeks back, while prowling some favorite Web sites, I ran into a blog post that triggered a stream of memories and thoughts. It was on another printer industry blog (yes, there are others besides, and its subject included some memories of the Seybold Seminars. Posted on the PrintCEO blog and titled “1996 Is Calling, and So Is Seybold San Francisco”, Patrick Henry of Liberty or Death Communications writes about uncovering some show material from the 1996 Seybold Seminars held in San Francisco. In fact, reading Pat’s experiences with his “find” made me reminisce about my own discovery about three years ago, which was the inspiration for my premier column for The Hard Copy Observer that appeared in the December 2005 issue. But that’s another story, and also, rather than my recounting here his excellent recollections about Seybold 1996, I highly recommend reading Pat’s post.

As I enjoyed first reading the blog entry and its associated comments, it was also memory-jogging for me, with respect to another year for the Seybold show and a somewhat more recent column in the April 2006 issue: “Microsoft’s XPS—After All These Years, More Mumbo-Jumbo?”. In 1989, a monumental confrontation between Adobe (NASDAQ ADBE) and the odd-couple combination (then as now) of Apple (NASDAQ AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ MSFT) occurred at the Seybold Seminars in San Francisco and, having attended that event, I couldn’t help but resurrect a comparison between that brouhaha and the boiling XPS/PDF feud of 2006 once again pitting Adobe and Microsoft in a battle over file formats. (A footnote to my April 2006 column, by the way, warned of an impending schedule slip. The column had been originally written in what was thought to be the impending shadow of the XPS introduction, inextricably tied to the new Microsoft Windows operating system Vista and its anticipated mid-year debut. Vista and XPS finally made it out of the barn in late 2006 or early 2007, depending on the definition of official first-shipped dates.)

Now more than two years later, just how did that battle ensue once the marketplace had a chance to decide? As a general reaction, it would be easy to equate the XPS introduction aftermath with the Shakespeare play, “Much Ado About Nothing,” but let’s take a little deeper look for some evidence.

As goes Vista, so goes XPS?

First off, the XPS association with Vista, the product, and Microsoft, the company, cannot be helping, if only purely from psychological standpoints. Vista has been called many things, most not particularly favorable, including Microsoft’s “New Coke” by Forrester Research, as recently reported in Larry Dignan’s blog, ZDNet’s Between the Lines. And Microsoft’s overall corporate prowess seems deeply wounded, as this year’s machinations around its intended Yahoo! (NASDAQ YHOO) acquisition illustrate.

Though Yahoo! seems to be clearly the real loser in the ongoing fiasco, Microsoft’s inability to close the deal, let alone the strategic weaknesses revealed initially in the company’s perceived need to acquire the former search leader, contributes to egg on its corporate face. And even Office 2007, the seemingly innocent by-stander in all of it, would seem to have a bad rap, suffering from “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” syndrome, including, annoying new file formats that confound transferability of its files and require users to “think before they save” or suffer the consequences. The significance of this issue is underscored by the fact that among the top downloads at Microsoft’s software site, the “Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats” regularly ranks near or at the very top of the list.

With that said, a look at the archives of The Hard Copy Observer provides a perspective directly relevant to our industry. Not surprisingly, an electronic search of the Observer archives (in PDF format, ironically) finds multiple mentions of XPS in virtually every issue since the Fall of 2005. And while most mentions in those earlier months, an example being my April 2006 column, centered on the capabilities, the controversy, and the early partners including the mostly smaller firmware and testing companies, more recent mentions include OEMs and their new printers and MFPs that include native XPS in their products. Canon, Konica Minolta, Océ, Toshiba, and Xerox (NYSE XRX) show up with XPS-capable entries, with just a quick random sample of the references over the last year, and Epson and HP (NYSE HPQ) have also endorsed XPS.

So there’s definitely an XPS footprint in our industry. But it would also appear that no one has lost out to XPS—inclusion of XPS compatibility would not appear to have bumped any other language or format off the list. But it’s an interesting situation: a powerhouse like Microsoft rocking the boat, for some ostensibly good reasons (like open source), and all the players reacting, but only as much as absolutely necessary for their given situations. And, by the way? The PDF open standard was published July 1, 2008!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Print your own 'Favre as a Jet' Madden cover

Oh Happy Day! The news story that keeps on giving just delivered a really nice printer-specific tidbit, with the potential to boost industry morale just a tad.

In a move that's sure to bolster summer sales in the ink supplies biz, EA Sports has announced it will offer a "Brett Favre as a New York Jet" downloadable (and printable) image, to replace the "Favre as a Packer" standard cover adorning the mega-hit video game Madden 2009. The game goes on sale at 12:01am Tuesday, August 12th, so obviously the shipping pipelines are full of the #4-in-green-and-gold product, but EA Sports aims to please its demanding customers, thus the download-and-print upgrade solution.

An MTV blog, Multiplayer, is one source for further scoop. See "EA Will Produce Brett Favre ‘Madden’ Cover Featuring Jets Uniform, Updating Roster On Monday".

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On to the next 500 posts!

Just a note here to send kudos the way of the Databazaar blog, for their great recap of Polaroid PoGo portable photo printer reviews, and hopefully send at least some of my readers their way as well. Nice work, Kara Soos!

And while I'm at it, a little self-congratulations seem to be in order! (OK, when aren't they...) I realized just now that yesterday's post (see "Digg This -- Tiny Yellow Dots") was #500 for since we started about 2.5 years back.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Digg This -- Tiny Yellow Dots

Getting back from vacation and digging out reminded me of a reader's input about an article that appeared in USA Today a few weeks back. In "Printer dots raise privacy concerns" writer Thomas Frank reports on the inclusion by manufacturers of automatic printing of microscopic yellow dots as part of the color laser printing process, coded to indicate the model and serial number of the printer in question.

This decades-old idea, implemented on some of the original color copiers, was designed to thwart currency counterfeiting, but is seen by some as a potential invasion of privacy.

"There's nothing about this technology that limits its application to counterfeit investigations," says Seth Schoen, a computer programmer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Some people who aren't doing anything wrong may have their privacy threatened." Schoen's tests have found the dots produced by 111 color laser printers made by 13 companies including Xerox (NYSE XRX), Canon, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE HPQ), Epson and Brother.

The article quotes Angele Boyd of IDC Research, on the growth in the color laser printer category, whose prices have "dropped to as low as $300". Actually, they've dropped to much lower than that, at least on a good day! (See "The $100 color laser printer.")

And speaking of "digging out", this article came to my attention via a reader who was impressed with the "Digg" performance of the piece -- it was apparently the #1 atricle for the day it came out, and is currently at over 1,000 Diggs (see graphic). For those seeking some rather off-the-wall printer-related articles, btw, visit and search on "printer".