At the annual WinHec hardware engineering conference in Seattle last week Microsoft unveiled an architecture dubbed Devices Profile for Web Services, along with a suite of tools that hardware manufactures will use to support the architecture.
According to Microsoft, the architecture will enable network-connected devices to be automatically discovered and installed using the Windows Plug and Play technology that is built into the Windows operating system.
Microsoft said the advantage of the Device Profile architecture is that users do not have to concern themselves with whether they are directly connecting devices to a PC or using an IP connection such as 802.11 or Ethernet. It said, "Enterprise IT professionals will benefit by having to spend less time installing and configuring the more sophisticated network-connected devices they use."
Commenting on the potential benefits of the technology, Frank Martin, senior director of product development at Brother International, said, "Adding a new printer or multifunction copier to a small office network will be as simple as plugging in the power and network cables and turning it on."
Along with simplifying installation, the architecture could also make printing more "intelligent". Richard Peebles, vice-president and general manager of the software and electronics business unit at Xerox Office Business Group, said, "The actual process of printing becomes simpler with web services because the clients can learn about the features available from the device when asked to select printing options.
"Web services will also enable the user to receive timely, accurate status information about the office multifunction device and their [print] jobs automatically."
Shivaun Albright, senior engineer scientist at Hewlett-Packard, said other benefits of the architecture include enabling self-installing printers, proactive management of enterprise devices and faster access to internet services and content.
The Devices Profile for Web Services, co-written by Intel, Lexmark and Ricoh, aims to provide a subset of pre-existing web services specifications that devices can implement.
Clive Longbottom, principal analyst at Quocirca, said the idea of having a standard way to identify and manage printers is sound. But many large businesses already use tools to achieve this or buy printers from a single supplier in order to benefit from proprietary management tools.
One possible shortcoming, according to Longbottom, is that the architecture might not keep pace with developments in printer technology. For instance, he said, a cutting-edge printer may offer features which Devices Profile for Web Services is unable to support.