Long live dead wood

Despite the advent of reliable electronic communications, there is still a place for good old hard copy. What are the latest...

Despite the advent of reliable electronic communications, there is still a place for good old hard copy. What are the latest developments in printing for the iSeries?

IBM's iSeries-AS/400 is to be found in 98 per cent of Fortune-100 and 85 per cent of Fortune-500 companies, in over 150 countries. It's always had a strong core print architecture, but this was expanded in early summer 2001 with the V5R1 operating system release with new composition features and output delivery options. Significant changes were introduced to printing and "e-output" capabilities.

AS/400-iSeries product marketing manager Ian Jarman emphasised the focus is e-output. "The term e-output refers to the ability to create information output and deliver it to the required destination in the format desired. Where business processes are typically printed, then distributed information in hard copy, e-business processes quite frequently call for information to be delivered electronically," says Jarman.

IBM Printing Solutions, senior IT specialist Simon Hodkin says: "Aside from OS/400 V5R1's release, the latest developments comprise PSF/400, Infoprint server for iSeries and Infoprint designer for iSeries, plus such hardware innovations as Infoprint 1000 family of distributed workgroup printers, Infoprint 2000 high-end 1,100 page/in production cut-sheet printer, Infoprint 70 mid range production cut-sheet printer and IBM 4400 thermal printer, for labels/barcodes."

PSF/400 (print services facility) is a feature of OS/400 and provides AFP (advanced function presentation) system management and IPDS (intelligent print data stream) print management. While any (preferably IPDS) printer can link to iSeries it's usually IBM, Lexmark or Hewlett-Packard.

"Basically, PSF/400 is the AS/400 print driver for IPDS printers," says Hodkin. "Infoprint server is a package of document transforms including any iSeries output to PDF files, while Infoprint designer is a low-cost graphical user interface document design solution, which runs on Windows and is fully integrated with the AS/400." However FormScape product marketing manager EMEA Jeremy Harpham says: "V5R1 does offer PDF printing but the same old printing issues still apply: limited presentation features, and how do you get customised/personalised output? We can offer AS/400 users looking to move to document presentation across media types and even the web, regardless of the host application running on AS/400."

What's involved in printing remotely and over networks is the amount of control a user gets compared with traditional twinax - some printing has less function and control, some printing has more. This, says Hodkin, depends not on the printer type (laser/impact) nor on the manufacturer (IBM/other/Lexmark/ HP) but on the attachment method. Hodkin points to attachment methods for TCP/IP Lan-attached printers. Basic, limited functionality with little or no error recovery utilises the LPR/LPD method. Adequate functionality with some basic printing status and error recovery utilises the PJL (print job language) or SNMP method. "Best functionality with printing status and error recovery to the page level is achieved through the IPDS method."

Enter Harpham. "Integration today with third party presentation tools such as FormScape is easy, while TCP/IP connectivity is simple and now routine on every AS/400. This allows you to remove processing overhead from the AS/400 downstream to cheaper Intel boxes within the network. This further opens up the world of internet based document viewing and delivery, say, by using our DocsOnline product."

Form handling on the AS/400 is essentially a three-way choice. Hodkin elaborates. AS/400-centric is where forms are designed either on the 400 or on a PC client, but forms are stored on the AS/400 and printed from the AS/400. Windows-centric is where forms design, formatting, storage and printing are all handled on NT or 2000 - data is moved off the AS/400 for printing. Printer-centric is where forms are designed on a PC client - forms are downloaded to a printer hard disk or flash memory, printing is done from the AS/400 but using embedded escape sequences to trigger the printer-resident forms.

Harpham however contends form handling is still based around AFPDS, aka IPDS. "This legacy technology requires specialist programming skills, giving something else to learn and maintain," says Harpham. "By using something like FormScape the benefits of true visual Windows development become obvious. Not only because software skills are cheaper, but also because presentation changes can be made instantly, reducing long-term maintenance overheads."

A product from Leicester-based BOS, although PC based, provides forms design, management and routing of print jobs from multiple printing environments including Aix/Unix, Linux, mainframes and Dos as well as iSeries-AS/400. The company's PrintBoss forms design and management software enables distribution via short message service (SMS) to SMS-enabled cellular phones, has improved server robustness, and supports heavy-duty production printers. "PrintBoss can serve thousands of users and process hundreds of printouts every minute to most printers," says BOS European marketing manager Julie Batchelor.

What's IBM doing? "We are continuing to develop integrated print output solutions, ie hardware, software that works together," says Hodkin. "New printer technology is reflected in new AS/400 software technology and features. We are also continuing to develop the advanced function presentation architecture for printing and presentation solutions."

Hodkin also indicates how AFP indexing technology can not only co-exist with but improve the function of Adobe PDF files, another industry standard document format. This involves the electronic segmentation and e-mail of large spool files - previously printed, burst, enveloped and posted - "electronic burst and bind".

E-business invariably produces e-output. Infoprint software has been designed to help customers deliver the output of e-business. "If your printing is business critical make sure the printing solution is as well," urges Hodkin.

Read more on Data centre hardware