Perhaps no other company’s technology sits on or is accessible by more computing devices than Microsoft. Microsoft’s July 22 financial reporting demonstrates the increasingly critical role of cloud computing, with Microsoft 365’s user base more than doubling over the past year and commercial cloud revenue (which includes Office 365, Azure, Dynamics 365 and other commercial cloud services) up 36% year over year. Yet, even as typical office applications moved online, IT departments continued to manage multiple local print servers to fill the printing needs of users. Microsoft’s new Universal Print may change that. It is a subscription-based service that brings organizations a centralized Azure-hosted Universal Print portal that can eliminate on-premise print management infrastructure.
What is Universal Print?
As a new service available to Microsoft 365 subscribers, Universal Print was first announced for private preview in March and is now available for public preview. Universal Print lets IT admins register a printer directly into Azure Active Directory cloud, configure the printer, assign user permissions, and manage the printer from a centralized Universal Print portal. Limited reporting is available to get insights into printer usage. It eliminates the need for print driver installation on individual computers and the requirement for a print server.
With Universal Print, users can discover and use available printers from wherever they may be working. Print jobs are securely sent through the Azure platform to the selected printer. For printers that are not Universal Print-ready, the Universal Print connector is a Windows application that can be installed onto a client PC to connect printers. Major manufacturers such as Brother, Canon, HP, Konica Minolta and Lexmark have already partnered with Microsoft to create new Universal Print ready printers or provide firmware upgrades for existing printers. Software solution providers Kofax, NT-Ware, Papercut, Pharos, Ringdale, and Y Soft have also partnered with Microsoft to provide integration of their solutions with Universal Print.
Targeting (for now) the enterprise market and not the consumer market, Microsoft is rolling out Universal Print over the next few months to the following eligible Microsoft 365 subscriptions:
|Universal Print Availability||Eligible Microsoft 365 Subscription|
|July 2020||Microsoft 365 E5/A5|
|August 2020||Microsoft 365 E3/A3|
Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5
Windows 10 Education A3/A5
|September 2020||Microsoft 365 Business Premium/F3|
How will Canon integrate with Universal Print?
Canon recently held an analyst briefing to discuss their plans for Universal Print. With the initial target market for Universal Print being the enterprise office, it’s no surprise that native support will be offered in the imageRUNNER ADVANCE printer models. The Unified Firmware Platform (UFP) 3.11 upgrade scheduled for September will include native Universal Print Support, allowing users to upgrade the firmware of existing imageRUNNER ADVANCE DX and imageRUNNER ADVANCE third generation models to make them Universal Print ready. imageRUNNER ADVANCE models manufactured after that date will come from the factory Universal Print ready.
imageCLASS models, which are targeted for small and home offices, do not currently have native support for Universal Print, although it is expected in the future. However, by using the Universal Print connector or uniFLOW Online (with supported models), the imageCLASS models can be used with Universal Print. We’re not aware of any plans to add native support to PIXMA inkjet models or the new “WG” office inkjet models. However, they would be supported using the Universal Print connector.
Canon’s uniFLOW solution will also integrate with Universal Print. The subscription-based uniFLOW Online already uses the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to capture user credentials, job configuration, and accounting data. Using a small client application on the local computer, uniFLOW Online keeps the print job (data) on the local device until the user releases it at the printer. Therefore, integration with Universal Print means no additional client software is needed on the PC. uniFLOW Online extends the Universal Print functions in the following areas:
uniFLOW Online will support Universal Print in September 2020. imageRUNNER ADVANCE printer models come standard with uniFLOW Online Express, a free version of uniFLOW Online. The on-premise server version of uniFLOW will support Universal Print in the uniFLOW 2020.3 release scheduled for October 2020.
For those organizations using Microsoft 365 Enterprise/Education/Business subscription services, Universal Print will clearly simplify an IT admin’s printer and fleet management duties by eliminating the need to manage local print servers and widely distributed print drivers. After Universal Print has been enabled on the Microsoft 365 tenant an IT admin can – using a single Universal Print portal – register and configure printers as well as assign permissions. The process for adding a Universal Print printer to a user’s Windows device is virtually the same as adding a traditional printer. With a Universal Print-ready printer, the registering, setup, and ongoing management appears to be extremely easy. Although the Universal Print connector will need to be installed on a Windows device to provide a gateway for printers that are not Universal Print ready, the benefits that come from removing the need for print drivers and print servers remain. Universal Print appears to be a good answer to enterprises that are in the midst of getting rid of their on-premise servers (including print servers), want a more centralized approach to print management to better control costs, and want to reduce IT support complexity as it relates to printers.
A few years ago, Canon introduced the Unified Firmware Platform (UFP) for the imageRUNNER ADVANCE models as a way to provide continuous upgradeability of new features and technology as they become available. uniFLOW Online integration with Universal Print combines the two cloud solutions to add functionality and management, making a strong overall solution, especially for the widely distributed work from home workforce.
With the looming end of support of Google Cloud Print, Universal Print should be an immediate consideration as an “alternative print solution” for an organization to migrate their cloud print services. As with any new feature or function, it’s easy to expect Universal Print will become a standard (and free) feature service of the Microsoft 365 offering, ultimately for both commercial and consumer customers. We are excited to see what the Universal Print future will bring.
Thomas O’Neill, an analyst for BPO Media, is a 35+ year marketing and product strategy professional in the enterprise imaging and print industry. Beginning with positions in sales and training management, for the past 24 years he’s held director and manager positions at Canon, Océ, Lexmark and Minolta. He has extensive experience in hardware and software product marketing, strategic product planning and sourcing, solution sales, marketing content creation and strategies, branding strategy and vertical marketing strategies. Contact him at email@example.com.