After more than a year of delays, the Internet engineering community has given the green light to an emerging technology that simplifies local network printing and enables remote printing over the Internet.
The Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) replaces proprietary printing services with a single method for sending print jobs from a computer to any authorized printer connected to an IP network. Under development since 1996, IPP has the support of more than 25 companies, including Microsoft, Novell, IBM, Xerox, Lexmark and HP.
Standardization of IPP was slowed by clashes between the vendor-led IPP working group and the leadership of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which questioned the protocol's design, scalability and security. The logjam ended in late June when the IETF leadership voted to make two key IPP-related documents proposed standards.
The IETF leadership's decision was hailed by the printer industry as an important milestone for widespread acceptance of IPP. Final approval from the IETF on all IPP-related documents is expected to take another year, but it now appears to be a formality.
The IETF approval "tells the world that IPP is to be taken seriously," says Carl-Uno Manros, chair of the IPP working group and a principal engineer with Xerox. "It gives confidence to all the companies out there implementing IPP in products. And it should get a clear message to customers that IPP is something they should be looking for in products they're going to buy. . . . IPP is the way that printing is going to be done in the future."
IPP lets corporate network professionals eliminate multiple proprietary network printing protocols used in Windows, NetWare, Unix and Mac operating systems. Having one printing protocol will ease training and support requirements as well as reduce the costs associated with sending documents long distances by overnight mail or fax.
"This is the first time that the major printer manufacturers and print service providers have converged on a single printing protocol," says Don Wright, chairman of the Printer Working Group and director of strategic and technical alliances for Lexmark, a supplier of printing products. "From a help desk perspective, companies are going to be able to converge three or four or five protocols, which makes the support issue much easier."
Wright says IPP also will enable a new class of Internet-based printing services. "IPP is the first step in bringing printing to the Internet that is more than just printing out a Web page," he says. "Users will be able to print documents either within their enterprises or among enterprises instead of sending faxes."
IPP provides a universal way for an end user to find out about a printer's capabilities, submit a print job to a printer, check on the status of a printer or print job and cancel a print job. The printer can be located anywhere on the Internet, from the supply room around the corner to a field office overseas to a commercial printing shop in town.
IPP has built-in security features that lets a printer authenticate users and accept or refuse a print job based on who is sending it. IPP also supports encryption of documents using the Secure Sockets Layer 3 standard.
The IETF's IPP working group is defining directory services to make it easier for end users to find authorized printers on a network. The group also is developing a system for notifying an end user via e-mail when a print job is done or aborted. Other features include remote printer configuration as well as support for accounting, billing and usage reporting.
Because it is based on existing Internet standards, IPP will work with other applications, such as email and directory and wireless services, to provide complete Internet printing solutions.
"IPP is a piece of the infrastructure required for Internet printing, but it isn't everything," says David Kuntz, alliances manager at HP's Internet Imaging and Printing Systems. "With IPP you can get information about a print job or a printer device remotely via the Internet, but other Internet-based technologies will allow print jobs to be moved [around]. We see this as one facet of a whole dynamic of being able to communicate to printers remotely."
IPP is built on top of HTTP, which in turn runs over TCP/IP. IPP traffic is sent as a Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions-type using HTTP's feature for posting information. End users submit a print request using a command in the browser address line that starts with "ipp:\\" rather than "http:\\."
One unsolved problem is how IPP will work over firewalls. IPP uses router port 631 rather than port 80 used by HTTP to make it easier for firewall vendors to distinguish IPP traffic. The IETF's IPP working group is planning an interoperability demonstration in October that will include several IPP-compliant firewall packages.
IPP will be supported in operating systems, print servers and printers. More than 50 products already support an experimental 1.0 Version of IPP. Products supporting the 1.1 Version of IPP that was blessed by the IETF are due out later this year.
On the operating-system side, Windows 2000 workstation and print server offer basic support for IPP 1.0 except for the "print-by- reference" feature, which allows an end user to send a URL to the printer and the printer will automatically download the document and print it.
Novell supports the features of IPP 1.0 in NetWare Enterprise Print Services, and Apple has committed to support the IPP standard in a version of MacOS due out next year.
Meanwhile, Easy Software Products of Hollywood, Maryland, has developed an open source version of IPP 1.0 and 1.1 for Unix and Linux systems that is available for free at www.cups.org.
"Unix in particular is very poor at network printing," says Michael Sweet, cofounder of Easy Software Products. Sweet says IPP will replace the aging Line Printer Daemon protocol used on most Unix systems and provide a common way for Unix workstations and PCs to submit print jobs.
"IPP is going to solve a lot of problems with cross-platform printing," Sweet says.
On the print server and printer side, Xerox has announced its new network printers will support IPP as has Lexmark.
HP is shipping an IPP-compliant version of its JetDirect Print Server software, and IBM is shipping an IPP-compatible print server for its 390 mainframe that can support hundreds of printers.