Microsoft, Intel, Lexmark and Ricoh have detailed new Web services technology designed to make it easier for users to connect devices such as printers, digital cameras and digital music players over a network.

The companies at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) officially announced a Devices Profile for Web services, which describes how devices should use Web services protocols. The announcement builds on WS-Discovery, a Web services specification that Microsoft, Intel, Canon and BEA introduced in February. WS-Discovery describes a way for devices to find and connect to Web services.

The plan to use Web services to connect peripherals to computers is a change from the current use of Web services as a technology to connect business software across corporate networks or the Internet. At WinHEC in Seattle, Microsoft announced a Network Connected Device Driver Development Kit (DDK) for the technology and said Canon and Hewlett-Packard will showcase printers supporting Web services protocols at the event.

Devices that use the new technology will automatically be discovered when connected to a home or company network and can subsequently be installed using the Windows plug and play subsystem as if connected directly to a PC, Microsoft said in a statement.

Tying devices together today is too complicated, especially if those devices are networked, said Jim Allchin, group vice president for Microsoft's platforms group, in a keynote presentation. "If you take a device that is on a local connection and plug it in, we've made a lot of progress with plug and play, but, if you actually have a device across the net, that is ... super hard. And it's a different experience to the end user," he said.

Enabling devices to connect using Web services will be beneficial for both home and business users, according to the technology's backers. For example, when connecting a large printer in an enterprise today, an IT department has to manually set up the print server so it knows the features of the printer, such as a document feeder and sorting capabilities. The Device Profile can take care of that, said Peter McKiernan, a lead product manager at Microsoft in an interview.

Lexmark plans to create devices profiles for its networked products, said Don Wright, director of alliances and standards at Lexmark. "We will be able to learn in a standard way that the device is present, who is authorized to use it and what its capabilities are," he said. "All of that functionality will be automated and relieve the IT manager from spending time driving around his enterprise configuring every new device that gets plugged into the network."