IBM Encourages AFP Adoption with New Infoprint Offerings
May 25, 2004 Alex Woodie
IBM is attempting to entice small and midsized OS/400 shops to adopt its Advanced Function Presentation (AFP) page description language through a new bundle of hardware, software, and services it calls Infoprint Express for iSeries. AFP has largely been used in high-volume, mission-critical printing environments, but IBM says that any iSeries shop can benefit from AFP, especially with the enhancements in the latest release of its AFP-based electronic document delivery software, Infoprint Server for iSeries V5R3.
IBM officials say AFP is more reliable than other page description languages because it enables bidirectional communication between a printer and computer. With AFP’s built-in systems management and page-level error-recovery capabilities, print jobs can recover all by themselves when life’s little printing hiccups happen.
While AFP supports most major printer data streams, to get the full benefit of AFP, you need a printer that supports IBM’s Intelligent Printing Data Stream (IPDS) protocol, which are only available from IBM (unless you buy a third-party hardware- or software-based print protocol converter, which may not preserve the benefits of the AFP/IPDS architecture). Because of the higher cost and added complexity of the Blue printing solution, many smaller businesses have based their print output architecture on less expensive printers that support the other major page description languages, namely Hewlett-Packard‘s PCL and Adobe‘s PostScript.
However, IBM isn’t ready to cede the low end to its competitors. With Infoprint Express for iSeries and the new Infoprint Server for iSeries V5R3, IBM is arguing that AFP makes a better output architecture, not only for printed material but for electronic documents as well, says Bill Shaffer, iSeries manager at IBM’s printing systems division in Boulder, Colorado.
“We’re getting to the mode over last two years where iSeries shops have needed to Web-reengineer their documents. First, they Web-reengineered their business communications” by refacing their green screens, he says. Now they need to “determine whether they want to continue with the hardcopy format, with its inefficiencies.”
Shaffer says iSeries shops need to get their documents into a page architecture format to play the e-delivery game. “If customers want to move from hardcopy to e-delivery, they have to choose an architecture to do that. The logical choice to me would be to use the integrated page architecture of the iSeries,” which is AFP, he says. “If they put in that format, they have lots of options off the back end. AFP preserves the options and lets them print to PCL, PostScript, or PDF.”
With the new Infoprint Express for iSeries bundle, IBM is trying to get AFP’s foot in the door at small and midsized companies. Infoprint Express for iSeries includes a license for Print Services Facility/400 (PSF/400, which implements the AFP and IPDS architecture on the OS/400 family of servers), an IPDS impact or laser printer, and an IBM ServicePac maintenance contract. There are about 15 IPDS printers eligible for the Express bundle, which ranges from about $4,000 to $40,000.
For example, there is a $5,200 workgroup Infoprint Express package, which includes an Infoprint 1352 (a black and white, 40-page-per-minute desktop laser printer that normally goes for about $1,100), the IPDS option, PSF/400 (which ranges from $2,995 to $6,995), and a three-year maintenance contract. There is also an industrial package that sells for $14,835 and includes an Infoprint 6400 Model i10 (a desk-sized line matrix printer that prints 1,000 lines per minute and costs $7,995), the IPDS option, PSF/400, and a three-year maintenance contract. The prices of these Express bundles do not reflect a discount on what it would cost for a customer to put the pieces together by themselves, according to Shaffer.
Once companies have AFP and PSF/400 (which is installed at about 45 percent of OS/400 shops, Shaffer says), they are ready to start playing IBM’s e-delivery game, with Infoprint Server for iSeries, IBM’s document management software. IBM launched Infoprint Server with V5R1 (see “Bringing AFP Back from the Dead”) and has updated it twice since then.
With the V5R3 release of the i5/OS (formerly “OS/400” and “iSeries”) operating system, IBM has made significant architectural changes for Unicode support, and these improvements will benefit users of Infoprint Server for iSeries V5R3, Shaffer says. “We’ve been adding Unicode support in OS/400 V5R1, V5R2, and V5R3, and really have completed the implementation with V5R3,” he says. Specifically, Unicode provides full support for the TruType and OpenType fonts, which give “far more choice and variety than what’s available with AFP fonts,” Shaffer says.
There are also intelligent routing features available with this release that will enable segments of documents to be sent to specific people, in whichever electronic format they want. In the first release of the product, electronic triggers could be placed in the data stream to divide the spool files into segments, Shaffer says. Intelligent routing builds on that capability by enabling each segment to have an associated profile that tells Infoprint Server exactly how to deliver that segment. For example, the software may be used to print and e-mail a segment of a sales report to a particular representative, while another segment may be faxed to multiple people and logged to the Integrated File System (IFS) for Web access.
There are also enhancements to Infoprint Server’s handling of PDFs, the product’s electronic document format of choice. These new capabilities include encryption, password protection, compression, and orientation enhancements. Users also gain more control over PDF file names and their location in the IFS, and this release also supports new two-dimensional barcodes and the Planet barcode ZIP code.
Infoprint Server V5R3 also supports the direct import of standard Web images for use in iSeries documents. This feature covers standard ASCII image formats, such as JPG, TIF, and PDF, and allows Web images in those formats to be rendered in the final PDF document. This release also allows users to pull colors used in TIF, GIF, and JPG files and use them with their PDF files. This augments existing support for the IOCA Function Set 45 color specification, IBM says.
The intelligent routing and PDF features that IBM is adding to Infoprint Server V5R3 were also made available for Infoprint Server V5R2 via a PTF released last August (see “IBM Adds Intelligent Routing, Ease-of-Use Features to Infoprint Server”). The Unicode, image import, and color enhancements are new with V5R3.
IBM has raised the price of Infoprint Server and its Windows-based companion, Infoprint Designer, by about 20 percent. Infoprint Server will range from about $715 to about $9,500, and Infoprint Designer will cost about $7,200. More information on printing software for iSeries is available on IBM’s Web site.