Universal Print Hits Public Preview for Microsoft 365 Users

Microsoft announced the public preview of its Universal Print service for Microsoft 365 subscribers on Tuesday, coinciding with the start of this year's Inspire partner conference.

Universal Print had been at the private preview stage since March. Tuesday's announcement means it can now be accessed by any organization with a paid Microsoft 365 subscription, though not by those with trial Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The requirements to use Universal Print include a Microsoft 365 subscription and the use of Azure Active Directory-joined PCs using Windows 10 version 1903 or newer operating systems.

The Universal Print service, which lets IT pros dispense with managing local print servers and installing print drivers, is based on the Internet Print Protocol (IPP) standard from the Printer Working Group. Microsoft had explained that detail and many other nuances about Universal Print in a May overview talk.

Preview Availability
Access to the Universal Print preview will depend on what sort of Microsoft 365 subscription an organization has.

Microsoft has published a general preview rollout plan in this document. It shows, in a table, that Microsoft 365 E5/A5 subscribers will have access to the preview first, starting this month. In August, it'll be available to E3 subscribers. Other Microsoft 365 subscribers will see it in September.

Microsoft's announcement claimed that "Universal Print is a fully supported service, even during public preview." Apparently, that statement means that Microsoft aims to address problems organizations may encounter with the preview.

Private preview users of Universal Print will "continue to have access to Universal Print regardless of your Microsoft 365 subscription status until Universal Print enters General Availability early next year," Microsoft's document added. That statement gives the hint that "general availability," or commercial release, is expected sometime in 2021.

Since the private preview release of Universal Print in March, Microsoft claims to now have "more than 2,500 customers testing the new service."

Partner Efforts
Microsoft's Universal Print preview announcement came during the week of Inspire, which is Microsoft's annual event for its partners. Printer device makers and solutions providers had lots to say about Universal Print and their plans. Cloud-based solutions offered by printer manufacturers and solutions providers are getting rolled out, and partner plans with Microsoft also were described.

Technically, Microsoft has produced a Windows connector solution for Universal Print that lets older "legacy" printers work with the service. However, Microsoft optimally recommends getting new printers with Universal Support built-in, as "printers that natively support Universal Print will offer the best cloud experience," per the announcement. With native support, Microsoft's connector solution isn't needed.

Here are some highlights from the various partner announcements on Universal Print.

Brother is working on "native device support for Universal Print," which will integrate with Microsoft 365 cloud services sometime in "early 2021," according to an announcement.

Canon expects to have native support for Universal Print in its ImageRunner Advance DX and third-generation models sometime in the "second half of 2020" per an announcement. These printers will have a "free connection to uniFLOW Online Express, a SaaS service also running on Microsoft Azure" that can be used for "device authentication, comprehensive print/copy/fax/scan reporting, and scan" operations, Canon explained. It's an additional cost to use UniFlow Online for other functions, such as secure printing and mobile printing. Canon further described UniFlow Online's capabilities in this announcement.

Kofax's ControlSuite solutions (Equitrac and Output Manager) will work with Universal Print for Microsoft 365 using connector technology initially, serving to "speed productivity, ease administrative work, minimize security breaches and reduce compliance costs," according to an announcement. However, as printers get native Universal Print support, Kofax's solutions won't need the connector and can "manage devices through Microsoft Graph API connectivity, thereby reducing or even eliminating the need for on-premises print servers."

Konica Minolta is planning to deliver solutions supporting Universal Print for Microsoft 365. Specifically, it's "developing firmware upgrades to our latest i-Series of MFPs which will add Universal Print communications protocols embedded inside our bizhub print devices," according to an announcement.

Lexmark indicated in an announcement that its on-premises and cloud-based Print Management solutions currently support file-to-print operations and that "you can try Universal Print today with our marketed products." The company is also partnering with Microsoft on Universal Print support.

PaperCut announced that it is building "native support for Universal Print into our flagship products -- PaperCut MF and PaperCut NG." Those products won't need a connector when that work is done, but PaperCut is offering a connector in the meantime for those products to support Universal Print at the preview stage. PaperCut's products have support for Find-Me printing, multifactor authentication security using the Azure Active Directory service, and monitoring via "quota and charging features."

Pharos supports Universal Print with its Beacon cloud services, according to an announcement. It allows users to print using so-called "proximity cards" by simply walking up to a preferred printer. If print jobs aren't released after a period of time, they will expire from the print queue, which is seen as a cost-saving measure. Pharos plans to support its customers that use Universal Print and the Azure Active Directory service.

YSoft is integrating Universal Print into its SAFEQ solutions, which support Windows, Linux, macOS and Chrome OS operating systems. It is also working on a new YSoft OMNI Series that adds Universal Print support to "existing printers" that lack a print management solution. "This serverless solution is engineered and manufactured by YSoft, and we are hard at work to deliver it alongside Microsoft's general availability of Universal Print," the company explained in an announcement.