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Microsoft Projects Q4 Release for Universal Print Solution

Microsoft's plan to alleviate organizations of the pain of managing print servers continues to take shape.

Universal Print, which debuted in March, is a cloud-based solution that promises to let organizations forgo both maintaining print servers locally and installing print drivers. The service just requires having Azure Active Directory domain-joined PCs running Windows 10 version 1903 or later.

Microsoft conceives of Universal Print as being a simpler option in terms of deployment compared with its existing Windows Server Hybrid Cloud Print solution.

Microsoft described Universal Print in this document as a "Microsoft 365 subscription-based service" that "runs entirely in Microsoft Azure." Universal Print is based on a standard that's getting implemented in printers, but Microsoft also has a Connector application that adds support for older "legacy" printers that lack native support for Universal Print.

On May 13, Microsoft talked more about Universal Print during a 30-minute online event, called "Live Webcast: Universal Print Overview." A recording is possibly available on demand (with sign-up). Here are some of the Webcast's highlights, which featured an extensive Q&A.

Universal Print Overview Highlights
Microsoft's timeline for releasing Universal Print in public preview is Q3 2020. It's expected to reach "general availability" commercial release in Q4, according to Rani Abdellatif, a program manager on the Universal Print team.

To use the currently available private preview of Universal Print, organizations will need to have a Microsoft 365 Enterprise, Education or Business subscription, Abdellatif clarified. Microsoft is still working out which Microsoft 365 products will have access to Universal Print when it gets commercially released, per the Q&A segment of the talk.

Universal Print maintains the familiar Windows print experience for end users, said Kristin Carr, a group program manager for the print, connectivity and services team at Microsoft. Universal Print-registered printers will show up like any other printer. Users can print from anywhere when connected to the Internet and authenticated via Azure AD, she added. The print jobs will get "spooled to the cloud from client," Microsoft explained, in the Q&A segment.

Universal Print uses the Internet Print Protocol (IPP) standard from the Printer Working Group, Carr explained. It exposes print and management functionality through the Microsoft Graph. Because Universal Print uses IPP, there's no print driver to install. Once an IT administrator configures Universal Print, end users can easily discover nearby printers. IT departments manage the printers and get reports on how they are used.

During the Q&A, Microsoft explained a little more about the reporting aspect of Universal Print:

Currently administrators have access to a basic set of reports that include print usage grouped by user/printer. By using our Microsoft Graph API you can also download a raw data stream of completed print jobs to generate custom reports. We're also investigating other reporting capabilities such as Power BI.

With Universal Print, IT pros need to assign printers and make them viewable to end users, according to the Q&A, which offered this document description. Printer locations are assigned using the Azure Portal, the Q&A indicated.

"There's a variety of location info that the service can manage, including GPS coordinates," it added.

An organization's personal data when using Universal Print is handled in accordance with Microsoft's data management guidelines, Abdellatif indicated. All communications are over secured HTTPS connectors. Printers are deemed to be Azure AD objects, and are backed by an X.509 certificate.

Microsoft was asked if firewall ports were needed to support Universal Print. It turns out that none are needed.

"There are no incoming requests to printers or Connectors (all requests are outgoing), so as long as Universal Print endpoints are not blocked, everything will work," the Q&A indicated.

Partner Support
There is some partner collaboration with Universal Print as Microsoft is working with "third-party" print providers, Carr indicated.

During the Q&A, it was explained that Microsoft is "working with most or all ISV [independent software vendors] in print," including vendors such as Papercut, Kofax and uniFlow.

There was a Microsoft Build session for developer partners on how to add Universal Print support to an application or service, which can be viewed here.

Microsoft was also asked about actual printer hardware support for Universal Print. It's mostly still a work in progress, per the Q&A:

There are currently no in-market printers with native support for Universal Print, but we're working with our industry partners to make it happen! In the meantime, we have a Connector application that helps connect "legacy" printers to Universal Print.

Connector App
Microsoft was asked a few questions about it Universal Print Connector app, and whether it needed to be installed on premises. The Connector app, used to support legacy printers, does need an Internet connection:

Please note Connector is a solution to support your existing printers. As new printers with Universal Print support get launched, Connector won't be required for those printers. Connector needs to be on-prem, available 24x7 and connected to Internet.

The Connector app "can be installed on existing print server," Microsoft indicated during the Q&A. It's available for download here, with install instructions.

Alternatively, the Connector app can be installed on a virtual machine.

"[The Connector app can be installed "on-prem or hosted in a central location (e.g. an Azure VM) that has access to the printers on the org's network," Microsoft clarified, in the Q&A.

Non-PC Support Plans
Universal Print is just for Windows 10 PCs right now, but Microsoft is eyeing its future use on mobile platforms as well.

"We definitely want to support additional devices like Android and iOS, and this is in our backlog of future features," Microsoft indicated in the Q&A.

Microsoft is also considering adding Mac support for Universal Print.

"We definitely want to support additional devices like MacOS, and this is in our backlog of future features."

Other Plans
During the Q&A, Microsoft was asked about added security measures for Universal Print, such as requiring supplemental identity verification via a badge or PIN. Microsoft confirmed that it's working on such plans, but it may rely on its partners for some of the solutions.

Microsoft was also asked if Universal Print supports "pull printing" and "Follow Me" functions. Those capabilities aren't currently supported, but Microsoft is considering them, particularly if they get voted up.

Microsoft was also asked if the administration of Universal Print could be accomplished "via automation tools such as PowerShell scripts etc." Microsoft indicated that "PowerShell is on our roadmap," promising to share details "soon." It added that "tools can also use Graph API," pointing to this document.

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