Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

10Feb/080

Multi-Function Printers that Work

I've been looking for a multi-function (print, scan, copy, fax) printer for the last few months. I've been really disappointed with what I've found.

What I want to be able to do is the following:

  • Print documents from any modern operating system across the network
  • Scan documents/pictures from an auto-document feeder or a flatbed and in some way have this data end up on whatever system on the network I want
  • Copy documents/pictures by standing at the printer unit itself
  • Receive faxes and send faxes from anywhere on the network

I know that there are problems with some of these -- specifically Scanning and Faxing. I see multiple issues with these:

  1. Storage (where does the scanned or faxed document get stored physically?)
  2. Notification (even if a fax is stored, how does a user know when it arrives?)
  3. Configuration (the above should ideally be accomplished without configuring anything on the end-systems)

I see a solution but I've not found a sub $1000 printer that accomplishes it. Some of the high-end "counter-top"-sized systems (that run $10,000 and above) have something similar but are usually way overblown.

  • Storage would be provided by flash memory (something as simple as 1-16GB Compact Flash card).
    • Sharing of this storage would be accomplished by using a Samba server running on an embedded Linux kernel (similar to the sort of functionality that currently exists on home routers).
    • Samba shares would be exposed to Linux, Mac, and Windows systems by using something like Avahi (or whatever the Linux version of ZeroConf is that works best at the time). Bonjour could be used on the client end if you're running Apple to easily see these auto-configured shares but it would have to be installed specially on Windows clients.
  • Notification could be accomplished via email. If a simple SMTP setup is configured once on the printer unit itself, it could automatically route emails to a specific user, multiple users, or different groups depending on the fax number used or other variables. There are many other alternatives using things like the XMPP or even SMS for notification.
  • Configuration -- as mentioned this would work like magic on a Mac and slightly less magically (and unfortunately much less beautifully) on a Windows PC. Any system on the network could access recently scanned or faxed documents or perhaps be only restricted by a username/password (heck -- even tie it into an LDAP server if you've get centralized directory services). Basically, this largely gets rid of the need for client software other than just the printer driver itself. In reality, I'm not clear why we even need a specialized print driver when a web interface (again, hosted on the device) could likely provide any custom features (software-based maintenance, looking at the queue, etc.)

So why isn't it out there?

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