Will Microsoft Universal Print fix cloud printing?

The paperless office has been promised for decades but still hasn’t arrived. True, mankind’s longest-standing medium for recording information was never going to be phased out overnight. But in 2020 we’re still waiting and still printing. Other aspects of working have evolved to be more flexible, allowing people to be more mobile, and work wherever they need to, with any device they want. But printing hasn’t kept up with the anywhere, anytime paradigm. Even wireless, so-called “mobile-friendly” printing has still been dragged down by irritating, time-wasting setup hassles.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why printing is still a problem in the first place and then see how Microsoft Universal Print stacks up when it comes to solving these issues.

Printing. So, what’s the problem?

As we help transition customers to a modern desktop and adoption of a zero-trust architecture, printing becomes a challenge. When client devices are inherently untrusted and do not have direct access to servers, how do you provide print services? We have cloud solutions for file access (SharePoint or OneDrive), collaboration (Teams or Exchange Online), device management (Intune), even Windows device provisioning (Autopilot), but printing still needs a good old-fashioned print server and a direct connection from the client to that print server.

There are options (or workarounds) for printing today. One of these is to allow access to your print servers from your client device network. That may be okay for corporate/managed devices, but not great for guest or third-party devices. And when working remotely, you will need a VPN to connect to your corporate network before being able to print. Hardly the smooth, hassle-free experience that customers are always asking for when they come to us.

Microsoft Hybrid Cloud Print doesn’t cut it

“But what about Microsoft Hybrid Cloud Print”, you may ask? Okay, so let’s look at that.

Hybrid Cloud Print is, as the name suggests, a hybrid cloud solution for Windows Server 2016 and not a native cloud solution. A Windows Server is required, as well as on-prem active directory, and you’ll need Azure AD Proxy and some time to perform the configuration and ensure the many components remain functional.

With many organisations trying hard to reduce and simplify infrastructure, Hybrid Cloud Print is not the ideal cloud print solution. And that’s why Microsoft created Universal Print.

Introducing Microsoft Universal Print

Unveiled to the world in February 2020, Microsoft Universal Print is an Azure-based print service developed to make printing quick and easy for end users and reduce the amount of time and effort IT staff need to invest in setting users up and ensuring they can print. Our partner Printix have provided their own cloud print solution for many years now, but this is the first time Microsoft themselves have taken the bull by the horns and developed their own solution.

With Universal Print, the core Windows Server print functionality has been moved to the Microsoft 365 cloud. Here’s what that could mean for you:

  • Members of your business can work and print with more mobility and flexibility
  • You will eventually no longer need to operate on-premises print servers or install printer drivers on users’ individual devices
  • Print management is streamlined and centralized, so administrators can do their jobs more easily and effectively

Useful functionality in the works

All of the above could significantly reduce workloads for IT personnel. And Universal Print also includes features such as:

  • Location-based printer discovery, which allows users to effortlessly print to whichever is their nearest printer – great for hotdesking or times when people need to work across multiple departments or offices
  • Security groups for printer access, so admins can easily assign permissions and manage the users and user groups who can access each printer, in line with each department’s specific needs
  • Printer swapping functionality, allowing admins to seamlessly swap out a broken printer with another nearby, transferring its name and permissions so that nothing changes for users except where they collect their printouts

But it’s not quite ready yet

You might have to wait a little longer before you can roll out Universal Print and try it for yourself. Universal Print is still in private preview, so only a select few currently have access to the new cloud print solution. It’s still in testing while Microsoft irons out any remaining issues and ensures Universal Print is ready to be unleashed upon the world.

Microsoft hasn’t formally announced when Universal Print will be made available for everyone else. But as soon as we get the green light, we’ll be helping our customers to make the most of it. We’re working with some customers to test Universal Print before it’s given a general release, which puts us in a perfect position to help you get it up and running, and make the most of it, if you decide to start using it when it’s available.

Our verdict on the new cloud print solution

Will Microsoft Universal Print solve all your printing problems? Probably not. If you have complex print requirements, it’s unlikely that Universal Print, or perhaps any cloud print solution, will work for you. But for general office printing for organisations striving to create a successful digital workplace, Universal Print should be on your radar. Remember, Microsoft Universal Print isn’t the only solution out there – Printix is a leader in cloud printing and has a more mature service.

One factor that may be a stumbling block for some: compatibility. If your printers aren’t Universal Print-compatible (which very few are today), a device will need to have the Universal Print Connector set up – a quasi-print server without being a server. And client devices will also need to be running Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise version 1903 or later. If you are not on Windows 10 1903 or later, you had better plan that upgrade before the 8 December 2020 end of servicing date.

Stay tuned for updates and more of our unbiased thoughts on Microsoft Universal Print in the future.

We create successful digital workplaces

At Deptive, we’ve helped all kinds of organizations create a successful digital workspace which really supports their business. Cloud printing is a small piece of what makes up a digital workspace. With a range of industry-leading tech partners including Microsoft, and an approach centred around your organization, people and goals, Deptive is dedicated to getting it right, first time.

Want to learn more about Microsoft Universal Print, implementing cloud printing, or any other aspect of the modern workplace? Let’s talk. Get in touch with us today.

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