Wednesday, 1 August 2007

mobile printing ...

Printing, the joy of any IT manager's life. Except this time it's mobile printing.

Well of course most people don't actually know what they mean by mobile printing. It's got the word mobile in it so it must be really trendy and important, and because it's trendy we need to provide the service.

Actually in a university context, it's quite clear what people need.

Students need to be able to (a) print to any student printer on campus, not just the one in the lab where they're situated, and (b) print from their laptops to student printers.

Option (a) is really easy. We did this at York years ago. We create a virtual print queue which puts the spooled jobs for a particular student into a directory named by that's student's user id. Jobs are held in the spool directory for some arbitrary time, say seven days. Student goes to print location, and logs into a print station (really an old pc running linux) which automatically fires up an application that lists the print jobs in their directory and gives them some simple choices (print colour, print b+w, double sided, and delete). Students can print selectively when they want to, where they want to and pick up their output. No wrangles about missing pages, no forgotten printouts littering the place.

It's good, it worked.

Option (b) is slightly more tricky, but if you have (a) in place not terribly so. Pharos have a commercial solution, but it's for XP and Vista only and involves installing drivers on student's laptops. It's also quite flexible and involves having the spooling operation take place on the laptop.

I have a better idea.

First of all we give students a print to pdf app. Mac and linux users can do this out of the box (ok Mac users can, linux users need to fiddle a little) but windows users need to create a virtual printer. Students then print their documents to pdf. Nice thing is that they have the opportunity to check the layout.

That's part one. Part two is to generate a web page with a file upload feature. Students connect to the web page, choose the pdf file they wish to upload and click ok. Behind the scenes we do some simple checks using something like jhove to make user the file really is a pdf file (otherwise we dump it and tell them what we think it is) and then with a bit of ghostscript generate a postscript print job we dump in their spool directory to allow them to print next time their on campus. As we only allow pdf and automatically convert everything to postscript they won't be tempted to use it for extra storage. But they can print their files next time they're on campus and they can make that decision when they're on campus rather than printing the job now and hoping the output will be there when they want to collect it.

The other joy is that they can always print the file at home, and that as the web upload is just that, an authenticated web upload they can be anywhere on the planet, rather than connected to the campus network in one way ot the other to do this.

Ok that's the idea. Now it needs to be refined developed, finessed and something built...

1 comment:

dgm said...

actually, bugger ghostscript, the wonderful pdftops under linus will do the job of conversion beautifully ...