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Microsoft puts Universal Print in preview

Microsoft says cloud-based Universal Print simplifies printer management by replacing on-premises infrastructure. The service is available through 365 on Windows 10 devices.

Microsoft has started rolling out Universal Print in public preview. The cloud-based service provides an alternative to on-premises printer management for companies using authenticated Windows 10 devices.

Universal Print streamlines printer management for IT professionals by making it easier for employees to find and use printers nearby and far away through the cloud. Remote printing and the use of printers in different offices have long been problems for remote or visiting workers. On-premises infrastructure often requires specific printer drivers that the workers may not have.

Universal Print tackles the problem by replacing on-premises print servers. Instead, the service provides printer management tools through the Azure-based Microsoft 365 cloud.

The service will help IT professionals deploy and manage printer infrastructure through a central portal. Administrators can set up which groups have access to printers, view printer properties and manage printer default preferences from the cloud.

The service will work best with printers that natively support Universal Print. Those printers are available from Microsoft partners Canon, Brother and HP. Microsoft also has an application to connect other printers to Universal Print as well.

Microsoft will make the preview available to 365 customers in North America, Europe and Asia over several weeks. The service, announced last month, was in a private preview program of 2,500 customers since the spring.

Still a need for printing

The proliferation of online documents and the ability to sign forms digitally has reduced the amount of printing in officers. Nevertheless, just about every business needs to print something at some time, said Mark Bowker, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

With many employees working from home because of the pandemic, the ability to print from the cloud has grown in importance. For example, lawyers working out of the office could use Universal Print to connect to an office printer, Bowker said.

R "Ray" Wang, founder of Constellation Research, said Universal Print streamlines cumbersome printer-management tasks. For example, the cloud-based management tool lets IT professionals control printer security, settings and drivers.

Universal Print will compete with cloud printing products, like ThinPrint and Google Cloud Print. Google plans to replace the latter at the end of the year with printer management settings in the Google Chrome operating system.

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