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What are the pros and cons of Microsoft Universal Print?

The modernization of many organizations revolves around the cloud and newer user devices, and a Microsoft offering could help bridge the gap with legacy printing infrastructure.

It's no secret that Windows admins detest working with printers, which has gotten increasingly complicated as newer user devices and workflows must function with older printer hardware.

It takes significant effort to maintain an on-premises print server and then sort through issues related to reliability, security and access control. Until recently, admins used on-premises tools for printer management, but there are other options. One of the newer offerings is Microsoft's Universal Print service, which moves print infrastructure to the cloud to lift some of these issues out of the admin's hands.

What is Microsoft Universal Print?

Universal Print is an Azure-based product designed to simplify printing for users and administrators. Because Microsoft Universal Print is cloud-based, administrators no longer need to maintain a collection of on-premises print servers. Instead, Microsoft provides the print servers within the Azure cloud.

Moving the print infrastructure to the cloud isn't just about a shift away from on-premises infrastructure. There is also a practical reason to switch. Users whose machines were optimized for remote work may have difficulty discovering an organization's printers, but Microsoft Universal Print takes over print jobs for the organization to remove the technical barrier.

Microsoft Universal Print is also designed to provide centralized management and scalability for network printers. There is no practical limit to the number of printers an organization can enroll in Microsoft Universal Print.

Additionally, these printers can be in multiple locations. An organization with several facilities can manage all their printers through a single console, even if the printers are separated over a wide geographic area.

What are the benefits of Microsoft Universal Print?

There are several advantages to using Microsoft Universal Print. One of the main benefits is centralized management of network printing using familiar tools such as Microsoft Entra ID -- formerly Azure Active Directory -- and Microsoft Intune.

Microsoft Universal Print is cloud-based, which largely eliminates the need for on-premises support infrastructure. However, there is one major caveat: You can only eliminate your print servers if your organization's printers -- or "print devices" as Microsoft likes to call them -- are natively compatible with Microsoft Universal Print. Printers without built-in Microsoft Universal Print support require a Windows machine configured as a Universal Print connector. Like any other Windows device, the Universal Print connector requires maintenance.

Microsoft Universal Print is based on Entra ID. Any user with an Entra ID account can use Microsoft Universal Print if they have the required permissions.

Microsoft Universal Print eliminates the need to manually install device drivers onto PCs and other endpoint devices. With Universal Print, a user can print from devices that run different OSes, including Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, and the administrator does not have to maintain a collection of drivers for the various printers and devices.

Microsoft Universal Print offers print security features. For example, a user can send a document to a printer and hold it in a queue until they decide to release it using a PIN or a QR code. Otherwise, the queued document expires after a few days. This print-release process reduces the chance that someone accidentally sees a sensitive document before its owner can retrieve it from the printer.

What are the disadvantages of Microsoft Universal Print?

As with any other technology, there are some potential drawbacks with Microsoft Universal Print.

The new cost model is one downside. Users need a license to use Microsoft Universal Print. Microsoft offers standalone Universal Print licenses that cost $4 per user per month.

Microsoft also includes Universal Print licenses with the following subscriptions:

  • Microsoft 365 Enterprise F3, E3, E5, A3, A5.
  • Windows 10 Enterprise E3, E5, A3, A5.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium.
  • Microsoft 365 Government G3, G5 -- Government Community Cloud (GCC).
  • Microsoft 365 Enterprise E3, E5 -- GCC High.
  • Windows 10/11 Enterprise E5 Commercial (GCC Compatible).
  • Universal Print for GCC (standalone).
  • Universal Print for GCC High (standalone).

Another potential disadvantage is a limit to the number of print jobs. For organizations with a Microsoft 365 E3, E5, Business Premium, G3 -- GCC, G5 -- GCC, E3 -- GCC High, E5 -- GCC High license, each licensed user adds 100 print jobs per month to a pool. For example, an organization with 50 licensed users gets 5,000 print jobs per month.

The print job pools are far smaller for some of the other license types. The following subscriptions get five print jobs per month: Microsoft 365 A3, A5, F3, Windows 10 Enterprise E3, E5, A3, A5 and Windows 10/11 Enterprise E5 Commercial (GCC Compatible). The following standalone licenses only offer five print jobs: Universal Print, Universal Print for GCC and Universal Print for GCC High.

One more potential drawback is the migration process to the Microsoft Universal Print service. The work involves registering printers with Universal Print. A printer that does not natively support Universal Print needs to use the Universal Print connector. Also, devices must be enrolled in Microsoft Entra ID to print. Hybrid environments are supported, so long as they are joined to Entra ID.

Unless an organization has relatively new printers, it is unlikely that they include native Universal Print support. Although, there is a chance some vendors will add Universal Print support through firmware updates. Many organizations will most likely need the Universal Print connector and then gradually migrate away from it as they replace aging printers with newer ones as a part of the hardware refresh cycle.

Brien Posey is a 15-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. He has served as a lead network engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense and as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in America.

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