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Differences Universal Printers

As long as Terminal Servers exists printing is still one of the biggest challenges in administrating a Server Based Computing environment. To solve these problems several manufacturers developed printing products. The basis of these products is a so called Universal Printer Driver. But what's universal in this driver? In this article I will explain that the differences between the Universal Printer Drivers available and some of the key features in the several universal printing products.

Types of Universal Printer Drivers




 

The term Universal Printer Driver this does not mean that all the drivers are universal in the manner of that they are using the same techniques. The term Universal means that the driver can be used for almost every printing device. Comparing all the printing solutions three types of printer drivers can be distinguished.

1) Universal Printer driver based on a normal basic printer driver

This type was the first printer driver available as Universal Printer solution. This type of universal printer driver is using a normal standard driver. Often the drivers used are HP driver like the HP Laserjet 4/5 for black/white printing and the HP Laserjet 4500 for color printing. The printer job is handled and transferred like all common printer drivers.

As you can read this is not actually a universal printer driver, but just a replacement driver that will be assigned to other printing devices. This type of driver is as mentioned the first driver and is becoming end of life.

Citrix was using this kind of universal printer driver in the formal versions of Metaframe/Presentation server (till version 4) and a few full SBC products are using still using this kind of driver. Also the Microsoft Fallback driver is based on this type of universal printer drivers.

Advantages of this kind of driver are that it is mostly available in the product you already buyed, so do additional investment need to be made and it's easy to maintain.

Because the driver is actually a driver from one of the manufactures the driver does not support all printing devices and has limitations with the support of trays and duplex sessions.

2) Universal Printer Driver based on the EMF format

EMF is the Windows format for rendering the printjob. The EMF file is normally created by the printer driver and send to the Windows spooler.

Using the EMF driver the printjob will be transferred in the Windows printer format by the printing product to the client. On the client the printer product client receives the EMF file and sends it to the client spooler.

Because EMF is only available within the Windows platform it can only be used by Windows based clients. Also EMF files have normally a bigger size than PDF based files.

EMF files are rendered to the job for the printing device on the client, so the server has less work with it. Also with the EMF the job keeps his original quality.

Examples of product that are using EMF are Citrix Presentation Server 4, Thinprint and Tricerat (Tricerat is using his own format based on EMF).

3) Universal Printer Driver based on the PDF format

The last common universal driver is based on Adobe's PDF format.

Using this technique the printing solution renders the EMF file created by the local print spooler into a PDF or sometime a PCL file. This file is send to the client where the printing solution client the file renders to the EMF format so the spooler can send the job to the printing device.

The PDF/PCL format is available on most systems, so you do not need to have a Windows based client for this universal printer driver. Also the file is usually smaller than an EMF file so less bandwidth will be used.

Using a PDF solution the job is rendered on the server in stead of the client. Also the PDF compression is affecting the print quality. Printing features are also depending of the PDF driver being used, while EMF depends on the features available in the client printer driver.

Uniprint and Net2Printer are products that are using the PDF format.

Provision Network printing product called Print-IT supports both the PDF as the EMF format.

Citrix Printing solution against third party products

As described above Citrix was using an alternative printer driver as a Universal Printer driver. Because this solved certainly not all the uses several third party product are introduced on the market. With Presentation Server 4 Citrix introduced their real Universal Driver solution using the EMF format. The main question during the introduction was if there were still situations were you need an additional printing product.  The printer products manufactures released quickly white papers where they compare their product with the Citrix implementation and mentions the advantages of their product.

Some examples are Uniprint and Tricerat.

In the article Can Third Party Software Solve  Terminal Server Printing Problems I already described when the needs are there for a third party product, so I will not go into details now.

Considerations choosing a product

In you read most comparisons and also the way I explained the difference way the EMF and PDF drivers work the method of auto created client printers are used. If your clients are in the same LAN it (through my eyes) not always necessary to send the job first to the client because the client has only server print queues defined. In this way the print job is traveling twice around the network. The most network printer products has a feature built-in or an optional module that the server side of the product directly send the job to the print server into your infrastructure. In this way you do not need a client for the product to be installed on your client machines.

On the other side you could have a central data centre where the server resides and your clients are located on several sites connected using a WAN. In this situation compression and bandwidth control are important factors. Probably a PDF based product has a benefit, although all products have compression and bandwidth control options in their products. In this kind of situation you should think about your print server functionality. All products deliver the print job finally to a spooler component that sends the job to the print device. This part of the total print process is not covered by any product so travels uncompressed and uncontrolled over your network. In this kind of WAN situations this print component should be preferable located on the client side. Several products deliver therefore a kind of print gateway.

All the products have their special features and solutions. It is a pretty hard market where the several manufacturers compare their products in white papers regularly. I have included a list of comparison document at the end of this article.

Conclusion

With this article I gave you a introduction in the world of Universal Printing solutions. Three kind of universal printer drivers are available right now:

- Using a default normal driver
- EMF based technology
- PDF based technology

Nowadays EMF and PDF based solutions are the standard (certainly now Citrix also have an EMF based solution). Both techniques have their advantages and disadvantages.  Depending on your infrastructure you should choose the driver which has the most benefits.

If you are considering a product use this article and the comparison charts mentioned at the end of the article to create your first analysis. You should definitely download then a few products and test him thoroughly to make your final decision.

Comparison White Papers:

Uniprint Overall Comparison (Uniprint, ThinPrint, Tricerat and Citrix PS4)

Tricerat versus Thinprint

Tricerat versus Uniprint

Performance Analysis of Universal Printing Solutions by Citrix Consultancy

Article previous published at MSTerminalServices.org.