The economy, corporate travel restrictions and worries about terrorism made themselves felt at Xplor, held October 28th through November 3 in Orlando, FL. Attendance hovered around 4,000, a shadow of the 10,000 that flocked to last year's conference in Miami. Still, vendors said many attendees seemed to be decision-makers looking for various document processing solutions. The lower traffic enabled vendors to spend extra time with existing customers and assisting potential ones.

"The traffic is slow, but when someone comes into the booth I can spend as much time as necessary," said Bill Walker, vice president of software solutions at Bell and Howell. "It means I can answer all their questions, learn more about their needs and not have to count on someone else getting back to them sometime after the show." This sentiment was echoed by other large vendors, including, IBM, Oce, Pitney Bowes, and Xerox; along with numerous software firms such as Elixir, Exstream, Lytrod, and Solimar.

Coming only a few weeks after PRINT 01 in Chicago, there was a paucity of completely new product, but because the focus of the two shows is entirely different, there were new offerings for the data center/transactional print/direct mail markets.

A Faster, Wider IBM
Two highlights at the IBM booth were its new Infoprint 4100 and Visual Job Ticketing, a nifty and useful plug-in for Adobe Acrobat. The Infoprint 4100 combines 19.5" print width, excellent half-tone image quality and high speed, especially for 3-up 6x9-inch documents. These can be printed at 1400 impressions per minute, while 8.5x11-inch documents can run 2-up at 762 ppm. The Infoprint 4100 supports fully-automated impositioning for streamlining print workflows and finishing, a great feature when multiple print runs of varied documents are part of the daily print schedule.

Visual Job Ticketing is tailored to a PDF workflow and simplifies the tasks associated with setting up complex print jobs common to in-house print centers and reprographic shops. It uses a single graphical interface to set up jobs for multiple devices, depending on the job's characteristics. Based on XML, the application's open, device-independent job ticket format eliminates the need for operators to work with different job ticketing applications for each device.

Flexibility and Power
Down the center aisle Oce Printing Systems showed the flexibility of its DemandStream 8090cx printer running a financial application. At Print 01, the same machine had been used for a publishing job, demonstrating the ability of a single device to handle a broad range of printing needs. Oce used Xplor to introduce its new DemandStream 750 mid-range printer and its sister model the 3275, which is intended for office and distributed printing uses. These 75-ppm machines are the result of a new partnership with Konica Business Technologies, but extend perfectly into the data center by supporting PostScript, PDF, PCL, LCDS and IPDS. This extended printing capability should work well for reprints and short run needs that aren't efficient on larger cut-sheet or continuous-feed machines.

Oce also offered a technology demonstration of the PS210, a continuous-feed highlight color machine that delivers duplexed highlight color at 210-pages per minute. Like most Oce print engines, the PS210 features Quick Change Developer Stations for fast (under 5 minutes) toner color changes, colors which can be customized through Oce's CustomTone program.

Smaller DocuTechs
A couple of booths away, Xerox showed off its DocuPrint 700 continuous-feed printer, but most of Xerox booth traffic hovered around the new DocuTech and DocuPrint 90 mid-range cut-sheet boxes. With print production environments calling for faster and more capable machines in this class, the new boxes should help meet the needs of space-constrained print operations. As their names indicate, the new units run at up to 90-ppm and offer 600 dpi resolution (600x1200 dpi in PostScript). The machines can accommodate up to 5,100 sheets, supplemented by four additional trays for other stock, including covers, tabs and even some types of plastic paper. For finishing, the DocuTech 90 can connect to Xerox's optional Signature Booklet Maker.

An interesting feature is Subset Offset, a process critical for transaction processing and variable data customers. With selected applications, a variable data run containing multiple records may be sent to the printer as a single job with the intent to finish the job offline. By offset stacking the records, operators can easily separate them for insertion into the required finishing device.

Like other members of the DocuPrint/DocuTech family, the two 90s run under the DocuSP common controller.

Liberating the Legacy Document
Elixir has been around the industry for over 15 years, always with effective, powerful solutions. It's new legacy-to-web software solution, PageMiner, is no exception and is perhaps the Ventura, California firm's best product to date. Elixir's experience in the industry is apparent in the smooth integration of PageMiner with Elixir's Opus, its document composition system, which facilitates automated reformatting and production of the legacy materials.

The conversion of legacy data is one of the problems a lot of people wish would go away. It looks like PageMiner can help it do just that--but by converting the old pages instead of ignoring them. PageMiner is a sophisticated tool that extracts data from legacy files and allows users to convert it to XML or repurpose the documents to a number of file formats. These formats allow delivery of information as personalized customer communications for print, email and Internet uses. Using PageMiner, businesses can repurpose legacy documents for the web as bookmarked PDFs; extract data from print files for e-business use; build an external index using data from the legacy file; and completely reformat data with a document composition system. Output can be routed to printers, emailed, faxed or uploaded to a Web site.

Getting Personal
Exstream Software just keeps on pushing the product--to make it better and more capable. Dialogue (version 2.5) is the third major release this year of the award-winning (Seybold Hot Picks) personalized document creation software for high-volume environments. Dialogue enables straightforward customization and personalization of a broad range of business and marketing documents, along with complex statements and e-fulfillment on the Web. It enables businesses to connect with customers in more ways, and does it based on individual customer needs and histories rather than broad or generic characteristics. As Exstream pushes out the envelope, Dialogue's new features enhance its appeal to important markets.

For example, for the insurance industry, the new Regulatory Support module allows compliance administrators to manage content inclusion or exclusion based on effective dates or jurisdictions. Broader capabilities include Dynamic Data Access for creation of specific routines for data handling, support of encryption/decryption, and the ability to conduct table look-ups on the fly. A new component library facilitates storage of commonly used objects for easy reuse. Dialogue also supports the emerging PPML standard, along with Variable Print Specification (VPS), RTF, PDF and AFP.

What You Don't See is Still There
Several booths were demonstrating invisible printing. Essentially using an ink jet print head connected to a reservoir of ink that's only visible under infrared light, solutions from Videk, Oce, Xerox, Bell and Howell, Bowe Systek and others drew interest from those interested in document security and tracking. Traditional bar codes, 2D codes and data glyphs were shown statically and being printed for a variety of applications.

Conference Sessions
Xplor has always been more of a conference than a trade show, and there are plenty of people who attend primarily for the sharing of knowledge. Indeed, some attendees make only cursory passes on the floor, often on the way to lunch. Although some sessions were sparsely attended, several sessions had standing room only crowds.

Disaster recovery
Pat McGrew of McGrew + McDaniel Group ran a top-notch session which pointed out that having a data recovery plan for disasters is not the same as having a document recovery plan. While data can be restored relatively quickly when the appropriate precautions are taken in advance, the resumption of printing and mailing operations can take weeks or even months. She urged listeners to develop a plan for addressing the production side of disaster recovery.

While many data center and other transactional printers cringe at the challenges of adding color to documents, the fact is that color will continue to invade the world of statements, invoices and other pages now limited to black and white. A panel with representatives form Heidelberg Digital/NexPress, Xerox, Scitex Digital Printing, Oce and IBM Printing Systems discussed new technologies, key considerations for color printing, and the changing shape of the color market

Ask the Press: State of the Industry
Much to my surprise (since I was on the panel), we had a very full-house for this session in which George Alexander of Seybold, Keith Hevenor of Electronic Publishing magazine, Noel Jeffrey of Print on Demand magazine, Jill Roth of American Printer and Noel Ward of responded to questions about the directions of the industry over the next few years. Special attention was given to color printing, new workflows, the growing importance of the Internet, and the convergence of graphic arts and data center applications.

Beginning of the Trend?
Despite the ability to spend more time with attendees, the light attendance was certainly frustrating for vendors, especially in light of the poor economy. Attendees and vendors alike wondered if it may also indicate the beginning of a trend toward smaller shows, perhaps focusing on drawing in decision makers rather than any warm body that can get in the door. Time will tell, but for now Xplor is in the rearview and vendors who don't go to COMDEX are probably looking hard at next year's show schedule. It just could be that some will decide that less is more.