In the run-up to On Demand, Global Graphics has been busy. The company, best known for its Harlequin RIP and JAWS PDF products, sells exclusively to the OEM, system integrator and software development environments. Its products are often incorporated “under the hood” so that buyers may not even be aware of who supplied the underlying technology. But the architecture is designed to allow customers to build customized applications, with easy-to-use tool kits that the company has designed to facilitate a fast implementation process.

Two announcements were of particular interest, and may not have been noticed by our readers amidst the flurry of other news.

Microsoft’s New PDL: Metro

In an announcement made April 25th, Global Graphics reported that it has been working closely with Microsoft in the development of its next generation print subsystem for the Windows operating system. The company is providing consultancy and proof of concept development services to Microsoft to help deliver new solutions for printing and electronic documents built on Microsoft's new XML-based document technology, code-named "Metro". This new format is planned for availability in Microsoft's next version of the Windows operating system code-named "Longhorn" expected to be available in 2006.

Metro is a clean-sheet design page description language (PDL) that will fix many of the print-related issues users experience with Windows. It is a three-level architecture that contains:

  • A document format enabling more accurate communication of documents among users,
  • A spool format for Windows print subsystem, and
  • A PDL for communication with the print engine

Sound a little like Acrobat? Sure does. But in this writer’s opinion, Microsoft will have a lot of catching up to do to even get close to incorporating the level of functionality Adobe has put into Acrobat with its 7.0 release. And by the time Metro is released, we will probably be at PDF 1.7 and Acrobat 8.0 levels.

Dr. Adrian Ford, Global Graphics’ Chief Technology Officer

Dr. Adrian Ford, Global Graphics’ Chief Technology Officer, believes that both PDF and Metro will have roles to play into the future, indicating that print service providers who already have complex PDF workflows in place will more than likely continue to use those workflows. But, he says, “Metro will provide a cleaner, more predictable conversion to PDF than is often achievable from the Windows platform, especially where native PDF conversion is not available, making it easier for print service providers to reliably produce a wider range of electronically submitted files.” He also points out that Metro will expand the capabilities of the Windows print subsystem by eliminating some of the shortfalls currently embodied in it, including the GDI interface which does not support a number of file types currently in use. It will also improve user productivity related to printing activities.

Global Graphics has been working with Microsoft since early 2003 as a core technology provider to the industry to ensure that the Metro specification can be implemented by 3 rd party software developers. Global Graphics has also developed a reference RIP that will be included in the developer toolkit and that can be used by suppliers as they develop to the specification and to ensure that their implementation is compatible with the specification. Metro’s XML-based job ticket enables the intent of printing to be communicated outside the document. Also with Metro, all components in the print pipeline, including the application, the print driver and the device, can communicate bidirectionally.

Ford believes early success with Metro will be found with photo printing, where, he says, “today, you have wide gamut digital photos with wide gamut inkjet, and to get the best quality you have to circumvent the windows print subsystem.” Metro, he adds, will eliminate this issue. He also sees faster adoption in ad hoc variable data applications and office applications like printing of full-color presentations. He says, “PDF will continue to dominate in a number of spaces, especially where complex workflows are already in place. But you can expect to see Metro-to-PDF conversion workflows to more effectively move documents into graphic arts workflows.” He also indicates PDF will continue to dominate in complex document and forms workflows such as tax forms, and in cross-platform applications. A white paper on the subject authored by Dr. Ford is available at And Global Graphics representatives will be available at On Demand to discuss this project further.

Working “Under the Hood” to Make Device Convergence a Reality

In mid-April, Global Graphics also announced a new release it its Harlequin RIP, called the Genesis Release. The Harlequin RIP is in use by a number of key suppliers to the industry, including ABDick, HP, Esko Graphics, Presstek, Agfa, ECRM and Xitron. The timing of this announcement presumably leaves the door open for a number of these partners to announce incorporation of their the new Genesis capabilities at On Demand. So watch for related announcements as WhatTheyThink’s On Demand coverage continues.

Among other things, the Genesis Release includes:

  • Support for PDF 1.5, PDF/X-1A:2003 and PDF/X-3:2003. As in previous releases, the Harlequin RIP is able to process PDF files natively, without the need to convert to PostScript first.
  • JDF Enabler Version 2.0. Designed to be compliant with the published JDF 1.2 specification and with Level 2 of CIP4’s Base Interoperability Conformance Specification, JDF Enabler Version 2.0 now allows for the handling of TIFF files, either as an input file format or as a reference file format within JDF.
  • Font emulation. With this new capability, the Genesis Release will make a typographically acceptable match to missing fonts with no text overflow and with appropriate character spacing, weight and width. This is especially important in time-critical applications, including print on demand, and newspaper and magazine publishing.

The Genesis Release also incorporates improved color management and simple in-RIP imposition, including application of crop marks, that can increase efficiency for users who do not require complex imposition. This feature is targeted at two-up digital printing and CTP for litho offset, making it an important tool in the emerging trend for print operations to take advantage of device convergency in the implementation of hybrid (digital/offset) workflows.

Global Graphics' Ford, shared his perspective on this subject: "Global Graphics works very closely with partners to ensure that the core technology that we provide meets the needs of the industry. One such example is in the area of device convergence. Here, from the perspective of RIP technology, the traditional differentiation between on-demand digital devices and high-end printing equipment is evaporating. Increasingly, end users are deploying multiple types of devices to help their businesses to evolve to meet the challenges of digital print and the new economy. The need to support such configurations creates the requirement for workflows and core workflow technology that enables efficient hybrid printing environments. With the Harlequin Genesis RIP release, we've implemented some key features, such as simple imposition, enhanced PDF/X and font emulation technology that enables our partners to build support for hybrid print workflows into their products while using a single RIP architecture.

"Longer term, we see the areas of both content creation and content delivery becoming key factors in the evolution of these workflows. As a result, we have been working closely with the industry to develop solutions that can efficiently deliver the data streams needed to support high speed and high reliability throughput. An important example of this is the recently announced work that we have been doing with Microsoft on its 'Metro' initiative to provide an enhanced print pipeline for the Windows platform. We expect this to complement the wide support that we provide for native processing of the PDF format and lead to new & innovative solutions to many of the deficiencies in today's print paths."