It's not about the box. It's a business reality that many, if not most, transactional and direct mail printshops use equipment from two or more vendors. Almost every shop I visit has equipment from IBM, Océ, and Xerox, along with occasional machines from Kodak Versamark, NexPress, Nipson and Xeikon. The operational result has been proprietary workflows tailored to specific print engines or even individual jobs, adding cost and complexity while reducing flexibility and efficiency. Working from a traditional "sell the box" strategy, most print engine vendors have worked to replace competitive machines rather than make their workflows play well with others. But things are changing.

The print engine vendors are putting substantial technical and marketing efforts into software that helps jobs flow to their machines and even those of competitors. Some of the software is developed internally while other tools come from any number of partners. This is one approach. Then there is a different drummer.

One company that stands apart is Emtex. The U.K. based software company with U.S. operations in Boca Raton, Florida, has been steadily evolving software intended to streamline operations in the mixed environments typical of most high-volume digital print operations. Emtex VIP and Emtex VDE, the company's flagship products, are recognized as top-level solutions for data stream transformation, resource management, and process optimization. Emtex solutions also include the FlexServer product line, and at the On Demand show, Emtex announced its acquisition of Option Software Systems, a company specializing in operations management, workflow and scheduling solutions for high volume document production sites.

"We're in the business of driving printers," Tim Moylan, CEO of Emtex, told me at the show. "Any job should be able to run on any printer, so a company can always make the best possible use of all their equipment, no matter which vendor it comes from. We can provide a single workflow, a single point of control for managing all the equipment in different print environments."

Moylan describes Emtex's offerings as being three concentric circles. VDE and VIP are the core, then FlexSever to manage where jobs are printed, and now Option Software's tools outermost to provide JDF/JMF compliant workflow solutions for POD, transactional, convergent and ADF environments.

"Workflows often have islands of information," says Moylan. "And the information doesn't always go from one island to another. With the solutions we have today, we can provide an end-to-end workflow that not only completely supports production but also provides needed information at every point in the process."

Quark 7 brings in JDF

"Better tools help run a more successful business," says Glenn Turpin, Quark's director of communications. And one of those tools could be QuarkXPress 7, due out later this year. I began using QuarkXPress is 1991. It's logic, speed of operation and ease of use just worked for me. I still like it a lot, and although Adobe InDesign continues to encroach on Quark's market, XPress remains a great product with a significant following.

The new features coming in version 7 should make many users happy. Lead among these is the Quark Job Jacket, a container for all the specifications for an entire print publishing process. It contains info on the job, contact information, resources required, layout intent, rules, output specs, and more. All this is saved in the Jacket to prevent errors during the job's creation and output.

If you are beginning to think there's some workflow potential here, you're thinking like Quark. Job Jacket elements will be compatible with JDF, and can be mapped to JDF elements and vice versa. In addition, version 7 will also have rules-based pre-flight capes to ensure files remain output ready throughout the production process.

"The Job Jacket uses all the specialized knowledge that might have been spread between a designer, production manager and a pre-press person," says Turpin,. "This could include brand and corporate standards, as well as information on a specific project."

PPML will also be supported, adding database publishing functions to XPress documents. This should make creating graphically rich, personalized communications based on variable data much easier--and not as reliant on XTensions. If executed well, this may result in helping more designers think in terms of how to add variable data to documents--and that's good for growing variable data printing.

There are a raft of other new features coming, including new transparency controls, improved color management, enhanced typographic support, and more. One of these is the ability to help content creators publish multiple print and Web layouts from the same content. OK, this isn't really a new thing in page design tools, but execution is what counts, so I'm looking forward to seeing this ability in action.

The release date is not locked down just yet, but expect it to be in late Q3 or during Q4.

Yes, Virginia, another DocuColor

Since I am generally the print-engine guy on the WTT show team, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Xerox's latest member of the DocuColor family and a UV coater. Filling a slot between the DocuColor 6060 and 8000 models, the DocuColor 7000 prompted Frank Romano to wonder when we should expect to see a 7200, a 7400, and others to fill in the spaces between different models in the line-up.

This is not the case, Xerox has assured me. The 70 pages-per-minute DC 7000 is intended to answer the needs of DocuColor 2060 customers who want to move up past the DC 6000 but can't justify the expense of the much faster 8000 model. Priced at $245,000 (including a color server) the 7000 is about $90,000 less expensive than the 8000 model on which it is based. This gives customers a faster RIP, same print quality as the 8000, and better throughput at a more affordable monthly nut. While this model still slows down when running heavier stock, the difference in print quality between it and the 2060 or even the 6000 shows it to be in a different league.

The jury is still out on whether the 7000 can be field upgraded to become an 8000. In my opinion, this should be a no-brainer for Xerox. Equipment prices being as flexible and negotiable as they are, it makes sense for someone to be able to invest in a 7000 and pay to upgrade it without bringing in a forklift and losing production time. Several Xerox DocuTech models can be field-upgraded, so it makes good sense to offer this same capability for color machines.

One Tower is Not Enough

The iGen3 can already be configured to be so long that it comes close to encountering what I call "the curve of the earth problem," and it is now about to resemble a small city, with not one, but two 8-foot high towers. The second tower is the Epic Cti-635 UV coater (from Epic International) that can give documents a glossy or matte finish to improve appearance and durability. The coater runs line with the iGen at full-rated speed and can supposedly run even faster--a good thing for when the iGen is again speeded up. It provides both flood (entire sheet) and spot coatings, an ability not available on any other coating system for digital presses.

The amount of coating put on a sheet can be adjusted, an important ability for some applications. On images with complex variations in colors and amount of toner laid down, for example, a very thin coating may make the "toner topography," or the layers of toner more evident. In this case an extra micron or two of coating may provide a superior image.

Adding coatings is the next big step for color digital printing. Without it, the potential for direct mail with variable data is diminished because toner doesn't always survive the not-so-gentle handling of the UPSP. Adding a sufficiently durable coating should help expand that market along with other apps for digital color printing that can benefit from the appearance boost a coating adds.

And that is about it for On Demand. Well, I did meet Ben Franklin at the EDSF breakfast, which I meant to get to here, but I'll tell you about that in my column in On Demand Journal next week. But there is one other thing.

That one other thing. . .

I started off my columns about this show remarking that many people were skeptical about this show being in Philadelphia. I had my doubts, too. But this show rocked. With over 21,000 people on hand, there were people staying in New Jersey and coming into the city every day. Day visitors were coming in on trains from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., while others came down from New York. The floor was consistently busy, and every vendor I spoke with was pleased with the volume and quality of attendees. And deals were being written.

Maybe it's that the market is finally beginning to revive, that the pent-up demand for new equipment and software is finally beginning to turn into orders, or any number of factors. But in 10 years of going to this show, this one had the most energy I've seen at any print show in a long time. And Philly is a terrific venue. The hotels are reasonably priced, you can step outside and have dozens of options for food and drink, and the convention center is just nicer in every way than New York's Javits Center down on the water front. This show is going to be here next year as well, and I talked with many who said they hope it stays in Philadelphia. And so do I.

See you next show.