by Noel Ward, Executive Editor of and Managing Editor of trade show coverage for October 10, 2003 -- This is supposed to be a wrap-up from the show, but I saw so many things and had so many conversations that it is in some ways a prelude to other articles and columns to come. It is striking to see how focused some of the industry leaders are on key aspects of the market. In some ways it is like they were all in the same meeting and now have their marching orders to go out and take charge of their markets. And beat the living daylights out of the competition. Workflow Océ and Xerox are clearly squaring off for a battle surrounding workflow. Océ's modular PRISMA software does many things well in many environments while lacking much of the color capabilities of Xerox's FreeFlow. It is stable, open, robust and very full featured, with powerful tools for many different environments. And it is going to get much better, say Océ insiders, who see the opportunity to stake out--and own--some territory in numerous markets. Xerox's FreeFlow on the other hand, relies on numerous pieces that have been successfully in place for some time, yet need further refinement. And that refinement is coming fast, as Xerox is taking a renewed focus on making FreeFlow the dominant workflow toolset. New SDKs and APIs are coming to join those announced in Chicago and Xerox's list of 100-plus workflow partners is going to expand. FreeFlow is definitely more than just an umbrella. And while I can argue the plusses and minuses of both solutions for at least an afternoon, the competition over workflow is only going to raise the bar for the wannabes who see only parts of the market. The workflows print providers need have to be open, flexible, rely on standards, and work in black and white and color, for a wide range of documents. Océ and Xerox have a clear vision of where to go. Getting there is another matter, and the next steps each company takes are going to be interesting to watch. But wait, there's more… Workflow is not the only place Océ and Xerox are competing. On the print engine side, Océ is making waves with its VarioPrint 5000 family of cut-sheet presses, launched last fall at Xplor. Yes, I said presses, because these machines seem much more like presses than printers. They have heavy frames, can run high monthly print volumes and more compelling, run 120 spot colors. Does that make them a press? They may not use ink, but for commercial printers looking to add digital capabilities and retain the highlight color capes of their trusty two-color offset press, the VarioPrint line is certainly worth a look. And I'm hearing there are shops doing just that. It is interesting that in a time when variable data continues to be the Unique Selling Proposition and even the Nirvana of digital printing, a two-color digital press is the draw for at least some commercial printers. Maybe those guys are trying to tell us all something about how people really think about printing. Bruce Ganger, Director of Business Development at Océ Printing Systems USA said customers like the flexibility, versatility and scalability that allows them to start with a monochrome 5115 and field-upgrade it to a 5155 with spot color and MICR capes as their needs change. According to Ganger, the VP5000 line is finding a home in shops with other brands of machines because Océ's PRISMA software can run both Océ boxes and those from other vendors. This has long been true for Océ's other boxes, but as industry analyst Gartner notes, Océ's VP5000 family is presenting the market with a genuine alternative to the venerable DocuTech. So not to be outdone, Xerox rolled out its PowerPlus series of DocuTechs, which I noted here some days back. The speeds are not different, but the updated machines can take wider sheets and a broader range of paper weights in their standard configuration. These machines answer some real needs voiced by long-time Xerox customers and should be great choices for some applications. But the real question around the DocuTech is exactly when the long-rumored next generation of the machines will hit the street. I've seen one model already and all I can say is that if it is anything to go by the competition is going to get a little intense in the monochrome digital print space. HP-Indigo HP is sticking to its strategy of integrating Indigo press technology into the commercial print market by way of their major corporate customers. “It's going quite well,” Walt Sledzieski, Vice President for Worldwide Sales, Marketing and Customer Relations, told me at the show. “On a year-over-year basis, unit placements are up 60 percent and page counts have grown 50 percent.” Sledzieski said the printers HP is gaining the most traction with are what he termed the “right kind” of print providers. He noted they have relationships with the right kind of corporations--meaning ones with deep HP relationships--that can work with HP to get customers on board. The relationships are coming together in what seems to be a curious way. Sledzieski says companies that rely on HP for computers and IT services hold HP in very high esteem which can carry over into printing. He said some major corporations are helping encourage print providers to adopt HP-Indigo technology, where it winds up being used primarily for short-run color printing. Companies seeking to control print costs are getting the look and feel they require in their various printed materials with HP-Indigo presses and controlling costs and reducing waste with shorter print runs. At the same time, HP is well aware of the efforts of Xerox and Océ to replace thousands of HP inkjet and laser printers with workgroup devices. Not a good thing for ink sales! So HP goes into their customers and helps them find ways to optimize office and network printing operations--and keep most of those profitable ink jet devices. The belief at HP is that companies will have a revolt on their hands if they try to take away people's individual ink jet and small laser printers. But since the average office worker really doesn't have a whole lot of clout out there in cubicle-land, I'm betting on fewer personal printers and more workgroup machines showing up once management realizes just how much the low-cost machines really cost. I don't spend much time looking at the office space, but this will be a fun battle to watch. Up against the wall! There may be more on this in a future column or article, but I couldn't help but noticing that there were more than a few major vendors who erected walls around parts of their booths. HP had a nice 20+ foot barrier dividing their booth in two, while Heidelberg had substantial dark gray barriers at strategic locations, one of which was clearly positioned to keep people from going directly from their booth to Xerox's spread next door. Xerox was a little more subtle with 15-foot high ramparts at various points, which seemed to herd the milling throngs in and out of their booth. These walls have been growing in recent years and one can only assume they will continue to expand. Taking a leap into the future, I can envision veritable castles on the show floors, replete with towers and maybe even a moat or two. Warring companies can use catapults to hurl empty toner drums, shredded print samples, and really annoying customers at their enemies. I dunno. Maybe it all says something about how the companies think of themselves or something. Anyway, this wrap-up has gone on long enough. I have more stories to tell, but those will have to wait. Gotta go. I feel Xplor coming on.