October 30, 2001

Open Source Printing Summit, round 2: Can group create a standard?

Author: JT Smith

- Dan Berkes -
At the second annual Open

Source Printing Summit last week in San Jose, participants offered progress reports, corporate party lines were espoused, and
somewhere in there, working groups were formed to further flesh out a set of
common printer interfaces. If these groups deliver, then printing tasks within
Open Source applications and operating systems could eventually become a whole
lot simpler.
The summit, last Thursday and Friday, was coordinated by NewsForge
parent OSDN and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Approximately 50
developers and company representatives hunkered down in a partitioned-off
ballroom to discuss the creation of a series of standard interfaces to
facilitate hard copy textual and graphic output, otherwise known as printing.

The first printing summit took place in July 2000, at the former VA Linux corporate
offices in Sunnyvale, Calif. Back-of-the-room murmurs seemed to indicate that
this year's summit had a decidedly more corporate flavor than the previous
version, where representatives from various independent Open Source projects,
including GNOME, KDE, Ghostscript, and CUPS held forth in attendance and

Patents and teamwork
At this year's summit, the corporate tone was set by keynote from HP's Open Source advocate Bruce
Perens, who touched upon patent and intellectual property issues and how they
relate to Open Source development procedures. Many of the printer-related
patents and technologies held closely by companies including HP and IBM could
help summit participants in creating their own specifications.

"[HP] doesn't want to give up all of its patents," said Perens, bringing some of
the pre-conference discussion back down to reality. "Think they want to give up
their printer patents?"

Companies are going to need very good reasons to set their patents free, and
Perens advised the audience not to fight the patent battle on generic grounds.

There's something else that could make developing printer specifications a
headache, and not only for Open Source developers. Pending legislation in the
form of Sen. Fritz Hollings' (D-South Carolina) Security Systems Standards and Certification
Act could make for all matter of hobbling restrictions.

"HP, for example, would have have to comply with its printers to stop someone
from physically printing out someone else's intellectual property," Perens said.

After Perens' relatively short keynote, it was time to get down to work. The
basic summit ingredients from this point onward could be summed up as one part
pep rally, one part reality check, and two parts cooperation.

Ben Woodard, Red Hat developer and co-creator of Cisco's Enterprise Print System, made his first presentation, displaying a comprehensive flowchart of
the components needed to build an enterprise-capable printing system. A barely
perceptible hush passed over the assembly as everyone got a better look at just
how much work would go into creating reliable, usable interfaces that could
become part of Woodard's example system.

"We have to work together," Woodard reminded participants. "No one has the
resources to go it alone in this community."

Woodard's slide was a sobering moment, but more easily understood when each segment of
the proposed system was broken down into easily-understandable blocks. The
entire presentation was designed to give context to the discussions and team-building taking place at the summit.

"I made the slide small on purpose, so you couldn't read it all at once,"
quipped Woodard. That small-scale look, he explained, makes the bit-by-bit development needed to
create such a system a little more appealing to developers, not to mention
adaptable for any other projects.

Bulletin from Japan
Open Source is a global effort; so is the need for a set of common printer
interfaces. In August 2001, the Free Standards Group, along with Sun
Microsystems and the Linux Internationalization Initiative presented the Global
Printing Forum in Tokyo, Japan.

The Free Standards Group's Hideki Hiura was at the Open Source Printing Summit
to deliver a report from that August gathering. More than 50 attendees, representing
printing and data titans Canon, Epson, Xerox, Oki, Kyocera, and Fujitsu were
present at the Tokyo Forum.

Much like the two American summits that have taken place so far, the Tokyo forum
met to identify issues and concerns affecting current Open Source printing
projects, and agreed on a 20-point list of conclusions that include the
formation of a printing workgroup under the Free Standards Group.

Some forum participants joined the San Jose summit via teleconference link from

Industry perspective
Also on hand were representatives from IBM, Sun Microsystems, and
Hewlett-Packard to detail what their companies were doing for the printing

IBM presented its OMNI project specifications. OMNI, touted as supporting moer than
300 devices, is a driver framework that supports dynamic loading of printer
drivers and can be installed on Linux without the need for a kernel recompile.
Like its co-presenters in this particular area, IBM wants to see a friendlier,
easier printing installation and output experience for home and enterprise users

A brief overview from Sun's representative outlined why the company was
motivated to invest in a common printing framework. According to Sun, it's the
experience of the Open Source community and its programming expertise, items it
simply can't duplicate.

The HP representative's slide said it best, possibly speaking for everyone at
the summit: "Linux printing is important!" The company has made a significant
number of contributions to Open Source printing efforts, including sponsoring
both Open Source Printing Summits, the SourceForge Printing Foundry, and
offering Linux support for DeskJet and OfficeJet product lines.

Mission accomplished?
This year's summit was designed to initiate a standards process, and if viewed
from that angle, it was a smashing success. Complaints are inevitable, of
course: Last year's conference included much more discussion time, and this
year's was more of a series of technical presentations without room for debate.

It's too soon to know whether or not the discussions and teamwork initiated at
the summit will ultimately bear fruit. Some participants wondered whether such a
wide-ranging and diverse group of companies and individuals can actually create
anything resembling a standard.

Only time and practice will tell.

"What does HP do when their parts [of the printing interface] are ready, but the
other groups are not?" asked on audience member during one of Woodard's

"Ask me that in another month" was the answer.


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