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PostScript may come at price

Today's update to Adobe's nearly ubiquitous PostScript printing language may come with new hardware costs.

Adobe Systems (ADBE) is updating its nearly ubiquitous PostScript printing language today, but it may come at a higher hardware price.

Adobe hopes that PostScript Level 3, which tells a printer how to put text and images on paper, will spur wider use of network-based printing and electronic publishing.

The company last updated PostScript five years ago. Since then, the desktop publishing explosion that PostScript fueled has begun to share the spotlight with Web publishing and with internal distribution of electronic documents that can then be printed on demand.

The latest change to PostScript is a recognition of the importance of printing Web pages and other electronically distributed documents. The new version adds an entire server and client to the printer's local software so that users can print Web pages simply by sending a URL directly to the printer, which will then pull the page down from the Internet and print its contents, including HTML, PDF, GIF, PNG, JPEG, and ASCII text files.

The so-called "WebReady" system will make it easier to get printouts of Web pages that closely resemble the real thing. But to get this advantage without bogging down the network, PostScript 3 printers will have to add a new hardware component, according to Steve Walsh, director of marketing for Adobe's enterprise development group.

"To support WebReady, we're recommending that OEM's ship hard disk drives within their printers, so the printer can store an entire Web file on the hard drive instead of holding it in the network's print queue," Walsh said. He also recommended that OEM's add an extra 2MB of RAM to printer memory.

This will all likely mean higher printer prices. But Walsh thinks customers will find PostScript 3 worth it.

"Users today really have the same association with printers as they do with PCs--they expect them to have more memory than what they normally ship with," Walsh said. "Our OEM customers are concerned with the sticker-shock factor, but users know that having more memory in printer will improve every print job."

Walsh would not disclose financial terms of Adobe's licensing agreements with printer manufacturers and other third-party firms.

At least one analyst liked the WebReady idea but said the concept was much better geared toward intranets.

"There are a lot of contemporary Web sites out there that don't work unless you accept a cookie," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of technology consultancy Gyroscope. "What's a printer going to do with a cookie?"

PostScript 3 also aims to ease network congestion. It will increase the number of fonts on the printer itself to 136 and will reduce traffic by integrating smart printer drivers on the PC side. The drivers, which operating systems makers such as Apple and Microsoft will help develop, will recognize elements in common office applications and transfer them to the printer as independent elements, instead of transferring them with each page.

Adobe and Microsoft have agreed to work jointly to develop a single PostScript driver for Windows NT, though users won't see significant improvements until version 5.0 is released next year.

The companies have not finalized plans to add a PostScript 3 driver to NT 4.0. Microsoft won't upgrade the PostScript driver in Windows 95.

On the Apple side, the company plans to update its Apple LaserWriter driver with PostScript 3 compatibility this summer. The updated driver might not be ready for the rollout of Mac OS 8, in which case it will be made available separately on the Apple Web site, spokesman Russell Brady said.

Rhapsody, Apple's next-generation operating system due next year, will use Adobe's Display PostScript as its graphics engine. But the company has not yet finalized Rhapsody's printing architecture, Brady said.