Last week Drupa ended - we closed down our booth and headed back to Lochristi.
Now is a good time to evaluate this Drupa 2008 edition, and what it meant for NiXPS.
First and foremost, XPS was present at this Drupa. Not a headline presence, but given the fact that this is mainly a professional graphic arts fair, a notable presence.
Various vendors talked about XPS, and showed products featuring XPS. The debate is still ongoing about the merits of XPS for the graphic arts, and beyond, but when you compare the buzz about XPS on this Drupa against the Graph Expo show in Chicago September last year, it is like comparing night to day.
Hardware doing XPS was shown, a lot of it thanks to XPS RIP support courtesy by EFI and others. Every major player doing printing showed XPS capable gear, including printer behemoth HP.
Software doing XPS was there also. Imposition, importing, workflow, edit tools, you name it... XPS capable software was on display this Drupa.
XPS rumors a plenty too. Most of them I cannot/will not share, but I spoke to some vendors that make printing devices for the worldwide market, and some software vendors that make very popular page editing software. They told me off the record that XPS is on their mind. And that this 'on their mind' can be interpreted as 'we have it, but do not enable it yet'.
On the PDF front, a lot of buzz on Acrobat 9, and the delights this bring to the PDF format (wrote about that one before). And a lot of software and devices busy with the continued balkanization of the PDF standard.
Web to Print was a big buzz. The idea being that a print shop runs a storefront on the internet, and allows all kinds of data submits and graphical edits via the web. The point being that it makes for a quicker, more efficient workflow if the user can use the web to get his printing needs done. It sure is a compelling business, but looking at the amount of companies doing software for this, it is also a very competitive market to be in. More up market also the big ones are doing this (Kodak, Agfa, etc...) showing all kinds of web portals allowing a certain degree of edits and submits to the workflow. For me the concept is already quite old, as I wrote the first web based workflow component for Drupa 2000 when working for Artwork-Systems (now EskoArtwork). Fact is: a few problems are very hard to solve for the web 2 print process: infrastructure, user education & matching expectations.
The infrastructure to offer web 2 print is complicated, involving complicated server software being hooked onto a very unsafe internet. Most companies seem to counter this to offer their software solutions as SaaS (Software as a Service, the rebranded ASP, which crashed and burned around 2000 and is a tainted name now). This has the advantage that you are not selling a set of complex problems to your customer (running a web service), but has the downside of SaaS: 'trust us'®, 'your data is safe with us'® and 'pay up regularly'™.
User education is harder. If you want your user to be able to web 2 print, do make sure that your UI is good, that he cannot make a lot of mistakes, and that he can find his way easily with the software, or all the advantages come crashing down when your user is unable to use your software. You would be amazed how difficult it is to make a UI for a user that is not educated, but you want him to do his own document creation and pre-press using your UI. Saw a few good UIs, and a lot of horribly bad ones.
And then on user expectations. If the web app generates something the user is not satisfied with, what are you going to do: tell him it's his own fault? Do not expect a lot of repeat business on this.
More Drupa buzz: Digital is here to stay. Not only here to stay, but actually here to take over. You have to have quite some complicated or high volume needs if you cannot use a digital printer or press for your printing needs. These devices also get better and better at a breathtaking pace. After computer to film and computer to plate, we will end up with just computer to paper: printing digital.
Finally some logistic remarks; A drupa of 14 days is just too long, period. For the big guys building enormous booths it might make sense, but for a small company it is just not economical to have a manned booth for 14 days on a trade fair. The Drupa Innovation Parc was a fairly good venue - the focus on small, but beautiful was really there. But 14 days - come one...
So, that's about it regarding Drupa. We've met a lot of good and interesting folks, and a lot of new prospects, so all-in-all we're very pleased with exhibiting at Drupa. For NiXPS this was a good show!