Open Source vs. Proprietary
Technology practices varied between the print industry and the general web population because print technology is highly technical. The culture within the larger web development community was substantially different and generally more efficient. The print technology industry, because of its highly technical nature, was generally a proprietary nature and “closed” environment, originally monopolized by companies that wished to drive value to their existing products or machines. Original Web to Print solutions were sold as enterprise solutions upward of $50,000.
General web development culture is generally more open and collaborative. For those who don’t yet know, there are collaborative “open source” communities that developers turn to supplement their development skills to accomplish development feats that would otherwise take a substantial amount of time if ventured through trial and error. The term “open source”, as far as it applies in the software industry, denotes a software development culture in which original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Indeed, developers can now access code libraries and development kits that evolved over years – propelling their web projects to completion in weeks or months when taking the likes of the traditional technology providers years and years (if at all).
Having been involved with Web to Print for over a decade and a half, attending trade shows and visiting production centers, I still experience a light shock when I take a brief look at some of the expensive systems in the market, old and new, and find that they do not have much more to them to warrant their price tag except for maybe over-architecture and a heavy infrastructure to support. Given the inefficiency of the technologies, I am not surprised when companies such as iWay / Press-Sense, HiFlex and BlueTree disappear – no longer to be supported. Considering the monies invested, would have thought that the technological advancements could have been afforded.
Despite the self-destruction of these proprietary Web to Print systems, these 2 cultures have been converging over the years to the point that it has proliferated within the industry to give the more established players food for thought. Whereas more established print companies and conglomerates turn to the big established names to provide big enterprise solutions to help achieve their online objectives, the smaller and more nimble print shops and brokers (where owners are often sellers and operators) have blazed a different path to achieve similar objectives.
As an amusing side point, at times I get approached by small shops or print brokers that will browse through some of our client websites. Some will remark, “oh, I like that website. That must be a large company.”, not knowing that the website belongs to a print broker just like them.
Certainly for some, proprietary systems did the job they were supposed to do by being first in the market and hopefully allowed some to generate money and repeat business over their competitors. And certainly, having a Web to Print solution has become almost a requirement in winning repeat business. Traditional enterprise solutions such as those available through EFI (Digital Store Front – PrintSmith), Marcom (formerly Printable), OPS, Pageflex and even Racad Tech’s ePOWER Online (GOePOWER.com) – involve massive development initiatives that cover nearly every aspect of web development required in order to create a web to print system. Accounts, e-commerce, payment integrations, shipping integrations, product catalogs, PDF rendering, variable data integration, hierarchy permissions, production backends, file routing, order status updates, QR codes, impositioning, product groupings, reporting and the list goes on and on.
Modern Web to print Technologies no longer require large teams of developers to create these massive solutions. Why? Because the entire open source world has THOUSANDS or MILLIONS of developers working for YOU doing all the general work that every enterprise solution was once doing for themselves. These days, any person wanting a website with e-commerce widgets can do some basic browsing and discover that the platforms that power most of the websites in the world today, are all FREE. That is to say that all the basic Web to Print functionalities can be found somewhere in the open source world without the need of investing large sums of money. In so far as Web to Print is the medium of facilitating print ordering through the web, what was once the domain of the select few has become accessible to every print infrastructure no matter how small.
I remember sitting in the offices of Konica Minolta in Canada as they were having a brain picking session when they compared their closed PDF driver solutions, that only worked with their machines, with Racad Tech’s GoPrint2 Drivers that accomplished the same – were easy to set up and worked with any solution – for only $50 per month. They were amazed and laughing at their own technology.