ENHANCED CUSTOMER SUPPORT USING A VIRTUAL PRINTER
Original Publication Date: 2000-Aug-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2003-Jun-18
Disclosed is a method for simulating additional devices in a high volume print environment. This simulation enables a technician to diagnose errors within a customer environment, and enables a salesman to demonstrate capabilities of new hardware within a customer environment, neither of which was feasible previously without intrusive hardware. Sales demonstrations and fixes to printer management software can be performed without any disruption of workflow, and without consuming customers resources such as space and paper. A typical embodiment is depicted in Figure 1. Printer management system 100 transforms a variety of formats into Mixed Object Document Content Architecture (MODCA) , which supports sophisticated manipulations. Printer management system 100 converts MODCA into Intelligent Printer Data Stream (IPDS) , which provides page level recovery. Printer management system 100 sends IPDS to physical production printers and “virtual” printer 101. Each printer rasterizes data contained in the IPDS to create a bitmap; virtual printer 101 does not use the bitmap to fuse toner on paper but sends the bitmap to image viewer 102. Viewed images can be part of a demonstration or can be used to verify that a suspected defect in the printer management system has been reproduced or corrected. Virtual printer 101 is the novel element in the system which allows bitmaps to be conveyed electronically. Absence of physical media or printer hardware dramatically reduces the logistical requirements of adding a temporary printer. Previously a remote laboratory may attempt to recreate the customer environment. In this embodiment the additional device becomes part of the customer environment. Adding additional devices prevents impacts on existing devices used for production. Details of the virtual printer are depicted in Figure 2. Attachment layer 200 conducts a dialog with the print management system. One aspect of this dialog is the printer reporting device attributes to the printer management system. Attachment layer 200 can be configured to report responses identical to any particular model of IPDS printer. Thus the organization providing field support may do so with a single portable workstation to take the place of an inventory of numerous models of potentially room-sized printers. Attachment layer 200 conveys selected IPDS commands to rasterizer 201. Various code levels of rasterizer 201 may be linked dynamically, versus physically swapping hard disks as in the prior art. Compatibility of hardware upgrades with the printer management system can thus be guaranteed prior to customer production downtime to perform hardware upgrades. Rasterizer 201 causes attachment layer 200 to return a Negative ACKnowledgement (NACK) to the printer management system if invalid IPDS commands were issued. Rasterizer 201 converts valid IPDS data into bitmaps, then sends bitmaps to mechanism 202 via a minimal interface defined in a single source code file. Any mechanism honoring the interface may be employed. Mechanism 202 in this embodiment invokes an image viewer and passes bitmaps modified to a compatible format, typically by wrapping the bitmap in formatted headers and trailers.