When then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised in spring 2010 that iOS would support native printing, I and many others were happy, as the inability to print was a big inconvenience when using an iPhone or iPad. But iOS 4.2's printing support was disappointingly limited to a handful of AirPrint-compatible printers from Hewlett-Packard, and the list has hardly grown in the year since. Worse, iOS 5 this past fall plugged a hole that app developers had used to enable printing to non-AirPrint network printers. Printing became effectively useless on iOS devices.
Not any more. Lantronix has a box for that: the xPrintServer Network Edition print server, which is the size of a pack of cigarettes. Once plugged into the network, it makes all recognized network printers on the current subnet available to any iOS device (running iOS 4.2 or later) also on that subnet. There's zero configuration needed for the print server, nor any configuration or app installation on the iOS device. Printers simply show up in the printer list from any iOS app with a Print option in its Share menu. It's truly plug-and-play. And it just works.
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That bears repeating: It just works. Plug in the xPrintServer, wait a few seconds for it to autodetect the printers on the network for which it has drivers (more than 4,000, including a variety of HP and Canon printers), and tell your users they can print from their iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads using the standard controls. After a delay of a few seconds, the selected printer receives the print job. (If you have more than seven or 10 printers on a subnet, Lantronix recommends partitioning the printers across multiple xPrintServers, for performance reasons.)
Don't worry if the list of available printers is daunting. First, iOS remembers a user's selection, defaulting to that printer until the user selects a different unit. If you want to control the printers available to iOS users, log in to the xPrintServer's management console via a Web browser to delete printers from the list shown to users. That console has other settings, such as for patching the firmware, editing the printer descriptions, printing test pages, and monitoring the print queues.
Because you can plug the xPrintServer into any Ethernet jack, you can install it practically anywhere you have a power outlet and Ethernet. I suspect if you don't install one on your network, a user will do so surreptitiously, enabling printing for anyone who has access to the network (assuming you don't automatically block foreign devices, of course). If you're worried about security, make sure that your network is firewalled, that sensitive printers are removed from the printer list, and that only approved users' iOS devices have access to the Wi-Fi network. xPrintServer is only as secure as the network it's connected to.