All-in-One Printers

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2512, 2007-03-23, as the cover article, in both their print edition (on pages 14-15) and their website.

The typical SOHO (small office / home office) businessperson has to perform most if not all of the computer tasks of a much larger organization, including printing documents, scanning them, faxing them, etc. More often than not, this results in a multitude of computer peripherals, to say nothing of the rat's nest of cords connecting all of them to the mothership.

This is just one of many reasons why, in the late 1980s, when Okidata introduced the very first all-in-one printer/scanner to the market, home-based entrepreneurs everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief, and perhaps muttered, "Rat's nest, be gone!"

Unfortunately, it was several years before the initial kinks were ironed out of these new devices, in general. But that did not prevent SOHO businesspeople from happily replacing their older and separate-function devices with one or two combination devices.

Since that time, all-in-one (AiO or AIO) printers have come a long way. They also acquired some additional acronyms, including MFP (Multi-Function Printer/Peripheral/Product), Multi-Function Device (MFD), and mopier (Multiple Optical coPIER). But for the business owner who is able to use one to help reduce the crowding in their office/bedroom/family den, such a device might be considered their enterprise's MVP.

In essence, an all-in-one printer is any type of printer that encompasses functionality previously only seen in a separate computer peripheral, such as an optical scanner or a fax machine. The former is the most common combined functionality, while the latter would be in second place, and fading fast, as an increasing number of people and organizations choose to store their documents in electronic format (such as Microsoft Word and PDF files) and simply e-mail them to the recipients.

The printer part, which can be either a laser printer or an inkjet, usually has the ability to immediately print whatever document has just been scanned. This effectively turns the device into a copier, even though it will only have the multi-page automatic feeding seen in the typical copier, if the scanner itself has that capability. Some of the low-end products do not have the direct scan-to-print feature, thereby requiring the user to scan a document, view it on their computer, and then print from within that image application.

The Good

There are many advantages to replacing two or more of your single-purpose office machines with a multi-purpose one. As already noted, you immediately reduce the amount of space taken up by the separate machines. You also eliminate the multiple communication cords to your computer, as well as the separate power lines and, in most cases, AC adapters. This makes "office" cleanup easier, faster, and safer.

By choosing an all-in-one printer, you reduce the number of moving parts, microprocessors, power supplies, connections, and all of the other elements that can each prove to be a point of failure. This increases the overall reliability of your home office setup, and should in turn reduce the number of hardware problems you encounter in the future — plus the lost money, time, and nerves that always seems to accompany the latest hardware breakdown.

Another advantage — though not seen with every all-in-one printer — is the ability to print photos downloaded directly from a digital camera, thus bypassing the multiple steps usually needed for downloading the photos to one's computer, and then printing from there. If you are looking for this functionality, be sure to confirm that your make and model of digital camera is compatible with the printer you are considering purchasing, regardless of what the salesperson tells you.

The Bad

At the same time that these all-in-one printers can be a boon to the SOHO owner, there are a few downsides. Firstly, if your chosen device experiences any kind of problem, such as a mechanical malfunction, or an unexpected incompatibility with your computer, then you lose the functionality of not one device, but many.

Naturally, the limitations imposed by such a problem depend upon what went wrong. For instance, if your computer no longer sees the printer/scanner, then you have lost all printing and scanning capabilities. But if only the scanner lamp dies, then you should still be able to print documents.

However, if you must return the device to the store or the manufacturer, for servicing, then you have lost all of its functionality, albeit temporarily.

In the past, some consumers found that combo printer/scanner products cost more than a separate printer and scanner, but delivered lower quality in both departments. That is generally no longer the case, as consumer demand has encouraged manufacturers to beef up product quality, and pass along the savings from mass production of greater numbers.

Yet, on balance, most small-business owners — this author included — have generally had positive experiences with all-in-one printers, and recommend them to anyone who does not have money and office space to burn.

Avoid the Ugly

The all-in-one printers available on the market have, over time, become more attractive, and not just in the sense of being more sleek and compact than their early predecessors. Their price tags are looking better, with some of the most affordable ones being offered for close to $100.

However, I would not recommend the very cheapest all-in-one printers being offered, as they tend to break down more frequently than the more expensive ones. The time and potential business lost from having to deal with just a single faulty product, can immediately wipe out any money saved, and then some. The medium-priced products normally have all of the features used by most businesspeople, but without paying extra for anything unneeded.

But that is not to say that one should not shop around, and save some money while still getting a quality product. First, do some research. One possible place to start is CNET Shopper.com, which offers product comparisons, specifications, and reviews, by professionals and consumers. In the "Printers" section, look for "Multifunction printers". The old standby, Consumer Reports, has a section devoted to "Computer hardware & software", including "Printers".

Once you have selected one or more manufacturers, or even specific models, that appear to fit your needs and budget, then you could buy the item online. But there is a possibility that the particular unit that you purchase, could turn out to be defective. If you are like most small-business owners, you do not have time to deal with shipping it back. I thus recommend instead purchasing from a local store that has a reasonable return policy.

But once you have found an all-in-one printer that does everything except tell you it is time to quit work for the day, then you will likely be pleased with that business investment. The only remaining question is, if there were any rats residing in the dusty cords behind your desk, to where can they relocate? Perhaps to the pile of paper strips created by your new all-in-one printer/shredder.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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