EFI Fiery VUE: Re-inventing the Print Driver?

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Jan 28, 2010

This Tuesday, EFI announced the release of its latest software creation, called Fiery VUE. Fiery VUE is geared toward the office environment, delivered as an add-on to the Microsoft Office Suite. Its main purpose is to make the composition, printing, and finishing of office documents more user-friendly, specifically to business users that own MFPs with Fiery controllers. Users install the add-on, open a document, find the tab for Fiery VUE on any Microsoft Office application “ribbon”, and then load the VUE application where users have access to a number of features. Within Fiery VUE, users can view a 3D preview of how the finished document, re-arrange pages, insert blank pages, insert additional documents of multiple file types, choose various types of finishing options, use various imposition settings, and save templates for re-use. All of these features are under the guise of an interface design that provides an easy-to-use experience when preparing and printing documents.

EFI’s main goal, it seems, is to add value for MFP owners that have a Fiery controller or front-end, and help users utilize the full range of features available in their MFP devices. It is also aiming to get users to switch from using their print drivers for preparing and sending jobs to a printer to using VUE. According to Fiery VUE’s website, MFPs from Canon, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, Toshiba, and Xerox can currently support connectivity to Fiery VUE, which is available for free download on that same website.

During the launch and demo on Tuesday, Toby Weiss, Senior Vice President/General Manager of EFI’s Fiery division said that feedback from customers has been extremely positive thus far. He demo’d VUE using a PowerPoint presentation and focused on how someone like a salesperson could quickly compose and print a professional-looking proposal or report right before going into a meeting with a client. When thinking about the types of use-cases for a solution like Fiery VUE, that example fits the bill perfectly: someone building and printing a document that needs to look professional or will be reviewed by other people could greatly benefit from VUE. Conversely, the documents we print internally at InfoTrends are often simply for internal reviewing purposes, and don’t typically require much more work than just hitting “Print”. This begs the question: what types of users will need a solution beyond the standard print driver to build and print their documents, and how often will they need it? Is EFI really re-inventing the print driver if the print driver is still more direct?

Interestingly, looking at EFI’s software packages related to its Fiery front-ends, VUE seems like a business user-tailored version of Command Workstation, which is primarily used in production print environments. This may be EFI’s intention, as it looks to support the entire line of its Fiery front-end division with useful software, from the office through production. It would not be surprising to actually see some of the features end up in later version of other Fiery products, particularly Command Workstation. The 3D preview is especially helpful when trying to visualize how a document will printed and finished, and could be easily applicable and helpful for production operators. Additionally, VUE’s preview also mimics the type of previews that online print services like FedEx Kinkos and Mimeo.com have been offering for some time. It will be interesting to see if online services will see an perceived threat from Fiery VUE, or whether they will think it is necessary to take their previewing mechanisms to the next level.

Fiery VUE reminded us of Global Graphics’ release of its gDoc Creator solution last year, which can be used to build and export PDF and XPS files, and is also available for a free download at the company’s website. Both companies are in the print controller market, which, in recent years, has been a challenging market to be in. As such, both are trying new solutions-oriented approaches to grow their businesses. EFI’s approach seems lean toward incorporating solutions functionality to its controller base, while Global Graphics is exploring new markets, such as the enterprise. That’s not to say that their paths won’t cross in their respective endeavors.

Currently, Fiery VUE can send composed print files to Fiery-driven MFPs, but cannot export these files to external file formats. This is obviously an advantage for Fiery owners, especially because of how VUE pulls in specific settings for each printer and only presents those available settings to the user (e.g. available finishing options). Nevertheless, if EFI’s ultimate goal is to provide a better alternative to a print driver, it does not seem that far-fetched that the company could augment VUE enable end-users to build and export documents to file formats as well. That particular move could help build EFI’s brand reputation in the office document space outside its existing user base.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen if EFI will be able to replace traditional print driver use for its existing user base and beyond. There does seem to be some possibility, especially with certain types of users. EFI’s strategy has been to bring value added capabilities to the Fiery franchise; this one at an exceptional value (free!). There are some pretty nice features such as a true WYSIWYP (Print) interface that will show your document in a pretty slick 3D experience with different binding, finishing and layout views on the fly. But despite the free download and cool interface, will a user really want to load a separate application to print a document instead of clicking “File > Print” or typing in “Ctrl + P”? There seems to be a good deal of added value provided by Fiery VUE, as it may help streamline document preparation workflow to some extent. Still, the question remains as to whether VUE will be a “sticky” application; something that users will automatically go to over and over again after the initial first uses. That sustained use could make or break EFI’s efforts. Also, will that added value brought by VUE be enough for drive more Fiery sales? Will other ccompetitive solutions pop up to provide users with a better printing experience? As the year moves forward, we will see how these the answers to some of these questions unfold.

Randy Dazo and Alex Sumarta contributed to this post.

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