Sick of installing printer drivers? Microsoft's Azure Universal Print takes another step forward

Microsoft launches the public preview of its Azure cloud print-management service.

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Microsoft has kicked off the public preview of its Microsoft 365 Universal Print service to simplify printer management in the enterprise. 

The Universal Print public preview will be rolling out to Microsoft's Azure data centers in North American Europe and Asia Pacific "in waves over the next weeks", starting with customers with Microsoft 365 E5 and A5 agreements.  

The service moves key Windows Server print functionality to the Microsoft 365 cloud and doesn't require Windows Server to operate. Key benefits include not having to install printer drivers on Windows 10 PCs, the ability for users to find local and remote printers, and single sign-on via Azure Active Directory.

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Admins also gain management tools and print data that's stored in the same was as Microsoft Office data.  

Most of the major printer brands are at various stages of supporting Microsoft's Universal Print. Canon was involved in the private preview, while HP is planning to integrate Universal Print with the HP Managed Print Cloud Services platform. Others on board with Universal Print include Brother, Kofax, Konica Minolta, Lexmark and more.   

The public preview follows the private Universal Print preview launched in March, which has been tested by 2,500 customers. 

Some office processes have gone paperless but, as Microsoft knows, when a Windows 10 bug affects printers, enterprise IT admins will scream in frustration because many processes still rely on paper. 

The private preview of Microsoft's cloud printer service also revealed some benefits to people teleworking during the pandemic. 

"Many of them have accelerated their adoption of cloud services and Universal Print because employees and teachers working from home can now print to company or school printers from anywhere when connected to the internet," said Kristin Carr, a group program manager at Microsoft.   

"While many processes have gone paperless, many critical business processes – especially in education, healthcare, and other industries – still require print." 

Microsoft's release schedule for Azure Universal Print indicates the public preview should be available to Microsoft 365 E3 and A3 as well as Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and E5 customers in August. In September, it will be available to Microsoft 365 Firstline F3 customers.