A web-enabled printer is a type of printer that connects directly to the Internet. This direct connection bypasses the need for a physical computer connection. These printers differ from standard network printers in how they deal with Internet-based activity. Originally, a web-enabled printer simply connected directly to the Internet, allowing easier printing from web and mobile sources. Newer types include touchscreens and downloadable applications that allow users to connect to common sites and print news stories and articles directly through the printer.
In the early days, a standard printer would connect to a computer and allow printing from that machine only. This single-machine, single-printer mentality began to lose ground in the business world with the advent of network printers. These printers would originally connect to a print server, a special machine that handles printing for a certain portion of the office. Later, the print server was built into the printer, allowing anyone on the network to talk to that printer.
This same idea influenced home printers as well. While most home networks didn’t have a dedicated network printer, printer sharing became a very common practice. A printer would connect to a computer and, as long as that computer was turned on, anyone on the network could print through it. Later, print server systems became simple enough that many home routers would have one installed, allowing a printer to connect to the router rather than a computer. With this advancement, any user on the network could always print just as though he was in an office.
The web-enabled printer is the next step in detaching the printer from a computer system. These printers connect to the Internet, just as though they were another computer. These machines have built-in print servers, allowing any connected user to print. The real difference between a standard network printer and a web-enabled printer is how they interact with devices that aren’t on the network.
While it is possible to print remotely with a network printer, the process is difficult for many users. If a home or office system is set to allow it, users can access their printer remotely, generally through an Internet browser or third-party application. With web-enabled printers, allowing easy outside access is one of the cornerstones of their design.
A web-enabled printer allows two basic methods of remote access. The first is similar to that of a properly set-up network printer. The main difference is ease; access will be built into the internal print server, allowing connectivity with much less user involvement. The other is through email attachments; a user can attach a file to an email and send it to the printer. The printer will then open the mail and print the document automatically. This allows any web-capable device, such as phones and tablets, to print just like a standard computer.