Printing from a laptop places high on the list of top business travel irritations. Unless a portable printer is weighing down your suitcase, there aren't many options. The proliferation of cable connectors and driver programs makes communication between a laptop and a printer in a business center a nuisance, to say the least, and if you need to print from a PDA, two-way pager, or Internet phone, forget about it.

However, things are changing fast. In mid-March, Foster City, Calif.-based Electronics for Imaging Inc. celebrated the official launch of PrintMe Networks, which allows users to print from any computer or wireless device to any printer on its network over the Internet. The launch was at the New York Marriott Marquis, the first hotel outfitted with PrintMe-enabled printers, and the first of 370 Marriotts expected to have the system in place by the end of the year.

A basic explanation of PrintMe Networks goes like this: When travelers want to print from a laptop, they point their browser to www.printme.com. There they sign up as a member, if they haven't already (it's free), or type in their user name and password. From there, a click on the “browse” button allows them to view their hard drive and select a document to be printed. (The system recognizes files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, HTML, JPEG, PDF, and PostScript formats.) Depending on the situation, the user can print directly to a PrintMe-enabled printer or assign the document an ID number and retrieve it once they arrive at the printer by typing a document ID code into a keypad attached to the printer. Users don't need any special software or hardware. Documents can also be sent to the PrintMe network via e-mail, allowing printing from any mobile device.

The cost to the user is determined by the venue. Marriott charges about $1 per page while PrintMe partners Sir Speedy and OfficeMax will charge about 50 cents a page. EFI makes money by getting a percentage of the printing revenues and/or charging a monthly fee to companies that connect to the network. The system can also send documents to a fax machine, but users have to pay a $9.95 monthly fee.

Marriott's involvement with PrintMe stems from its affiliation with EFI's strategic partner STSN, which provides high-speed Internet access to approximately 470 hotels, including 370 Marriotts. All STSN Marriotts will soon offer the PrintMe service, and EFI hopes to sign on STSN's other properties as well.

“It's one of those technology solutions that seems so stupidly simple,” says Ethan Cohen, research director for Boston-based IT market analysis firm Aberdeen Group. Cohen got a demonstration on the PrintMe Network shortly after the launch and was struck by its ease of use. “From a consumer perspective, it seems incredibly friendly. With the no-subscription model, the value-add to the consumer is pretty big.”