Xerox Canada Thursday opened a showcase facility for its in-progress technology designed to keep customers abreast of developments that will in turn be influenced by feedback from those same visiting customers.

The 2,200 square-foot

neXus centre has been built at the connection point between the research and plant sections of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) in Mississauga, Ont.

“”It is going to be the place where two paths cross: the path of customer needs and the path of technology,”” said XRCC director Rafik Loutfy.

neXus will be similar to Xerox’s six-year-old TeXnology Showroom at the Xerox Research Centre of Europe (XRCE) in Grenoble, France, though much of the technology on display at neXus be the work of the XRCC and directed towards local industries, according to Hervé Gallaire, the president of Xerox Corp.‘s Innovation Group.

He said neXus is a more packaged approach to showcasing product development, which for Xerox has traditionally meant bringing customers into its labs or else taking the labs to customers for demonstrations.

“”I think people are aware of what Xerox is about, but they want to know what Xerox will be in the future,”” Gallaire said. “”What we get here is a view of the future.””

That view includes new technologies Xerox demonstrated at the neXus opening. They include two already available products, mDoc and askOnce, and two that are still in development called Metapalm and Intelligent Portal.

askOnce is one-stop search software that enables users to query various databases simultaneously. mDoc gives handheld devices document-control ability, allowing a handheld user to send a file in email, print or fax form to corporate headquarters and satellite offices. Metapalm goes one step farther, enabling users to beam documents from a handheld to a document centre, where they are then scanned and sent to a recipient. Metapalm which communicates with outside devices through IP addresses, is hardware vendor-agnostic.

Intelligent Portal’s promise is to summarize lengthly technical documents down to a handful of sentences so users can get a quick precis of the information before they invest time in reading it. But a demonstration of the technology revealed it had difficulty reading double-spaced text and consistently grabbing the most important points of a document. But that is why, according to XRCE technology showroom manager Patrick Mazeau, Intelligent Portal is still in development phase.

Along with the Office Environment and Knowledge Solutions themes emphasized by the demonstrations, Loutfy said neXus will also focus on visualization technologies such as OLED screen displays and a movement beyond paper and silicon into organic transistors and smart paper.

neXus, he said, has four purposes to go along with its four themes. They include allowing customers to experience new Xerox technology and generating customer feedback on the technology, as well as communicating Xerox’s vision and bringing customers into contact with researchers.

The customer list will also include resellers, according to Xerox Canada president Cam Hyde.

“”I think it’s critical for resellers; 90 per cent of our customers are served through those channels,”” he said. “”They will have a lot of access to the facility. Our intent is to let them engage in any way they need to.””

Xerox Corp. chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy said opening of neXus, the first centre of its kind in North America, shows the company’s commitment to the XRCC and to spending on research and spending despite a tech sector slowdown.

‘The importance of innovation has been recognized in Canada and it’s very appropriate that we’re opening neXus here,”” she said.

Gallaire was bullish on Xerox’s strategy, in spite of the fact that copiers and printers are often the first casualties when IT spending is tight. He said colour, multi-function devices and network management of documents have enduring value among customers.

“”The value proposition of a multi-function (unit) remains,”” he said. “”People are very bullish about multi-function and colour.””

Gallaire also defended Xerox’s strategy of partnering with software companies rather than buying them, saying purchasing a company is not a prerequisite for exploiting its technology, and its decision to spin-off of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) earlier this year.

“”We need technology that covers a much broader space than would be in copiers,”” he said, adding that the independent PARC is still owned by Xerox, which retains rights to all PARC innovations. “”Why not allow PARC to work with telecommunications companies to exploit that work? You can do that much better if you are an independent company.””

Gallaire said he doubts the union of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. will provide an increased R&D challenge to Xerox, as only HP was a leading research player.

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