The lowdown on MFPs

Why do I need one? You don't'unless you do more than one thing with your computer. If the only thing you ever do is print out documents, an MFP would be wasted. But if faxing, scanning, copying and printing are part of your day, an MFP might make sense. Double that if you have a digital camera and want to print from removable storage media.

What's the biggest advancement this year? Falling prices. You can get a very good MFP for desktop use for less than $200; under $350 if you want a laser model. Prices will continue to stabilize while more features are added; next year's $200 model will do more than this year's, experts say.

Can they be networked? Most desktop MFPs are designed as standalone devices, but some can be networked for small groups or occasional use. For heavy network-printing demands, larger systems with networking capabilities are probably best.

What's the greatest misconception about MFPs? Probably that they're best suited to home offices only. In some situations, such as for executive use, graphics and communications, and in field offices, an MFP can offer a tremendous resource when time, money or desk space are limited.

Must-know info? Microsoft Windows, especially its XP varieties, is the OS most friendly with today's MFPs. Mac OS X and OS 9 follow, with Linux a contender for some models. Some also support various flavors of Unix. Stone out of luck: IBM OS/2.

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