Google’s OS Predicament: How Do You Print From The Cloud?

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Google’s always-connected, browser-based operating system Chrome OS is set to show up on various computing devices later this year. One of the questions on people’s minds has been how an operating system that lives online and doesn’t provide traditional software installation will handle printing.

Google’s answer presented itself yesterday and, according to the documentation for what’s now being called Google Cloud Print, “It depends on whether the printer is a cloud-aware printer or a legacy printer.”

Legacy printers include “every printer in existence today,” while “cloud-aware printers don’t exist yet.” Certain currently-available printers have some sort of connectivity, whether it be to a local network or to various online services, and Google makes the case that these printers could be updated via firmware to hook into Google’s printing system. For printers with no connectivity whatsoever, cloud printing could be accomplished by keeping a small piece of software running on the PC that’s hooked up to the printer.

As for the non-existent cloud-aware printers, Google’s hoping “to begin engaging industry leaders and the community in developing cloud-aware printers and the necessary open protocols for these printers to communicate with cloud print services.” Essentially, you’d have a printer that requires very little setup aside from taking it out of the box and plugging it in. There’d be no software to install anywhere but you’d need to connect it to your network to get it online and then establish a link to it using your Google account.

Aside from just using cloud printers with Google Chrome OS, you’d be able to print to them from other devices like cell phones, iPads, smartbooks, regular computers—pretty much anything with a basic web connection.

The idea is sound but there will invariably be certain challenges to overcome. For instance, what about large image files? You’re basically sending a print command over the internet to Google, which then sends the command back to your printer. If you’re trying to print a super high-resolution image, you’ll have to wait for it to upload to Google and then download to your printer. If you’ve got a flaky or slow internet connection, things might get ugly.

For most printing jobs, though, it probably won’t be too much of an issue. And another big upside—aside from not having to install software and being able to print from any web-connected device—is being able to share printers remotely with your friends and family. It could even finally kill off the fax machine once and for all.

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