Cutting Through the Fog of Google’s Cloud Print


Google introduced its new approach to printing yesterday with the announcement of Google Cloud Print. But “cloud” in this case is equating to “foggy” for some because the entire solution is still at a high-level description. A web-based printing solution hasn’t been implemented yet by Google (s goog) — instead, the company is positioning for what it hopes to deliver for its Chrome OS, due out in the second half of this year. And by Google’s own admission, it’s going to need help. So for now, Google has simply outlined the plans, checked in some publicly available code and floated an innovative idea. So what is Google Cloud Print, exactly?

Essentially, Google is attempting to remove the computer from the middle of the print equation. In today’s world, we use an application to send a print job to the print server running on our computer. That software manages the task by communicating through a driver (more software) to the physical hardware of the printer. In the Google Cloud Print solution, the computer and accompanying print server software go away and are replaced by the cloud. Google handles the print job and communicates directly with a cloud-aware printer — these don’t exist yet, which is why I said the solution isn’t implemented yet. You may not need to replace your current printer with a cloud-aware one, though — Google will include a proxy software solution in the Google Chrome browser, which will register a legacy printer with the cloud.

What’s the use case?

Trying to see through all of this the fog, I had a phone conversation with Om this afternoon and we tried to make sense of it all. On one hand, I believe that Google’s cloud printing concept has merit and solves a problem that could otherwise hamper adoption of Chrome OS devices. And yet Om made a good point with the opposite point of view: What’s the point of sending a print job up to the cloud only to pull it back down to the printer sitting three feet away? Indeed, it’s not the most effective use of valuable bandwidth, no matter how small the print job is. But I see that situation as the exception and not the rule because Chrome OS is meant for mobile use much more so than home use.

Google may ultimately want to push Chrome OS in every market it can — business, home and mobile — but I’d argue it’s best suited for mobile. Chrome OS is essentially a web browser built on a Linux core and won’t support the desktop apps found in the home and workplace. Instead, Chrome OS leverages web services and browser-based applications as shown in my early preview video. These light apps in a browser are perfect for mobile use in areas of Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity. Put another way, people using Chrome OS in the manner it’s intended won’t have as much of a printing need as desktop or laptop users, and in the rare cases they do, Google wants to be prepared. This same reasoning justifies HP’s (s hpq) foray into a similar offering on a smaller scale with its Mobile Printing application for Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone.

Does this advance printing or is Google just trying to control even more?

There’s a point to be made about Google’s control over our data and it’s a point that scares people away from using Google’s web services. I’m not one of those people as I use Google for nearly everything: personal and work email, my Android phone, document editing on my iPad and more. But I respect the people and business entities that won’t entrust their information to Google. And in fairness to those in this category, I haven’t seen anything in the limited Cloud Print documentation that pertains to data security and privacy, aside from logging in with a Google account. Since the Cloud Print idea is only just floating around now, we should be watching for how print data will be handled. For now, I can only assume that Google will maintain the same level of privacy and security that it does with its other services.

Perhaps that’s too big an assumption on my part, but once you get past it, I see some advancements in printing, which really hasn’t changed much in recent years. Once we see cloud-aware printers, what’s to stop the ones nearest to you from advertising their service? I could easily envision a “Nearby Printer Available” message on my future Chrome OS device just as I see “Nearby Wireless Network” messages on my phone, iPad and notebook today. Printing is only a localized event because printers are chained to the computer today. By breaking those chains with cloud printing, Google is simply looking forward to meeting the needs of mobile users.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Google Chrome OS: What to Expect



I sincerely think all of you are missing the point. I pick up my phone, laptop, pad, office computer, whatever computer on whatever network and I get something I know I’ll need a paper copy of. Send to print. Then I get to a printer, home, office, home office, my brother’s place, Kinko’s, whatever, I give my credentials and I simply print, wherever, whenever. This is a completely realistic scenario in my life.

winston lawrence

So what happened to the comment that I left yesterday on the cloud printing – I havent seen a single other “news” organization comment on the possible new services that can come out of this and you just blow away my comment because it doesn’t fit your viewpoint?

David Andrew Gagne

If they also hash out user-permissions and pay-to-print along with this, I will be a happy boy.

I run a print server for my company with over 70 printers and copiers on it, and user-permissions are a pain in the butt. We are working on a solution using PaperCut to manage permissions, because the mix of Domain and Non-Domain computers makes managing permissions a pain. Also we need to charge departments for their printing (we print around 450,000 pages per month). Printer drivers are also a major headache, particularly on macs and non-domain pcs who cannot connect to SMB reliably.

This could solve all my problems… or not… and just add a layer of complexity that I don’t need.

I think really this is just designed to allow Android to print…

David McCormack

My M.Eng thesis from 15 years ago proposed a cloud-based ‘nearest printer service’ along the lines of what Google is proposing here (D. McCormack, Mobile Internetworking and Location Sensitive Services, M.Eng Thesis, University of Limerick, 1994). We didn’t use the term ‘cloud’ back then of course, although I seem to recall that many of my diagrams depicted mobile devices interacting with hosted services on the other side of a fluffy white cloud. I should have patented the idea back then…oh well.


Another excuse to take a peek at your doc so they can index it :)


The Soonr online storage site has mobile apps which allows documents stored on their site to be printed from ones phone to someones printer on the other side of the world as long as the desktop utility has been installed on that computer and the phone has been linked to that computer/printer through the app. This isn’t the exact same thing Google is proposing since you still need the computer with the installed print driver but it is the same principal. Instead of emailng someone something, why not have the option to send it directly to their printer remotely, regardless of the device you are using to send from. The more you can accomplish with a mobile device then the less tied down you become to one particular location for being productive.


What about using this cloud printing thing and use it to print to a far away printer much like a fax works today, you wake up in the mornig and have a fax i mean printed document your partner sent you right there on you rprinter tray without a phone line… i dont know im just thinking on how i would like it to be.

Chris K

WE call this an email attachment in my neck of the woods. ;)

Jacob Varghese

Lol. exactly. We really don’t need to extend fax machines. They’re horrible.


Another usecase:
Fax replacement, instead of giving people fax number you give them
your cloud printer URL.
Some variance of this, spam printing on your cloud printer, fax number to cloud printer adapter.


Hammer Jones

I would hold out for Steve Jobs solution, which may take awhile. Until Jobs tackles this mobile printing problem YOU really should not be trying this folks. Wait for Steve if you want it done right. The big computer makers just spit out kludges that are horrific for long term progression.

This looks like a problem that only someone of Apple’s stature could solve CORRECTLY.

Remember that Google services are Agenda Driven to lock you into their ecosystem. Do you really want Banners and Ads on your printouts ?? Google is just trying to create a new marketplace for their advertisements.

Can you say iPrint ?


A better solution would be to have all printers standardise on a single format. That way devices wouldn’t need to worry about print drivers at all.

PostScript was intended to do this, but it never got implemented into low-end printers.

PDF would be the obvious format to use. The documents are self-contained, often with the fonts that they need embedded within the PDF. If printers accepted PDF files directly via some http-like network protocol, then almost every device would be able to work with them directly with very little effort.

JT Montgomery

It should be interesting to see what Apple has in store for the iPhone OS and printing from mobile devices. They have all of the pieces in OSX for going from zero to paper without the need for media(cd/dvd) or complicated user configuration(printer IP, etc). With the iPhone OS being based on OSX they could port over the printing subsystem which supports Bonjour discovery of network printers and automatic downloading of the correct printer driver from their software update service.

It doesnt sound like they are far off from local printing for their mobile device.

Jacob Varghese

This just seems ridiculous to me. Count me in the group that has concerns about sending all my documents through Google to print.

I bought a printer two years ago for less than two hundred dollars that was networkable. I’m sure they’re even cheaper now. Why not just limit printing to printers that are on the local wireless network?

I like HP’s solution much better even though it is much more limiting.

“HP iPrint Photo leverages Apple’s Bonjour technology to automatically identify HP wireless printers or other supported HP printers available on your network.

HP iPrint Photo supports industry standard WiFi environments (including Apple Airport, Linksys, D-Link, Netgear).”

Kevin C. Tofel

“Why not just limit printing to printers that are on the local wireless network?”

Totally understand where you’re coming from, bit it reiterates the “local” paradigm of computing. I’m trying to look forward – as is Google, IMO – to a non-local, or mobile view. Not saying that Google’s proposal is the best solution, but simply trying to point out the problem it’s trying to solve.

Jacob Varghese

Here’s the thing though, printing is local.
It’s not email. When you print something to paper, you have to go actually pick it up and touch it. It’s a private, local activity.

As others have suggested: standardize print drivers and have users simply install a single print driver set.


few good use case I foresee are:
1.printing on a remote cloud linked printer which could save on printing locally & sending by snail mail/fax
2.”secure printing aspect” can be looked upon similar to email filters 1 can allow/disallow what can be printed with-in an enterprise.(as digital content movement in & out of an enterprise can be secured to greater extent but what abt printed stuff. printing though blue tooth i think already allows to print via mobile device.

Ed Byrne

I think Cloud Print solves one of the problems of Hosted IT – local infrastructure. A Print Server is a very tough thing to move to the Cloud at present. The promise of Cloud Computing for SME’s is that they won’t have to spend any capital on their own infrastructure and that they won’t need to retain an IT consultant on a support and maintenance contract. An effective print server is a barrier to this – so a Cloud-based solution that works could be a big enabler here.

Chris K

Google has cloud on the brain.

I think it their weakness as well as their strength.

And I was going to rip them and still might. But if your data is online then you are going to have to send it back anyway. right….? …. so …I don’t see the waste of bandwidth.

Unless of course your data is stored locally. I read that Chrome might do let you store data locally.

IT does save some cpu cycles too I would think by not having a print server on your computer. No need to mess with drivers. Important with a computer that will likely be as affordable as possible.

But why not develop a local print server that only talks to the cloud to update printer drivers (automatically & seamlessly) if you don’t have the appropriate driver and that can tell you if a printer is nearby in case you’re looking for a printer? A local print server doesn’t take up that many resources does it?

Ok I own an Imac, but I really think Jobs has the right thinking here – a combination of local and cloud resources in an app. Now maybe his vision is too perfect. I know the marketplace often settles for good enough for alot less. I mean look no farther than Apple and its Mac lineup for proof.

Still, as much as I like the internets, there’s nothing like the speed of a local app.


“local print server that only talks to the cloud to update printer drivers”

The solution Google is proposing would apply to any device requiring printing (smartphones, notebooks, tablets, eReaders, TVs, …). These devices could be running any number of OSes (Windows, OS X, Ubuntu, Android, BlackberryOS, Symbian, WebOS, WinMo6/7, WebOS, MeeGo, …). I suspect, in many cases, printer drivers for these devices/OSes will never exist.

I’m not suggesting that what Google is proposing is the right/only solution. I’m just highlighting the scope of the problem. The current driver/peripheral model may have run its course, as a result of the new & emerging categories of computing devices.

Kevin C. Tofel

I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment. Traditional computing is changing, so printing and other solutions need to change too. :)

Chris K

? Print drivers will still have to exist – cloud or no cloud.

Folks get all crazy with the cloud talk. Listen to the Oracle CEO for clarification.

The cloud isn’t anything magical. It’s a computer on a network.

UNless Google is going to write some document translation layer where everything prints to the virtual Google printer and the drivers for printers then only have to be written to interact with that one “virtual printer” so the printer in effect becomes OS independent then maybe.

Kevin C. Tofel

Chris: “Print drivers will still have to exist – cloud or no cloud.”

Not in Google’s vision, although implementation details are scarce:

“The ideal experience is for your printer to have native support for connecting to cloud print services. Under this model, the printer has no need for a PC connection of any kind or for a print driver. The printer is simply registered with one or more cloud print services and awaits print jobs.”

Chris K

That doesn’t mean you don’t need print drivers. It just means they won’t be located on your computer.

Again the cloud isn’t magic. It’s just a computer on a network.

And unless Google develops a (middleware) printing standard then drivers will be just as numerous as today. And they won’t be OS/device independent.

Maybe that’s what this intiative is – a middleware printing standard. I just took it as moving the printer server to the cloud.

Chris K

I guess printer server in a cloud = OS independent contrary to what I just typed. I guess that’s the goal. It would reduce the amount of printer drivers needed. I mean HP wouldn’t have to write drivers for Windows, Mac, Iphone OS, Blackberry etc for each printer. Just one driver per printer to talk to the Google print server.

but an HP would still have to write printer drivers.

Google would have to write a driver for every platform too. We’d print to the Google cloud printer service and the service would print to the printer right?

And would there be an overall savings? OR is it just transferring the work to other parts of the system.

I mean now printers have to be able to network with the internet. You save on the amount of printer drivers needed, but now every printer needs an IP. Cost of printers goes up I would assume. Not to mention the work of setting such a printer up by the end user.

And what about competition? I mean it wouldn’t benefit customers in the long run if Google controlled this standard would it? I imagine there would be competing standards. Now (if you are HP) you’re writing drivers for each of your printers for each of these competing standards in the cloud.

Instead of writing for Mac OS, Android, Windows, Iphone OS etc you’re writing for Google cloud printing, MS cloud printing and Apple cloud printing.

So where’s the savings? ….no expert, but …just thinking aloud.

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