Google Chrome OS to route print jobs around planet
The Chocolate Factory as print server
Google has explained how it intends to print from its browser-obsessed Chrome OS netbooks. Naturally, it will send all your jobs across the net, through its servers, and back down to a PC elsewhere in the room.
In fact, Google intends to send all your print jobs through its servers whether they're coming from a Chrome OS netbook or a machine that has nothing to do with Chrome OS, including desktops, notebooks, and mobiles. Well, through its servers or - in theory - someone else's.
The company has open sourced the code for its online print service, hoping to encourage other outfits to duplicate this contraption that takes print jobs across the world and back again.
We would argue it would be easier to create a common protocol that lets any machine talk to any printer. But Google likes it when stuff goes through its servers. It likes it a lot.
When Google released  some early Chrome OS code last fall, company bigwigs hinted that some sort of newfangled printing contraption was on the way. And now, with a post  to the official Chromium blog, Mountain View has explained at least a little of its thinking, while announcing that code and documentation for the setup are now available as part of the open source Chromium and Chromium OS projects.
Google's plan to send your print jobs around the world
The fledging Chrome OS - not due for official release on netbooks until the end of the year - puts all applications and data inside the browser, and Google has no intention of building and bundling print drivers.
"While the emergence of cloud and mobile computing has provided users with access to information and personal documents from virtually any device, today’s printers still require installing drivers which makes printing impossible from most of these new devices," the company says.
"Developing and maintaining print subsystems for every combination of hardware and operating system - from desktops to netbooks to mobile devices - simply isn't feasible."
Who needs local drivers
Instead, the company is designing an online service dubbed - predictably - Google Cloud Print. "Since in Google Chrome OS all applications are web apps, we wanted to design a printing experience that would enable web apps to give users the full printing capabilities that native apps have today," Google says.
"Rather than rely on the local operating system (or drivers) to print, apps can use Google Cloud Print to submit and manage print jobs. Google Cloud Print will then be responsible for sending the print job to the appropriate printer with the particular options the user selected, and returning the job status to the app."
The service is meant for use not only with the web apps running on Chrome OS, but any breed of desktop or mobile app as well.
The ultimate idea is that things called "Cloud Aware Printers" will connect directly to this sky-high service - and to other similar services. "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 company says.
Around the cloud in 300dpi
But these Cloud Aware Printers don't actually exist. In the short term, Mountain View sees legacy printers connecting to its service via a software proxy. This will sit on the PC where the printer is installed. "The proxy takes care of registering the printer with Google Cloud Print and awaiting print jobs from the service. When a job arrives, it submits the print job to the printer using the PC operating system's native print stack and sends job status back to the printer."
Google is currently developing a proxy for Windows, and it plans to support Mac and Linux as well.
Applications - whether on the desktop, a mobile, or in the browser - wil submit print jobs to the Google Cloud Print via a common print dialog or API, and Google Cloud Print will send the jobs to a printer which the user has previously registered with the service. Google intends to bundle the proxy with its Chrome browser (not to be confused with Chrome OS).
"So, by simply installing Google Chrome on their PC and enabling the feature (it is off by default), users will be able to print via Google Cloud Print," the company says.
Of course, this means you can't print to the printer unless the PC is connected to the net. But Google intends to solve this little problem with its Cloud Aware Printers and similar devices. "[The PC-connected-to-net] requirement is why we are excited about working with the industry to build native support for cloud print services into their printers," Google says.
"We are also hoping some clever folks in the community will build proxies-in-a-box (like routers with print server abilities) so users get all the benefits of the proxy without needing to leave their PC powered on."
Google Chrome OS will use the Google Cloud Print service for all printing. It will not accept print drivers. This means you won't be able to print directly to a printer. You'll have to print to some other PC. When it's on. And connected to the net. If you have one.
Web apps go native
Some web-based apps will be pre-built to tap directly into the service - with no involvement from the Chrome OS - but if you're using another app, it will print by way of the browser.
Google says: "In this case, Google Chrome on Chrome OS is a native app that uses Google Cloud Print and common print dialog. The content to be printed is uploaded to the Google Cloud Print along with the job ticket information and then sent to the printer."
It's a roundabout way to send a print job. To say the least. If you send a document to a printer sitting on your desk, it will first make a trip to a Google data center somewhere else on the planet. It's typical Google really. The company wants as much as possible going through its servers. That way it can analyze the data - or store for analyzing later - and eventually use it improve its services and target ads. That's the aim of Chrome OS itself.
Sure, if you're using Google own web apps with Chrome OS - Google Docs, say - you documents and data are already stored on Google servers. But with Google Cloud Print, data from third-party apps goes through the Chocolate Factory as well.
At this point, questions of privacy and security are mere hypotheticals. The service is still underdevelopment. But the questions are there nonetheless. The best we can say is that Google Cloud Print beats iPad printing:
How to print from an iPad, according to design company Form