Since the time, many years ago, when I briefly used a Compaq “luggable” PC, mobile computing devices have certainly become more useful, and considerably more portable. (The Compaq was sometimes called the “lunch bucket”; all I can say is that it weighed enough for a damned big lunch, probably including 2-3 bottles of wine.) One minor but irritating problem remains, though: how do you print something? This is not too difficult to solve if you are visiting in an office, and can hook up a temporary printer connection, but it is a nuisance, even with a laptop PC, if you are using a public wireless network in a library or coffee shop. Even if there is a printer accessible on the network, you will still, typically, need to have a driver for it. And printing from other kinds of devices, like smart phones or devices like Apple’s iPad, is generally too complicated to be worth the effort.
Ars Technica says, in an article posted today, that as part of its Chromium OS project, Google plans to implement a facility called Cloud Print, a web-based service that is intended to enable any application on any computing device to print to any accessible printer. This would include all kinds of applications running on a wide variety of devices. It is Google’s intent to use Cloud Print as the only printing facility within the Chrome OS, but it will be accessible to all Web-aware software:
The devices would make use of a Web-based API to either communicate directly with cloud-aware printers, or to send signals to a proxy in order to communicate with “legacy” printers.
The announcement was made in a post on the Chromium OS blog.
Like the rest of the Chromium OS project, Cloud Print will be organized as an open source project. The project is at a very early stage, but there is some published overview documentation available.
Apart from its use in the Chrome OS, and it potential to ease the general problem of printing from mobile devices, Cloud Print has at least one more interesting aspect. Microsoft and, especially, Apple are approaching the cloud computing market with an approach that is designed to maintain as much control as possible over what the user can do. Microsoft wants to protect its very lucrative Office business, and Apple wants to maintain its lock on providing applications and content through its app store. A freely-available, open-to-all-comers approach like Google’s is likely to be perceived (correctly, in my view) as a threat. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.