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Google Unveils Cloud Print

The upcoming Chrome OS will push printing beyond the desktop.
Google on Thursday clarified how it expects printing to work in its forthcoming Chrome OS.

It turns out there will be no printing stack and no print drivers in Chrome OS. Instead, Google is developing a service called Google Cloud Print, which will allow users to initiate print jobs from compliant Web apps, desktop computers, or mobile devices and produce printed pages pages on any Cloud Print-enabled printer, local or remote.

Google's plan faces one minor obstacle: There aren't yet any printers that implement the Google Cloud Print API.

That's why Google is releasing design documents that will allow manufacturers and developers to create printers, proxies, and services that can handle print jobs from the cloud. As with its experimental Wave service, Google wants others to help create an open standard that's free to use.

"Cloud-aware printers don't exist yet, but one of our main goals in publishing this information at an early stage is 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," Google explains on its Web site. "We believe cloud printing has tremendous benefits for end users and for the industry and is essential, given the rapid shift toward cloud-based applications and data storage."

If Google's proposal gains traction, it could be a boon to professional and consumer printing services, which would be able to receive print job data streams using a common standard rather than receiving files to be printed via FTP, e-mail or some other mechanism. It might even allow some of those services to operate without local software applications like Adobe InDesign.

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft and Apple will view Google's proposal as a threatening effort to diminish the importance of their respective operating systems or as an opportunity to build a compatible cloud printing service under their control.

In addition to coaxing cloud-aware printers into existence, Google is developing proxy software that it plans to bundle with its Chrome browser that will register legacy printers -- all current printers -- with Google Cloud Print. The proxy software will be optional and off by default.

When a Cloud Print job is created in an environment with a legacy printer, the proxy software will pass the job to the connected computer's native print stack.

Google says it's developing a proxy for Windows and will create one for Mac and Linux later on.

Unaddressed in Google's initial documentation are the potential security issues. There's every reason to believe Google and others participating in this initiative will give serious consideration to the risks.

Nonetheless, some reassurance will be necessary. As one person commenting on Google's Cloud Print blog post put it, "You better get security right. The backlash you will get the first time somebody prints [his or her] taxes to the wrong printer or someone intentionally spams the wrong printer will be insane."

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