Printer drivers: A thing of the past? Google, HP seem to think so

Printer drivers: A thing of the past? Google, HP seem to think so

Summary: Google outlines how it will use the cloud to print to any device with its Chrome operating system. HP rolls out a smart install feature that eradicates printer drivers. Are the days of these printer drivers and installation disks numbered?

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Google outlined how it will get around the biggest pickle facing its Chrome operating system: It will use its cloud to manage print jobs.

The Chrome OS is designed to be lightweight and be used on multiple devices. And Google can't keep up with the drivers needed to get printers to work. The solution? Use Google's cloud as a big print server.

Google explains:

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. Using the one component all major devices and operating systems have in common-- access to the cloud-- today we're introducing some preliminary designs for a project called Google Cloud Print, a service that enables any application (web, desktop, or mobile) on any device to print to any printer.

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 image looks like this:

Now it's way early and Google Print is under development. My first reaction is that it seems a bit complicated just to print a document. A cloud hammer can't fix everything. Yes, printing in the cloud has some promise, but this flow chart above seems like long way to go to print something.

Indeed, the comments to Google's blog highlight a bit of skepticism. To wit:

  • Cool idea, but even putting privacy concerns aside, something about shipping a print job off to the cloud just to be sent back to my printer in my house seems unnecessary and wasteful.
  • It would be nice to run some AJAX/Java on the client to figure out if you're on the same LAN as the printer and have an option to bypass putting the job in the cloud, which, I assume will save the print jobs for future reference.
  • This seems to be straightforward, brute-force way of doing it. Not that I have an alternative solution but I was expecting some sort of 'magic' to come out of Google on this :)

The good news: Printer drivers are going away. There should be some protocol that all printers conform to and we call it a day.

HP earlier this week illustrated that it recognizes the need to do something about printer drivers and installation. Its solution was straightforward: Set it up so any PC could connect to any printer (of course it's only the latest from HP).

HP's technology is called smart install and promises that you'll be printing in two minutes. I get the USB connection thing and assume that a wireless connection would work in the future. I also doubt I'd buy a new printer just for this smart install feature. My new Windows 7 machine picked up my printer without disks and drivers right away so I already got the quicky install.

Add it up and the days of the print driver appear to be limited. How we get to that point---via a cloud scheme or simple USB connection---remains to be seen.

Topics: Data Management, Banking, Software, Printers, Hewlett-Packard, Hardware, Google, Enterprise Software, CXO, IT Employment

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130 comments
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  • Either way....

    ...the last few walls of lock in are starting to
    fall. I say great for both solutions.
    storm14k
    • Trust Google?

      Do I trust Google (or any 3rd party for that matter) to render all my print jobs and NOT spy on them in any way whilst also ensuring that nothing else between an app running on my machine and my printer can spy on it either.

      No. Just no.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • Google and trust

        Shouldn't go together. Ever.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • I don't trust Google

        and I don't care. When will I be printing secret documents from my phone?
        Badge3832
    • Thirty-year-old Solution

      It's called PostScript, and it's what all laser
      printers used to use (most still do). It was the
      Lingua Franca for printers, and was only
      derailed by nasty, dumb, cheap (as in "under
      engineered"), mostly inkjet printers which used
      the CPU and driver to do layout instead of the
      printer.

      We called these printer-trolls "WinPrinters"
      (or, more politely, GDI printers), and they live
      in the same dark caves that the WinModems used
      to.

      Printing was a solved problem years ago. Someone
      (ahem ... the company responsible for GDI just
      came along and screwed it up in the name of
      making $7 more per printer sold. We don't need
      drivers. Of course, you could also standardize
      on PCL or XPS. PostScript FTW in my mind!
      daengbo
    • This is asinine.

      One decent-sized print job is going to be bigger than the entire printer driver. Not to mention: Why should I have to have an Internet connection to use a printer three feet away?

      People championing these "solutions" either haven't thought it through, or they work for Google or another online service provider. They're the same ones pushing the dumb "cloud" moniker as well, as if client/server and distributed computing never existed before.

      The PostScript point is an excellent one. PostScript WORKS. In fact, it's high time to dump the band-aided hack that is HTML-based Web presentation and replace it with a more capable page-description language like PostScript, with additions for UI controls and live media.

      As far as HP setting a trend here is concerned, I'll give them credit for trying. But remember that this is the company that dumps half a gigabyte of crapware on your computer when you install support for one of their printers. Even a "custom" minimal install winds up being hundreds of megabytes, and their print dialogs have a history of defects:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/forensicpics/3744965937
      dgurney
  • RE: Printer drivers: A thing of the past? Google, HP seem to think so

    Hasn't Linux OS been connecting to printers without drives? Windows is just catching up.
    inmotion
    • Not true

      Linux does indeed have printer drivers, just not always from the manufacturer which is why Linux needs to do more to get more Manufacturers on board.

      Right every OS has printer drivers. With HP's new printer the driver is built into the device, and the OS connects to it with an auto run and that is how it will connect, so there will be a driver just installed on the machince and not on the local computer.
      BroGnorik
      • Not True

        will this new technology work on the Mac Platform or will this be a way to shut out Apple?
        pjones
      • RE: Printer drivers: A thing of the past? Google, HP seem to think so

        @BroGnorik

        This awfully <a href="http://www.shoppharmacycounter.com/t-phentermine.aspx">Phentermine</a> isn't be able to you repeat to facilitate? You care about this is.
        Phentermine
    • Windows 7 plus new HP Printer a charm

      Surprise! Surprise! When I got my new laptop with Windows 7 and installed my HP 3-in-1 printer, everything went automatically. No drivers, no fuss, no muss...USB2 connect and that's it.

      As far as Google cloud printing is concerned, I would be very, very cautious before trying.

      -
      High Altitude
      • Driver Installation Transparency

        Of course when you installed your printer it did put drivers on your computer; they were just installed transparently. One of two things happened.

        (1) The drivers were included with Windows 7. It detected the printer and installed the drivers from a CAB file on the hard drive. This has been a feature of Windows since at least 2000. It just has mostly worked only with older printers because drivers for newer ones weren't ready to include in the current version of Windows. A similar thing happens in Linux with printers it already has the driver for.

        (2) Windows detected the printer and went out to the Internet to find drivers for it, then proceeded to install them. I'm not always one hundred percent thrilled with the idea of my computer going out to the Internet without informing me, but I think it goes to a Microsoft website, which Windows does all the time anyway.
        CFWhitman
    • Unfortunately, not quite that rosy

      This is fine where drivers have been delivered by printer manufacturers, or in the case of PS printers. Otherwise, not quite!

      Drivers for Linux OS's (or even Macs at times) which are ported over are often only delivering basic print features, and can be quite buggy... and this is not the fault of alternative (non-Window's) OS's, but that of the printer manufacturers themselves. If they wont go PS across the board, then they should at least provide working drivers for multiple platforms.

      Also, to suggest that Linux uses printers "without drivers" is a misnomer... they are either bundled with the distro, or are offered/installed, either in the background (silently) or are offered for DL and install.

      This is not an issue of ANY OS catching up, but manufacturers FINALLY pulling their collective heads out of their butts and doing the right thing for ALL end-users, regardless of one's platform/OS of choice.... about time!
      kaninelupus
  • I think the cloud solution will be a very good interim solution. Since the

    document lives in the cloud anyway, Google maintaining all
    the drivers in the cloud makes sense. In any case, it would
    always be a good idea to have that as a backup, in case
    that a printer driver for the printer you want to use does
    not exist for your platform.
    DonnieBoy
    • Also, think of home office workers. With this, they can hit any company

      printer in the world (if they are authorized).
      So, you are working from home because you kid is
      sick, and your boss wants a document printed -
      EASY. You just tell him which printer it is
      printing on.
      DonnieBoy
      • Or spam printers instead of fax machines?

        Great, now all printers that are available on a network could be targets of the same spam we still get via blind faxing!

        For the above example, when I work from home I am on the company intranet via VPN so I can print to any corporate printer I can get to when I am in the office now (no personal printers at work either, all in "convience centers" on each floor).

        I will say, anything that can improve the HP printer driver experience would be very welcome.

        Only other issue, WTF do you do if your internet connection is down & you want to print something under this new & bold plan?
        jhimes
        • No, there would be authorization required to print. Printers NOT public

          like fax machines.
          DonnieBoy
          • You would still have to allow this traffic through the firewall.

            And that ain't gonna happen on my watch. Not unless it's coming via a VPN connection which pretty much kills the cloud idea anyway. Come to think of it, I really don't even want print jobs coming in from outside even at home.
            cornpie
          • I am sure that Google will have a print proxy available for the

            reasons you are stating. They may also sell a
            print box to corporations so that it can all be
            done locally when possible.
            DonnieBoy
          • Fax Machines ~ Now that's an example to follow

            Fax machines have been doing this remote printing
            stuff for years, why not follow the example and
            just tweak it slightly?
            Something like creating VOIP, POIP?
            clap_clap@...