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

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?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.

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