The cloud is revolutionising the way we both think about and use IT, enabling us to perform all manner of tasks much more quickly and easily.
One example is printing, an area where the cloud is having an impact in a number of ways, from enabling mobile users to print documents from anywhere to, somewhat counterintuitively, making printing more secure.
We're all mobile users these days, so let's start with the benefits for those of us wanting to print a document, photo, or PDF when away from home or out of the office. A printer may be available, but not always, and even where it is, you may not be properly equipped with the right driver or app. Equally, you may not want, or be allowed, to print to a foreign device. But if you connect the printer you normally use at home or in the office to the cloud then it's potentially available wherever and whenever you want.
Google's Cloud Print service is a good example of how this works. Cloud Print-ready printers can be directly associated with a Google account, while those without the technology built-in can be connected through a PC running the Chrome browser. Once registered, these printers can then be shared with any Google user, who will be able to send documents to print from almost any application, from anywhere with internet access, using a variety of hardware including desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets.
It costs nothing and because printers make outbound connections to register with Cloud Print, no firewall or router changes are required. Communications are also encrypted for security and although it takes a lot longer for the finished documents to emerge from Google Cloud Print compared to a local printer, spooling to the cloud minimises the impact. It also enables documents to be queued and stored for later production so it doesn't matter whether the printer at the other end is switched on or off.
Support for Google Cloud Print is included with more and more new printers, but other vendors are keen to get in on the act, and have plans for similar services as well.
Another area the cloud is having an impact on is document security. Here, just as with Google Cloud Print, printers are connected to host servers in the cloud. However, instead of documents being sent straight to the printer, they are spooled and held in encrypted format until released by the sender. Moreover, this has to be done at the printer, typically by entering a PIN code or swiping an ID badge, ensuring that confidential documents don't get intercepted or accidentally mixed up with other output.
Documents can also be released to the most convenient printer as and when required, further adding to the benefits of this kind of cloud-based secure print service.
And you can bet the advancements in printing and document security won't end there - other innovative ways of mixing printing with the cloud are bound to follow.