Google Chrome OS, the operating system that is essentially a browser on a netbook, does not support printer drivers. Given the problems these things still cause, you might think that is a good thing. At least, until you want to print a Google map to give to a friend. Or an invoice to stick in the post. Or any of those other innumerable reasons for printing that we somehow find, even in the age of electronic documents.
The solution Google has come up with is called Cloud Print. You register your printer or printers with Google, then print over the internet. The printer might be a “cloud-aware printer”, none of which yet exist, which sits with its internet connection waiting for print jobs; or a “legacy printer” which works via a proxy running on a PC. Google will distribute this proxy with Google Chrome. The proxy gets the print job from Google, then prints using the local printer driver. Since Chrome OS does not have any printer drivers, the proxy cannot run on Chrome OS itself.
This is mad, of course, because it means that in order to print a document from Chrome OS to the printer sitting on the same local network, you have to send it to Google and back. If your internet connection goes down, you cannot print from Chrome OS at all.
Still, given that printers still have a habit of grinding and whirring a bit before actually printing, a little delay while a document travels to Google and back probably won’t upset you.
The brilliance of the idea is that cloud-aware printers will just work, and you can print to them from anywhere. If it’s your boarding pass, you are in New York and the printer is in London, that won’t help you much; but there are other scenarios where it might. Printing a receipt while away can be handy, for example; it won’t be needed until you do your accounts.
I like the way Google is thinking creatively about what it means to have a computer that is wholly cloud-centric. If it can make such a device usable, it will be revolutionary.
I don’t like the idea of having to sign into Google to print a document. Google says:
We expect other entities to provide their own cloud print services as well. Users associate printers with their Google Account via the service.
It’s another of these, “you are welcome to our standard” offers. In practice, signing permanently into Google will be the deal with Chrome OS, as it is to a large extent with Android. The whole thing revolves around your Google identity, which is why it pays Google to make the investment.