Printing in the cloud

For the long time, printing was a local affair. The machine that you printed your documents on may not have been situated right next to your PC, but it was probably in the office somewhere on the LAN. A revolution is coming, though; cloud-based printing services promise to let you print documents anywhere in the world, via the Internet.

The Internet of things is slowly but surely expanding to include printers, many of which will soon come with their own web addresses. Alternatively, you’ll be able to pick from a pre-selected group of printers using a cloud-based printing account. The Internet Printing was an early attempt, while EFI’s is another. Now, others are getting involved. HP announced its cloud printing service last summer, and Google is busily trying to build cloud printing into Chrome OS.

The idea is that it could make users more flexible, especially if they’re on the move. Road warriors could can print documents ahead of schedule at their destination, or ping a document over to the machine in their local coffee shop. And it could finally mean that fax machines go the way of the telex. Not before time, either.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this is that cloud-based services could integrate seamlessly with paper-based ones. Companies could print off invoices directly at their clients’ sites, for example. We are already seeing services such as Zumbox gaining traction. That system connects large transactional mailers such as utilities with customers, converting mails that would arrive via the postal service into digital files that are sent to an online ‘Zumbox’. It would only be a short step to print such documents directly on the home printers of those users requesting a hard copy.

All of this could finally make printer drivers - the bane of many a desktop users’ existence - a thing of the past. Is the killer app for printing finally upon us?

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.