|At a Glance|
|Product||Google Cloud Print [Website]|
|Summary||Cloud-based service bringing print-from-anywhere capability to any printer|
|Pros||• Directly supported by some HP, Kodak and Epson printers
• Decent Android and iOS device support
|Cons||• Didn't work with the printer we tried
• Must use Google Chrome for Windows printing
One of the major questions facing smart phone and tablet users is, “How do I print”? Google Cloud Print is currently one of Google’s famous “beta” projects aimed primarily at providing print services to tablet and other mobile devices via cloud-connected printers.
There are two paths to setting up Google Cloud Print. First, you can purchase and configure a "Cloud Ready" printer. A number of newest-generation printers including models from Kodak, HP and Epson are "Google Cloud Print Ready". Cloud ready printers can connect directly to the Internet and used without a PC driving the printer.
Alternatively, you can configure an existing "Classic" printer that’s connected to an Internet-connected computer. For this article, I’m going to configure my Kodak ESP7250 printer for Google Cloud Printing. The printer is plugged into my network and all of my computers print to it. Google Cloud Print would also work if I had the printer plugged into the USB port on my computer.
To get started, navigate to the Google cloud print landing page ( Figure 1). From here, you either configure a cloud-ready printer or go through the steps to add a "classic" printer.
Figure 1: Google Cloud Print landing page
When you click on Add a Classic printer, you are taken to a page of instructions that walks you through the setup steps.
First, you need to install Google Chrome onto your computer. If you are using Windows XP, you are also prompted to install the Microsoft XML paper specification pack. I tried clicking on the 64 bit version intended for Vista, and got a message that indicated that the software wasn’t intended for my computer (Windows 7-64 bit).
Next, you are instructed to launch Chrome, click on the wrench icon and navigate to Options>Under the Hood>Google Cloud Print. Then click Sign in to Google Cloud Print as shown in Figure 2:
Figure 2: Sign into Google Cloud Print to enable the Google Cloud Print connector
This takes you to the Cloud Print sign in page shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Google Cloud Print sign in page
Next, you are prompted to finish registration, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Finish Google Printer registration
This takes you to the home page for your Google cloud print account. The landing page for your account shows you the documents that you have printed through Google cloud print (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Landing page for Google cloud print showing my recently printed documents
If you select Printers from the menu at the left side of the screen, you’ll see a list of printers registered to your Google cloud print account. Figure 6 shows my cloud print-enabled devices including my Kodak printer.
Figure 6: Google cloud print devices associated with my account
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Figure 6 shows what you would expect to see if everything worked the way it was supposed to work. It didn’t. Despite my best efforts to associate my printer through Google Chrome, I was never able to get it connected. I tried installing Chrome on my Windows 7 system as well as two different XP systems – all with the same result. My default Kodak printer never appeared as an installed device.
Even more frustrating, when I clicked on Add a Classic Printer, I landed on an FAQ page that merely instructed me to go through the same process that hadn’t worked. If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, I must be truly insane. I tried to associate my printer multiple times on multiple systems, but the default printer never appeared.
I searched through the Google forums and discovered that a number of people had had the exact same problems as I did. While some were able to resolve their problems by using an updated version of Chrome, I was already using the latest version. I guess you have to expect some bugs and some aggravation when using a beta product.
By now, I’ve probably piqued your interest. How did I get it to work? I cheated – sort of. I searched the Kodak support site and found that Kodak has a Cloud Printing Software Connector. Kodak’s FAQ that walks you through setting up the Kodak connector also includes instructions to disable “Google Cloud Print” in Chrome if it has been enabled.
Like the Chrome-based connector, the Kodak software connector setup has you log into your Google account to connect your printer. Once connected, you can manage Google Cloud Printer from the Google’s standard Cloud Print home page.
In addition to the standard Google cloud print features, the Kodak connector also provides you with the ability to print to a unique email address. During the Kodak connector setup process, you are assigned an 8 character email address @kodakprint.com as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: Kodak Email Print Service setup
If you are worried about someone guessing your email print address and flooding you with spam, you can restrict email printer access by limiting printer access to specific email addresses or domains (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Email Access Control
What can you print from where?
Assuming that you’ve been able to get your classic printer or cloudprint-enabled printer connected to your Google account, Google Cloud Print opens up a number of printing options – especially if you are interested in mobile printing applications. Google has provided a list of Cloud Print enabled applications and printing applications here.
First on the Google list is support for Chromebooks. Any open tab on your Chromebook can be printed by hitting Ctrl + P or Print.
As you would expect, there is a lot of Cloud Print support for Android devices. Google Docs is supported through the print2docs feature. The printing applications page also includes links to a number of third party products that work with Google Cloud Print. Some are free, while others are “premium” apps that you pay for.
On my personal Droid, I purchased and installed the premium version of PrinterShare. Figure 9 shows a screen shot of the main screen. As you can see, PrinterShare is connected to my Kodak Google Cloud Print printer and provides not only the ability to print Google docs, but also web pages, contacts, Gmail, etc. This application works well, and for me, it was worth the $12.95. I’ve printed documents, email, contacts and photos using the application.
Figure 9: PrinterShare Premium main screen
In addition, there’s an iOS application, PrintCentral Pro, which provides similar functionality for iPhones/iPod Touch and iPads. For Macs and Windows computers, there’s a Google Chrome extension that allows you to print PDF, Word, text, JPG or Google Docs documents directly from the browser’s address bar. Finally, there’s a MacOS application that allows you to print from any application using the Mac print menu. It’s available directly from the developer or from the Mac App store.
As the Google Cloud Print web site indicates, Google Cloud Print is still a beta product, so you may expect to find some bumps along the road to cloud printing. Probably the safest and easiest path to cloud printing would be to purchase a printer that’s already cloud-enabled. With one of these printers, at least you’d have access to live tech support – something that just doesn’t exist for the masses on Google. And cloud-enabled printers support all of the cloud print features without having to leave a computer running with connector software.
The list of cloud-print enabled mobile applications is currently fairly small. So rather than printing from within an application, you’ll undoubtedly end up with some type of application that lets you print from multiple sources such as the one I purchased. Still, even with the tools available, I’m finding cloud printing to be very useful. I especially like the ability to print via email – a feature supported by Kodak, HP and other printer manufacturers as well as third party providers. I can’t wait to see how Google Cloud Print evolves as it completes its beta development and moves into the mainstream.