Let’s face it, the lowly office printer refuses to go away even as we proclaim digital independence in the workplace. Sales, marketing, engineering, finance, HR—every department seems to have a persistent need for printing—reports, presentations, specifications, reviews and more. The printer remains a core hub of activity in many offices.
Giving your mobile users access to an office printer has remained a challenge and an obstacle to BYOD adoption in many organizations. Whether your printers connect via USB, Ethernet or even Wi-Fi, connecting mobile users has often meant swapping cables, installing drivers and sometimes granting access to your office network. Smartphone and tablet users present their own set of challenges in both hardware and software.
A cloud-enabled printer uses a third party, cloud-hosted service to negotiate the connection with clients, eliminating the need for physical connections. The client sends their print job to the cloud server, which then manages the formatting and routing of the content to the target printer. To users, the whole process looks like they’re printing to a local device even though the physical printer could be located anywhere in the world.
In this edition of our Enabling the Wireless Workplace series we’re going to explore the options for cloud printing using your existing hardware. While several manufacturers offer web-enabled, Wi-Fi and even NFC printers, adopting cloud printing does not require you to change out existing hardware, making it simple and almost free to implement.
There are 2 key components in a cloud printing setup:
1) The cloud printing service provider connecting your printer to the cloud, and 2) Apps or drivers needed to support your users’ devices.
The closest we have to a truly ubiquitous, open and free platform for cloud printing is Google’s aptly named Cloud Print service. Supporting both legacy and cloud-enabled printers in smaller organizations and even enterprise scale print servers, Google’s service offers pretty much all of the features you’re going to need in an SMB environment.
Setting up Cloud Print is as simple as launching the Chrome browser and navigating to chrome://devices in a new tab. Once there you can connect any available printer that you have access to with Google’s print server. Cloud Ready printers that connect directly to the Internet, such as Brother’s HL3140CW will show up on Google’s list of compatible models along with manufacturer-specific installation instructions. Add any non-Internet accessible printer by selecting Add Printer under the Classic Printers section and Chrome will scan your network for available printers. Select the ones you want to add and click Add Printer(s); that’s it, your printer is now accessible from the cloud.
For a more robust and manageable connection option see the section on the Google Cloud Print Connector at the end of this article.
Once your printer is connected to Google Cloud Print, you’re ready to start printing from any authorized laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet. As you might expect, printing from within the Chrome browser or Google Docs is super-simple—just click the printer icon or shortcut and select the printer under Google Cloud Print.
A complete list of client apps that support printing to Google Cloud Print can be found here. To make your job easier we’ve compiled a list of our favorite apps and setup options.
Apple iOS – Unless you’re printing from Google Docs, you’ll need to install a paid app to print from iPhone or iPad. At $7.99 the PrintCentral Pro app from Eurosmartz isn’t cheap, but what it lacks in affordability it more than makes up for with its rich feature set. The app not only enables cloud printing but also allows printing of nearly any content to any printer, not just AirPrint models.
Android – Install Google’s official Cloud Print app, available for free from the Google Play store and add printing capability to smartphones and tablets alike. Google’s app integrates well with Android and adds print capability to email, photos, local files and even Microsoft Office documents; a must-have on every Android device.
Windows – In addition to the print options inside the Chrome browser, Google offers Windows users a print driver that looks and works just like a conventional driver, putting the cloud print option right in the print dialog for any installed application. This is a great solution for mobile workers who can print to any of their target printers regardless of their physical location.
Mac – Just as with iOS, Mac users will need a paid app to access cloud printing however with a $1.99 price tag, Cloud Printer is decidedly more affordable than the iOS options. More of an intermediary app than a print driver, Cloud Printer adds visibility to all Google Cloud Print printers with its dedicated control panel that allows printing from any installed app to any target printer.
Google Cloud Print Connector – Google’s Cloud Print services allows remote connection to classic (non Web-enabled) printers by turning a local, connected computer into a print server. The code that runs that server lives inside the Chrome browser that must be open on that machine. Clearly, requiring the browser to be open at all times might not be the best approach for an enterprise or even SMB application. Fortunately, Google offers a solution. The Google Cloud Print Connector detaches the code that runs the cloud print mechanism from the browser, allowing it to run as standalone Windows service. This is a much cleaner and manageable way to run the server and is essential for high-density deployments with large numbers of users, although we prefer it for even the smallest installations.
While Google Cloud Print is not the only solution out there, we prefer it for its relative simplicity, wide range of both printer and client support and of course the price—FREE. There are a number of reasons your organization might opt for a paid service like PrinterOn, which offers hosted, software, hardware and embedded solutions. Regardless of the platform, the time to put your printing in the cloud is here.
As always, we welcome your comments, questions and sharing of real-life experiences so go ahead and join the conversation. Check out the KLIK Boks and make your presentations wireless at www.klikboks.com