Web Apps

Google Offers a Wisp of Cloud Printing

Printing is headed for the cloud, Google has announced multiple times in the past year, and on Monday, it beta-launched Cloud Print for mobile documents.

“Imagine printing an important document from your smartphone on the way to work and finding the printout waiting for you when you walk in the door,” Google Cloud Print team member Tyler Odean posted on the Internet search giant’s Mobile Blog. “Just open a document in Google Docs or an email in Gmail in your mobile browser and choose ‘Print’ from the drop down menu.”

Document printing from mobile devices, though charged with security concerns, “is a step in the right direction of ‘cutting the cord,'” said Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Networks.

“The digital landscape is changing drastically,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Mobile devices are becoming the new laptops, so printing from your cellphone will become commonplace.”

No Drivers Required

One of the great promises of the cloud — an aptly named, location-independent communications network becoming as ubiquitous as its older brother, the Web — sounds as though it were heaven sent.

To use its many services, cloud computing requires no drivers — none of those pesky programs that connect hardware to software via another annoying entity the cloud promises to make obsolete: the cord.

“As we said in the blog post yesterday, Google Cloud Print is ‘a service that allows printing from any app on any device, OS or browser without the need to install drivers,'” Google spokesperson Eitan Bencuya emphasized to TechNewsWorld.

What’s more, “Google Cloud Print in mobile Gmail and mobile docs is just a first step” into the cloud, Bencuya noted.

That step “100 percent” promises services that will be even more flexible, Quantum’s Zoldan explained, “and the more options, the better for the mobile consumer.”

HTML5 @Home

On a desktop PC, Cloud Print requires Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 running Google Chrome version 9.0.597.1 or higher. Mac OS X and Linux don’t support it. A wrench icon in Chrome’s upper right corner drops down “Sign in to Google Cloud Print.” A successful sign-in will list available printers as Cloud Print options.

HTML5 is key to operating Cloud Print on mobile devices running Android 2.1+ and iOS 3+.

“HTML5 causes mobile apps to behave more like desktop or native applications,” said Compuware CTO Imad Mouline. He attributes any success Cloud Print and other Google apps enjoy to this latest version of the popular markup language, which ironically isn’t well-known among the general public.

“Safari uses HTML 5; Chrome uses HTML5; but few desktop browsers use it, so its deployment has been slow,” Mouline told TechNewsWorld.

“HTML5 makes Web-based apps easier to deploy and doesn’t require an app store,” he added. “Without it, Cloud Print would be much less user-friendly and much more difficult to operate across so many different browsers and devices.”

Cloudy Security

Sending confidential documents over a cloud network raises two major security issues: public access and secure transmission.

“Google’s Chrome OS is designed to store all data in the cloud,” Barnes & Thornburg partner John Watkins, a member of its cloud computing and cyber security practice, told TechNewsWorld. “This raises all of the security and privacy issues associated with storing information (especially sensitive information) on public cloud-based systems.”

What’s more, if transmission isn’t secure, “someone could intercept the transmission to the printer and access the document,” added Barnes & Thornburg partner Roy Hadley, also a member of its cloud computing and cyber security practice.

To answer both concerns, “you can read our explanation about data security in the Google Cloud Print FAQ,” Google’s Bencuya told TechNewsWorld.

“All data transfer between apps and Google Cloud Print, and between Google Cloud Print and printers, is over an encrypted connection,” the FAQ explains.

From Gmail messages to Google Docs, documents may already be stored in the user’s Google account. Google Cloud Print temporarily stores data residing elsewhere, “in a secure manner only accessible by the user” the FAQ explains. “Once the data has reached the printer, it is deleted from Google’s servers.”

Secure connections aside, storage security then remains.

“Although convenient, I would not be recommending clients store any sensitive data in this manner,” said Barnes & Thornburg’s Watkins — “until security, privacy and, importantly, legal responsibility issues are sorted out.”

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