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Google sees printing in the cloud
Every cloud should have a smudgy black lining
While demonstrating Chrome OS, Google also slipped out its cloud printing solution, which might be the future, though for the moment you can't print anything other than a test page.
Google Cloud Print is the chocolate factory's answer to the lack of printer drivers in Chrome OS, but should provide a printing solution for Android too, even if it means passing everything through Google's hands and waiting a while too.
The idea is to have printers regularly polling Google HQ to see if there are any print jobs waiting for them (thus pushing though firewalls and such like). A Google identity would then be linked to one or more registered printers and any application (Google-branded or not) would be free to channel its printing through the Google cloud with open and published APIs.
Google is optimistic that printers will soon come with hard-coded links to its cloud, but accepts that right now there is some legacy kit around: "Every printer in existence today falls into this category" the FAQ explains. But then it goes on to say: "This situation will change, of course, when someone (perhaps you?) updates the firmware to make the printer cloud-aware." Yes! You can play your part in enacting the Google master plan.
Not that cloud printing is a bad idea, it's just that for years printers, particularly consumer printers, have become very stupid things with little interest in networking or the internet. Cloud-enabling intelligent printers is easy, though if they're hidden behind a firewall then you still need a server somewhere for them to poll. But stupid means cheap, so printer manufacturers have steadily migrated the intelligence into the PC, which is why the latest version of the Google Chrome web browser includes a Google Cloud Printer proxy – attaching your cheapo ink-jet printer to Google's cloud for as long as your desktop computer is switched on.
Not that you can print anything just yet - besides a demo page to tell you everything is working. We're promised that Android and Google Docs will support printing through Google's cloud really soon, and that it will be the only way to print from Chrome OS. The APIs are already available, so developers could already be creating suitable applications.
Google says it only keeps copies of printed documents while they're in the queue, and promises to delete them immediately afterwards – but on the question of whether it analyses the contents of those documents to better profile its users, the FAQ is typically unclear:
"Does Google look at the contents of the documents I send to print? Are they kept confidential?
Documents you send to print are your personal information and are kept strictly confidential"
...which doesn't really answer the question (we've asked Google for clarification, and will let you know when we hear). But if you're already using GMail and Google Docs, then it's really a small thing to let the Googleplex know what you're printing too, and a small price to enable printing from from all your new toys without all that mucking about with drivers and local connections. ®