Cloud Print is dead, long live Cloud Print?

Now that Google is phasing out their Cloud Print service, Cloud Printing is hot.

Microsoft announced a cloud-based Universal Print solution. With Universal Print, on-premise Windows Print Servers are no longer needed because key functionality is moved to the Microsoft 365 cloud. On top of that, Windows devices don’t need printer drivers anymore and printers are discovered from the user’s location. Microsoft is working with hardware partners to implement native Universal Print support in printers. Canon already announced their commitment.

Lexmark is marketing their own Cloud Print Infrastructure as a Service. IoT managed printers, owned by Lexmark, are installed on-premise. Print servers, queue management, user management and data collection are moved to the cloud, and customers pay according to an “as-a-service” billing model. Surely we can expect that all major vendors will soon jump on the Cloud Print bandwagon as well.

Getting your print infrastructure right and keeping it right is generally considered a pain. Printers are special. If you just tamed printers of Brand X, you can start all over again for Brand Y. And while we’re at it, users can also be very tricky. They demand that their documents be rendered on paper flawlessly: from any device, any time, any place. In short, an acceptable Quality of Service for printing is a delicate balance at best, but a nightmare for many in practice. No wonder that when “cloud” and “as-a-service” buzzwords are thrown into the print pit, you can bet that many CIOs will grab it as a lifeline.

But does a “modern print environment without ownership hassle” , as Lexmark puts it, make sense from a broader perspective?

Universal Print sounds great until you realize it’s restricted to Microsoft’s universe only and interoperability is guaranteed as long as you stay put in Microsoft’s walled garden. Can a native Microsoft Universal Printer act in an Open Printing environment? Or, can you print to a Lexmark owned IoT device from outside the Lexmark Cloud?

Generally stated, do Cloud Print vendors provide interoperability with Open Standards? I don’t see any signs yet. Implementing a Brand X Cloud Print solution probably will be very easy, but migrating from Cloud X to Y may prove to be near impossible. So, instead of “just” your hardware running non-free software, but at least being accessible with Open Standards (IPP), now your entire printing infrastructure might be subjected to vendor lock-in. By relinquishing ownership and control you pay a price. Beware, monetary savings may turn out to be short lived. But above all, in the end it will cost you freedom and who knows even security and privacy.

But may be I’m all wrong and Cloud Print vendors actually do implement Open Standards, under the hood without being explicit about it. That would make sense because Microsoft, Canon, Lexmark and many other vendors are member of The Printer Working Group (PWG), a Program of the IEEE Industry Standard and Technology Organization (ISTO) and author of IPP Everywhere and related Open Standards. IPP Everywhere is a standard for personal computers and mobile devices to find and print to networked and USB printers without using vendor-specific software. Many clients like Android, ChromeOS, CUPS, Linux and macOS already support it. Specialized Cloud, Enterprise and Managed Print Services can even utilize the “IPP Shared Infrastructure Extensions” to act as an intermediary between clients and printers.

It would be commendable if Cloud Print vendors disclosed their solution as Free and Open Source Software. That’s the way software is developed nowadays and is the best way to gain trust and get customer acceptance. At the same time, a disclosure would make any standard used transparent. As always, SavaPage Open Print Portal is ready to communicate with any solution that complies with Open Standards and thereby contributes to a level playing field for all parties in a true Free Market.