Google Cloud Print is a technology from Google that connects your printers to the web. Sort of. It's also the only way to print from a Chromebook, as you can't install printers natively on Chrome OS.
We have several tutoring centers with shiny new Chromebooks, and although printing will be very minimal, there will occasionally be a need. Enter Google Cloud Print. Sort of.
Setting up Cloud Print on a Chromebook
The first difficulty came when we realized you cannot set up Cloud Print for a Chromebook…on an actual Chromebook. No, you must instead use a "real" computer (or, as the Google help page says, "Log in to your user account on the Windows, Mac, or Linux computer"). Once set up on the "real" computer, you can add the printer on the Chromebook by signing in to the same user account.
What isn't clear from the help page is that in order to print, the "real" computer must be turned on and logged in to the Google account of the person trying to print. Yikes. We didn't plan on having another computer in the labs, but ok, we can put a laptop each lab. No problem. But wait…if the laptop must be logged in to the same user account as the person trying to print, then only one person can print at a time! Ah. So, we decided to just have the tutor log in and any students who need to print will share the document with the tutor. Not perfect, but it'll work for now.
What about "Cloud Ready" printers?
To get around the need to have a computer turned on and logged in, several manufacturers are now selling Cloud Ready printers. Google advertises that "you can connect one to your Google Cloud Print account in seconds, and immediately start printing to it". Your results may vary. Ours did.
Our first attempt was with a Cloud Ready HP all-in-one inkjet. Setup took far longer than seconds. In fact, it required a "real" computer to set up. HP, in all their wisdom, decided that entering a WiFi password on the printer control panel was too difficult, so in order to enable WiFi, you must connect via USB to a computer. Sigh. It gets worse.
Once WiFi was configured, you must create an account at HPs new ePrint website. After that…you still can't add the printer to your Cloud Print account. The instructions from HP were not at all clear. After much digging, I finally found a big blue botton on a different website, that said "Enable Cloud Print". Once I did that, I was able to add the Chromebook. These hoops must be jumped through for every computer that wishes to print.
One nice thing about the HP, though, was the ePrint feature. You can email a document to a special email address (that you can choose, as long as it's not already taken), and it'll be sent directly to your printer.
Cloud Ready take 2
We decided an inkjet all-in-one wasn't the best choice for tutoring labs, so we returned it and tried a Brother Cloud Ready laser printer.
At first, setup was a breeze. WiFi setup could be done from the control panel, no computer necessary, and was up and running in less than five minutes. A big upgrade over the HP. The Brother also has AirPrint, which allows you to print from iOS devices. Sure enough, it just worked. The printer showed up immediately when I selected "Print" from a web page in Mobile Safari. Nothing to set up.
That's where the fun ended.
Brother's solution to setting up Cloud Print is to log in to the printer's web-based admin console, enable the service, then enter Google credentials. Unfortunately, we got an authentication error every time we tried to add one of our Google Apps accounts. I tried my personal Gmail account, and while I didn't get an authentication error, it never successfully added the account. It remained in a "pending" state forever. After upgrading the firmware (to no avail), I finally spoke with a tech support person from Brother. He couldn't get it working either, and oh by the way, this printer only supports personal accounts, not Google Apps accounts. Sigh. Back to the store again.
I think we'll wait a year and see if things improve. Until then, there's always the laptops plugged in to a real printer.