Printing in the Cloud: Chromebooks, Cloud Print and legacy printers

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One of the things about Chromebooks that makes them tricky for some to implement in certain environments is printing. You can’t install drivers or printers, and though there are lots of options for going paperless, you still need paper from time to time. I asked Jaime Casap (@jcasap) about this at the Google Summit in NJ last year, and his answer was “stop printing things!” which I understand, but wasn’t the easiest solution to implement in a Pre/K-12 environment. Thanks anyways Jaime :)

Anyhow, we have a decent enough solution up and running, and I wanted to share in case it’s useful for your school as well. It’s not effortless, but it’s easy to maintain once it’s running.

1) Encourage people not to print

Jaime is onto something – there’s often not a reason to if you can keep a copy of the article/page/journal you’re reading online. For this purpose, I’d strongly recommend showing everyone how to Print to Google Drive from ChromeOS, which renders a PDF of whatever you’re looking at, fresh off the virtual printer, in your (or your students’) Drive. Alternatively, I would strongly recommend deploying the Save to Google Drive Chrome extension to all Chrome and Chromebook users in your domain, since it allows right-click-to-save-to-Drive functionality to grab images, whole pages, or my favorite, Gmail attachments (right click, save to Drive, and presto).

2) Set up a dedicated Cloud Print user

Create a dummy user (something like cloudprint@yourdomain.com).

3) Install printers on a server

Here’s the part where you need hardware. It doesn’t have to be a server, but it should be a computer that is always on, somewhat beefy, and ideally would be a Windows Server 2008 R2 server, but any Windows 7 or even (ulp) Vista or XP box or VM will do. Make sure that this computer will always be running, and will restart and restore services after a reboot, and that it can see all of the printers you want to give your Chromebooks access to on your network(s) – this is why servers are ideal, since they can usually see all networks/VLANs. Find and install the printer drivers (be mindful of 32- vs. 64-bit drivers, etc) and make sure you can actually print to all the printers from this server/Windows computer.

4) Install Chrome and the Google Cloud Print Service

Install Chrome, and then sign into Chrome as the cloudprint@yourdomain.com user you made previously. Now, download and install this piece of software from Google on the Windows machine/server. Note that if you visit this link on a Mac or Linux, you won’t see the download link – only appears on Windows machines :/ (of course you can spoof the user agent). Run through the setup, then sign into Cloud Print in Chrome (the last step of the install process) and have it add your local printers to Cloud Print. You should see all of your installed printers (the ones you set up on the server/computer) available in cloud print.

5) Share ‘em! 

You could share these all with individual users, however this puts a burden on your users. What we’ve done is create a Google group (cloudprinters@yourdomain.com) that contains all active users in our domain as members (we add via GAM, but you can use the “All users in domain” object in Google Apps admin too I believe) in addition to one or two domain admins as owners of the group. Here’s why: when you share with a group, the owner can accept/add the Cloud Printers on behalf of all of the members of the group. That is, your domain admin or head teacher can add the cloud printer you’ve selected for all students in a class/grade/school/district; they will automatically show up in Chrome and ChromeOS on a Chromebook without you ever having to have the student or user manually add them for themselves. Share the printers with the group (or groups, see below) you’ve created, have the group owner accept on behalf of the group, and next time any group member goes to print in Chrome they’ll be there!

You can get really nimble with this as well – make one group for everyone and add the printers by the front door, make another group for students with their homeroom on the 9th floor and share only the nearby printers, make another group with only faculty and share the printers in the faculty lounge, etc etc. Go bonkers.

So that’s it – it’s pretty flexible, reasonably stable now that the Cloud Print Service has been released (very recent and very necessary), and pretty zippy as well. We’re running a single-core Windows 2008 R2 Server VM with around 8GB of memory as our print server, but it’s also doing plenty of other jobs as well, so it’s not like too much muscle is needed.

Or you can buy the more fancy printers with the Cloud Print service baked in, but then you have to manage them individually.

Happy printing!

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One Comment

on “Printing in the Cloud: Chromebooks, Cloud Print and legacy printers
One Comment on “Printing in the Cloud: Chromebooks, Cloud Print and legacy printers
  1. JP,

    Thanks for posting this extremely helpful article! I think Google does a really lousy job with their documentation on setting this up for a classroom environment. And that’s just crazy considering that Chromebooks must be selling a lot better in schools than they do for individual users…

    I just wanted to share with one thing — I tried to set up a group containing “everyone in the domain” as you suggested (but not using GAM) and it didn’t work. I think the problem may be (?) that there is no designated owner for that group and therefore no one gets the prompt to allow everyone in the group to use the shared printer. When I used a regular Google group the group owner was sent an email to allow if for everyone in the group and once that was done the share worked fine.

    I think it might be worth emphasizing that the authorization step is critical — I, at least, naively assumed that once a printer is shared with a group, it automatically shows up for all of its members, so I had to figure out that
    a) there has to be some kind of authorization of the share (by the owner of the group or the individual recipient), and
    b) the use is then prompted to add the printer.

    Being able to have a group owner take care of the authorization is critical for us, since our current Chromebook users don’t have email. I also noticed another weird thing, which is that if I was added individually to a printer share, I would be prompted to agree to it when going into my Chrome Cloud Print settings. But this would happen in Chrome on a regular computer but it would not happen on the Chromebook.

    Anyway, thanks again for your help in leading me out of the Cloud Print maze! -Joe

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