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Apple To Eliminate Printer Drivers

Apple has filed two patent applications that describe an approach as well as file formats and APIs to eliminate the printer driver as a requirement for users to access a printer and print documents. Software drivers have been one of the big inconveniences in mainstream computing. USB and Windows 98 began to turn the driver installation process from a considerable source of user frustration into what many perceive to be merely an annoyance today, but the original idea of the printer driver is still a barrier that prevents us from accessing printers from new types of devices, such as smartphones. Google has taken a first step to eliminate the printer driver with cloud print in Chrome and Chrome OS, but it is Apple that is taking a much broader approach with two patent filings that could lead the way to a largely driverless-world, at least as far as printing is concerned. If Apple has its way, there will be three ways to access a printer in the future: The first will be via a conventional software driver. The second will be via a cloud service and the third will be via a driverless access method that supports “universal” printing from any type device. The cloud-printing idea has two possible versions – a device can either print directly to the cloud and a printer or can send the data to the cloud, which returns a supported data format for a print job, which is then sent to a printer. Apple believes that wireless printing or “walk-up printing” is especially useful when a printer needs to be used only once or twice and a complex process of finding and installing a printer driver is not convenient.The first patent filed by Apple outlines the driver-less printing process as discovering a universal printer via a discovery protocol such as Bonjour, the use of a network printing protocol such as IPP  as well as PostScript Printer Description (PPD) file capability. The three components can be implemented via one or more APIs that enable any application to access a printer without the need for an additional driver, Apple said. The network connection could be established via different types of network connections, such as Bluetooth, 3G/4G, Wi-Fi 802.11, 802.15 or “any” peer-to-peer wireless or wired “networking technology.” The process is described as: “During the printing process, [a] mobile device initially makes contact with printer through a discovery protocol as is described in more detail below. Next, after [the] printer is identified and selected, there are a number of ways that printing can be accomplished. If [the] mobile device possesses a driver for [the] printer, or if [the] printer supports driverless printing, [the] mobile device can use the driver or the driverless printing technique to generate printer data for a print job and can send the printer data directly to [the] printer. […] (Note that the term “driverless printing” refers to a printing technique which operates without the need for printer-specific software on a computing device. Instead, the computing device queries a printer to obtain capability information for the printer (including current-status information) and generates printer data for the printer based on the obtained printer capability information.) On the other hand, if a mobile device does not possess a driver for [the] printer and if [the] printer does not support driverless printing, mobile device can send the print job to a cloud. Next, one or more servers within cloud can process the print job to generate printer data and can send the printer data directly to [the] printer. Alternatively, [a] cloud can return the printer data to mobile device, so that mobile device can forward the printer data to [the] printer.” A second patent focuses on driverless printing data formats which include a new document-format-preferred key, “which enables the printer to specify a ‘preferred’ document format out of all of the document formats that are supported by the printer.” Apple also envisions a new “URF-supported key”, which is added to Bonjour as well as to the transport protocol “as a new printer description attribute for the IPP protocol.” The URF-supported key would be used to provide printer configuration data, such as supported bit depths, maximum copies, supported duplex printing, specific finishings such as stapling, media types and others. Apple believes that this interface could be supported on the client side via an independent bitmap container that may be used as a Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) subtype. A message sent to the printer would include the attributes of bit depth,  color space, duplex mode, print quality, media type, input slot, output bin, number of copies, one or more finishings, width, height and resolution. The idea of driverless printing is long overdue and has become somewhat obvious with the emergence of smartphones and tablets. It is not a question if this technology is coming, it is a question of when

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