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Patents Printer Software Apple

Patent Applications Hint Apple Wants To Eliminate Printer Drivers 323

Posted by timothy
from the from-anywhere-is-a-nice-ideal dept.
An anonymous reader writes "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. If the company 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."
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Patent Applications Hint Apple Wants To Eliminate Printer Drivers

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  • postscript (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PineGreen (446635) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:12PM (#37081314) Homepage

    Wasn't postscript supposed to solve these problems 20 years ago?

    • Re:postscript (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:16PM (#37081338) Homepage

      And it did a great job. Aren't the patents on PostScript expired by now? And the microprocessor and memory needed to run it is now dirt cheap.

      Years ago getting printers to work on Linux was a major pain, and often the output didn't look that great. But if you had a postscript printer, it was a 3 second setup. Quite a bit like configuring a real SoundBlaster for Linux compared to some no-name 3rd party piece of junk.

      • Re:postscript (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:57PM (#37081558)

        Well patents expiring helped a lot.

        But in reality, virtually every postscript printer came with a PPD, and that PPD was all you ever needed to get a postscript printer running on linux. A PPD file is non OS specific.

        But given Apple's overly litigagatory stance on any thing they (claim to) develop, I just don't see any of their suggestions getting accepted.
        I can't see anyone opening themselves up for that kind of lawsuit until or unless Apple puts it all under the GPL or some other free license.

        Postscript is free and everybody uses it. It pretty much renders page preparation a non issue, because virtually all postscript printers will use the default PPD in a pinch, albeit with somewhat more limited capabilities. Printers do have different capabilities and you must make allowance for that, but postscript handled that very nicely.

    • by EyelessFade (618151) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:24PM (#37081390) Homepage
      and later pdf printers.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:49PM (#37081524) Journal
      Postscript works fine if all you want to do is print, but the device specific drivers allow you to check on the ink levels, choose the paper tray, and whatever other special feature the printer-maker thinks will be useful.
      • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:39PM (#37082010)

        Not worth it.

        As an add on it isn't that bad, but if you require drivers to print then it's a huge step backwards. One of the reasons I went for the Mac version of my Laserjet was because FreeBSD was a lot easier to set up with a postscript printer. Printer companies don't typically release drivers for all possible platforms and Postscript was a god send for those not using a supported OS.

        Sure it's nice to be able to check levels and all that, but it's hardly essential, and not worth giving up the ability to use the printer on whatever OS one wants to use.

  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:13PM (#37081322) Homepage
    So long as they sit on the patent and allow for a free-for-all licensing, this could prove to be wonderful. I never understood the need for 50 million printer drivers when the printer is now a computer-on-a-chip.
    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <<taiki> <at> <cox.net>> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:17PM (#37081352)

      what i never understood was why was there never wide spread support for the USB printer class. I mean, HID did wonders for joypads and all sorts of other input devices. Why did printer vendors fore go sanity with their software support?

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:24PM (#37081388)
      This might be one of those patents that a company like Apple files for defense purposes especially with their CUPS and Bonjour work
      • Re:mmmm (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:06PM (#37081598)

        This might be one of those patents that a company like Apple files for defense purposes especially with their CUPS and Bonjour work

        THEIR CUPS?

        Michael Sweet, who owns Easy Software Products, started developing CUPS in 1997. The first public betas appeared in 1999. The original design of CUPS used the LPD protocol, but due to limitations in LPD and vendor incompatibilities, the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) was chosen instead. CUPS was quickly adopted as the default printing system for several Linux distributions, including Red Hat Linux.[citation needed] In March 2002, Apple Inc. adopted CUPS as the printing system for Mac OS X 10.2. In February 2007, Apple Inc. hired chief developer Michael Sweet and purchased the CUPS source code.

        Cups was Open Source for 6 years [wikipedia.org] before Apple supposedly bought it.

        • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:18PM (#37081652)
          Excuse me, but Apple didn't buy the Cups source code, which would be quite pointless because it is GPL licensed. Apple bought the copyright to the Cups source code. And not "supposedly" but really.
          • by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaCHEETAHil.com minus cat> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:28PM (#37081710) Homepage Journal

            Apple didn't buy the Cups source code [...] Apple bought the copyright to the Cups source code

            "Purchased a work of authorship" can mean one of two things: buying a copy or buying an assignment of the copyright. In context, the latter interpretation appeared obvious to me, especially right after "hired chief developer".

          • by icebike (68054) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:37PM (#37081754)

            Like I say, it was open source GPL in many different Linux distros for years before Apple got involved.
            Since it was GPL, just what did Apple buy? Oh, they bought the developer. Figuratively and Literally,
            and pretty much induced him to walk away from his own GPL declaration "Just for them"..

            Copyright 1997-2006 by Easy Software Products
            44141 AIRPORT VIEW DR STE 204
            HOLLYWOOD, MARYLAND 20636 USA
            Voice: +1.301.373.9600
            Email: cups-info@cups.org
            WWW: http://www.cups.org/ [cups.org]

            Introduction

            The Common UNIX Printing System^TM, ("CUPS^TM"), is provided under the
            GNU General Public License ("GPL") and GNU Library General Public
            License ("LGPL"), Version 2, with exceptions for Apple operating
            systems and the OpenSSL toolkit. A copy of the exceptions and licenses
            follow this introduction.

            The GNU LGPL applies to the CUPS and CUPS Imaging libraries located in
            the "cups" and "filter" subdirectories of the CUPS source distribution
            and in the "cups" include directory and library files in the binary
            distributions. The GNU GPL applies to the remainder of the CUPS
            distribution, including the "pdftops" filter which is based upon Xpdf.

            For those not familiar with the GNU GPL, the license basically allows
            you to:
            * Use the CUPS software at no charge.
            * Distribute verbatim copies of the software in source or binary
            form.
            * Sell verbatim copies of the software for a media fee, or sell
            support for the software.

            What this license does not allow you to do is make changes or add
            features to CUPS and then sell a binary distribution without source
            code. You must provide source for any changes or additions to the
            software, and all code must be provided under the GPL or LGPL as
            appropriate. The only exceptions to this are the portions of the CUPS
            software covered by the Apple operating system license exceptions
            outlined later in this license agreement.

            The GNU LGPL relaxes the "link-to" restriction, allowing you to develop
            applications that use the CUPS and CUPS Imaging libraries under other
            licenses and/or conditions as appropriate for your application, driver,
            or filter.

            License Exceptions

            In addition, as the copyright holder of CUPS, Easy Software Products

        • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:22PM (#37081676)

          Michael Sweet, who owns Easy Software Products,

          ...and works for Apple Inc. on printing and has his name as the first inventor on the patent in question.

        • by jo_ham (604554) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .999mahoj.> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:25PM (#37081698)

          "supposedly"

          What, is it not ok for the original owner of the code to sell it? I thought that was ok in the open source world, or is making money verboten?

          Apple sunk money and time into it because they appreciated its value, and the value of the guy who started it in the first place, in much the same way as they did with KHTML.

          Since they *did* buy the rights to the code, it is accurate to describe it as "theirs", although that doesn't mean "they did all the work".

    • by sjames (1099) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:27PM (#37081412) Homepage

      How else are they going to cram 600MB of shovelware down your throat?

      Of course, this isn't really driverless printing, it's just a matter of where the driver lives. Eventually, either the printer has a driver built in or the computer that talks to it does (or both).

      This will likely end up being yet another one true universal data format that will be demanded by a minority of software. As long as a patent hangs over it, it will not reach 100%.

  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <<taiki> <at> <cox.net>> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:13PM (#37081328)

    As we're all aware, one of the problems with the patent system is that patents don't always equal products. How many times has an Apple patent made the news with no product to show for it? How many people missed the iPhone because they weren't paying attention to the right patents?

    That being said, this is WAY more plausible given Apple's work with CUPS and AirPrint.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:41PM (#37082028)

      Patents shouldn't always equal products sometimes a valid patent requires technology that nobody can get to work at the present. However, there should be a requirement that you're using it or are in the process of bringing a product to market. Just filing for a patent does benefit the public as it's then available for use when the patent expires.

      The main problem is folks that file papers with no intention of turning it into a real product and who sue without even attempting to produce anything.

  • by SilverHatHacker (1381259) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:14PM (#37081332)
    So... Option 1: Use a conventional driver.
    Option 2: Send it to the cloud, which just basically uses someone else's driver.
    Option 3: Standardize all printers to communicate in exactly the same way, making a "one-size-fits-all" driver.
    I don't really see the "elimination" part here. Maybe a "simplification" at best.
    • by Firehed (942385) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:39PM (#37081470) Homepage

      PDF? Isn't that the general idea behind the "portable document format"? Send a PDF to the printer, call it a day. If they can print jpegs directly off memory cards that would seem like a relatively easy approach to a driverless system.

    • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:19PM (#37081656)

      Option 4: let printers say what formats they accept (PostScript, PDF, JPEG, rasters, etc.) and send them the most appropriate format for the particular print job. Read The Fine Patent Application (for which I'll post a link in a comment).

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:11PM (#37081902)

      While a standardization of features could make ti so you don't need a 3rd part driver for simple things, you still need a driver and you need a more complex one for full support.

      If you want to see an area where this has happened, look at audio on Windows. Microsoft laid out the specs for the Universal Audio Architecture. As the name implies, it is a set of audio standards. For Vista and later, to get the logo you need to have a sound card that complies with it to the extent that it can function with no drivers outside of the base UAA driver that comes with Windows.

      Works too, those Realtek HD chips that are so popular on motherboards just work as UAA devices right after install. These days, a good bit of after market cards do as well.

      However, for all that, Realtek still has drivers on their site. Why? Because the default UAA supports only a basic set of features. If you want support for everything, you have to get their driver.

      So it works and all that, and I'm not saying it is a bad idea to have standards such that you don't need additional drivers for basic support. But geeks at least do need to understand that there is still a driver, it is just one included with the OS, and that it is just basic support, you'll need custom stuff to fully support all features.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr AT mac DOT com> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:18PM (#37081356) Journal

    So, Apple's setting out to solve the print driver problem right when they're making tablets so popular that we don't need hard copy anymore.

    -jcr

    • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:39PM (#37081466)

      Paper is not one-product away from majorly dropping in popularity. It'll be around when we're buzzing planets in our flying saucers.

    • by bieber (998013) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:57PM (#37081556)

      right when they're making tablets so popular that we don't need hard copy anymore.

      Surely you jest. Even if tablets become absolutely, positively dirt cheap, they still won't be a proper replacement for paper documents.

      • Size. I can't fold up a tablet, put it in my pocket, and take it back out again when I need to look up a subway route. A tablet small enough to be pocketable is also going to be small enough that it will be a royal pain to read anything significant off of it. There's no way I can ever conceive of lugging a tablet around with me just going about everyday tasks, not so long as it has a readable surface large enough to be worthwhile.
      • Durability. If I drop a sheet of paper in water, or even let it go through a wash cycle it will still be readable afterwards. No such luck with electronics.
      • Archiving. Yes, digital archives are superior in almost every way, but for really important documents I want a paper backup that I can still access in case of a power outage.
      • Display. A lot of the things people print are meant to be displayed. This primarily applies to images, but it also goes for things like certificates. Why would I want to replace all the picture frames that just passively sit on my wall with tablets that would need to be powered, not to mention costing more?

      Easy distribution. I can very easily hand a person a paper copy of a document. With an electronic copy, we need some kind of digital device to accommodate the transfer, and we have to make sure the document is in some format that both of our devices understand. If you're face to face with another person and all you have are your (possibly different brand) tablets, sharing documents becomes a trickier problem.

      • by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaCHEETAHil.com minus cat> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:39PM (#37081768) Homepage Journal
        You make valid points, but some of them do have workarounds.

        There's no way I can ever conceive of lugging a tablet around with me just going about everyday tasks

        Let me guess: man who wouldn't be caught dead with "a purse". I have a bag for my netbook.

        for really important documents I want a paper backup that I can still access in case of a power outage.

        How long do you expect such outages to last?

        With an electronic copy, we need some kind of digital device to accommodate the transfer

        Such device could be a mobile phone. I'm under the impression that it has become customary to carry a mobile phone in case of needing to make an urgent call, such as car/bike trouble or notifying someone of one's impending arrival at the locked front door of a multiple-story apartment. The one wrinkle could be that one of the parties is a cheapskate like myself who carries a dumbphone because smartphone service is ten times as expensive as dumbphone service.

        and we have to make sure the document is in some format that both of our devices understand

        Apple iOS ships with a PDF reader, and several PDF readers are available for Android [the-digital-reader.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:19PM (#37081364)
  • never gonna happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by dltaylor (7510) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:23PM (#37081384)

    Nearly all consumers want CHEAP printers. That means that the translation from text/image to printer imaging codes is done in the computer, not the printer, which saves CPU power and memory in the printer. Look at the difference in price between the typical Windows printer and the Postscript ('specially color) printers. A Windows printer only has to buffer a few raster lines, using the processing power and memory of the host computer, while the Postscript printer has to buffer the entire page, since there could be a command at the end of the page that places something at the top.

    Add to this the insanity of any/all software and process patents and it is absolutely in the printer manufacturers' interest to tie the raster-defining codes into obscure and NDA-protected proprietary drivers to avoid tripping over some patent that says " a one bit in this field says put a green dot next on the page".

    • by RoFLKOPTr (1294290) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:39PM (#37081476)

      Nearly all consumers want CHEAP printers. That means that the translation from text/image to printer imaging codes is done in the computer, not the printer, which saves CPU power and memory in the printer. Look at the difference in price between the typical Windows printer and the Postscript ('specially color) printers. A Windows printer only has to buffer a few raster lines, using the processing power and memory of the host computer, while the Postscript printer has to buffer the entire page, since there could be a command at the end of the page that places something at the top.

      Add to this the insanity of any/all software and process patents and it is absolutely in the printer manufacturers' interest to tie the raster-defining codes into obscure and NDA-protected proprietary drivers to avoid tripping over some patent that says " a one bit in this field says put a green dot next on the page".

      You have a good point 10 years ago. Today, processors and memory are so cheap that you could build an entire computer into a printer and still sell it for $150. See also: netbooks, handheld gaming devices, mobile phones.

    • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:43PM (#37081494)

      I would consider the HP Color Laserjet 2025dn to be a cheap (for a duplex color laserjet) printer which supports HP's postscript 3 emulation.

    • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:59PM (#37081566)

      Nearly all consumers want CHEAP printers. That means that the translation from text/image to printer imaging codes is done in the computer, not the printer, which saves CPU power and memory in the printer.

      Which means that, to quote the patent, "the information indicates the printer can only support RF", where "RF" means "Raster Format", and therefore that "the system uses RF to send data to the printer".

    • by Salvo (8037) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:14PM (#37081626)

      Just about all Consumer Printers now support PictBridge, which is practically a Driverless Printing Protocol (or a common-driver Printing Protocol).

      HP's ePrint Printers already Behave similar to this, and most of HP's non-ePrint Printers support PCL3 too.

      The main reason Drivers are required for printers currently is to gain mindshare on users computer. Snow Leopard's excellent native Driver Support and Windows 7's Device Stage reduce the annoying Product Ads the User is exposed to. Nowadays, the only reason a user needs to know what brand of printer they are printing to is so they know where to find their documents.

      • by dltaylor (7510) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:20PM (#37081926)

        Apple's printer support is pathetic.

        A printer (Xerox Phaser 6100) which had a Tiger driver, and is still supported quite nicely in CUPS elsewhere is NOT supported in Snow Leopard or Lion. Her MacBook is the last Apple my wife gets to use, since she relies on me for support, and I'll never do another for her.

    • by Phrogman (80473) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:17PM (#37081644) Homepage

      I don't want a cheap printer, I want a printer that is cheap to operate. The cheaper the printer, the more the ink cartridges (or whatever) will cost you, the sooner it will break or be abandoned etc. I bought an Laserprinter years ago that would print something like 6000 pgs per laser cartridge. The carts cost $120 or so and the printer cost me $300 plus, but it was far cheaper than replacing the ink carts in a cheap printer continuously at $45-75 each (as with the current printer we have). The only reason I got rid of the old printer was that we bought a newer one that was colour. I would rather have the old one now mind you.

      Buying cheap printers and then spending more in the long run is for idiots.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:50PM (#37081806)

      Which would be important if:

      A) PS memory/processing requirements were large by modern standards. They aren't. In 1987 you needed server-class CPU and memory to render PostScript. Today you need a 1987 server-class CPU and memory to render PostScript -- i.e. a 10 MHz processor and 8 MB of RAM. Neither of which has any significant cost even when you're talking about sub-$100 consumer equipment.

      B) If writing and maintaining driver software was free. It's not. If you sold PS-capable printers you could write *no* software and be compatible with every Windows/MacOS/Linux installation from the last 15 years and probably for the next 15 as well. HP and the like are starting to coming around to this fact, and have at least started to consolidate their own print drivers, but it's still a lot more software work than tweaking a PPD file to note the correct number of paper trays.

  • by bradgoodman (964302) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:24PM (#37081394) Homepage
    Apple HAS eliminated printer drivers* - It's called AirPrint.

    * With iOS

    • by Salvo (8037) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:33PM (#37081732)

      PictBridge eliminated Drivers years ago. If it hadn't Camera Firmware would have been bloated and would have needed updating constantly as new Printers came available.

      HP ePrint (which AirPrint uses) is based on PCL5 which is Page Description Language like PostScript and PDF.
      Rendering a Word or Pages document to a ePrint Printer still requires a driver to convert the RAW GDI of Windows, the PDF of Mac OS X or the PS of Linux to PCL5.

      I may be corrected, but either all ePrint-compatible devices (iOS, WebOS) have native PDF-PCL5 drivers, creating the illusion that the printers are driverless or ePrint Printers can also receive native PDF code, resulting in a pure driverless printing system.

      That said, iOS renders non-PDF content as PDF's natively; The Word Document you see on your iPhone has already been converted to Display-PDF for the iPhone Screen. I assume WebOS devices behave the same, but would like clarification from anyone more familiar with the second-best Mobile OS.

    • by spire3661 (1038968) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:30PM (#37081964) Journal
      Just picked up a HP 1102w Wireless Laser B&W for $99. Works GREAT with AirPrint, ipad, Linux, OSX, Windows. Instant-on too, I was so happy with it i went out and bought one for the in-laws too.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @05:47PM (#37081510) Homepage Journal

    I don't know why the OS can't have a Printer superclass that apps all call with a single unified print API, but that the specific instance of attached printer overrides with a subclass implementing the same interface but in that printer's own ways. Printers are all USB, and can install their subclass when plugging in.

    Sure, that's a lot like a driver, but the users and programmers never notice anything but calling members of the Printer object. So the reasons for eliminating "drivers" are satisfied by doing it this way.

    • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:10PM (#37081612)

      Printers are all USB

      No, they're not. They might be networked printers; the patent makes references to IPP.

      So the reasons for eliminating "drivers" are satisfied by doing it this way.

      The reasons for eliminating drivers as listed in the patent are

      In practice, the wireless computing device may not be configured with the requisite driver software. In this case, installing the appropriate printer driver can be bothersome, especially if the user of the mobile computing device only intends to use the nearby printer once or twice. Also, mobile computing devices have limited storage space, which makes it impractical for them to store a large number of printer drivers.

      which I don't see addressed by this. (I'm not sure I believe the "limited storage space" bit, even for "mobile devices" that are "smart phones" rather than laptops.)

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:10PM (#37081608)
    it was a closed source printer driver that made Richard Stallman invent the GNU/FOSS software movement, if not for his nemesis GNU would never have been born...
  • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Saturday August 13, 2011 @06:21PM (#37081670)

    It's Patent Application 20110194140 ; here's the application [uspto.gov].

    And, yes, that's Michael "Mr. CUPS" Sweet in the Inventors list.

  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:02PM (#37081858) Journal
    Apple really wants to move the printer driver from the computer to the printer...
  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:05PM (#37081872)

    I say eff the cloud and everything about it. To me, it represents nothing more than a way to extract fees from you every month.

  • by saleenS281 (859657) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:28PM (#37081952) Homepage
    So they're going to eliminate printer drivers by using printer drivers? Excellent summary!
  • by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Saturday August 13, 2011 @07:29PM (#37081958)
    So if you're going to have to connect to the internet and send all of your data away, to have it reformatted and sent back, every time you want to print something then why not just connect to a printer driver website and and download a driver once, never to have this problem again? This doesn't seem to help any situation except that everything you print goes into the hands of a corporation briefly.

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