The best mobile printing options for large networks, small offices, and personal use
Soon after Apple released iOS 4.2 and its AirPrint zero-configuration printing protocol in fall 2010, small-time developers figured out how to add the protocol to Macs and PCs, so they could act as waystations between iOS devices and printers connected to your computer. Finally, people could use existing printers rather than buy one of the still-limited number of AirPrint-enabled models.
Today, what had started as hacks shared by individual developers have evolved into several commercial products that add the AirPrint protocol to your computer. This approach means no need to get hardware and find a location to plug it into a power sources and to your network. But you also can't print from an iOS device unless the computer is on and the AirPrint service is running. That's fine much of the time, but can be inconvenient in a home office setting where you may be using your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone long after you've turned off your computer.
The three apps I tested were Collobos's $20 FingerPrint for Macs and Windows PCs, Ecamm Networks' $20 Printopia for Macs only, and Netgear's Genie app, which comes with its nicely designed WNDR and R series of consumer-grade routers ($125 to $200) in Windows and Mac versions. In all three cases, they work with printers directly connected to your computer via a cable or indirectly through the network; if the computer sees them, so do these apps. Although they do the same thing, they work a bit differently from one another.
Collobos's FingerPrint installs as a service you can manage through its background application, which you can access from the OS X menu bar or from the Windows task bar. You can get a version for OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or later, or for Windows XP Service Pack 3 or later. The company also offers a time-limited, reduced-functionality trial version, so you can see if it works in your environment before paying for it.
When your computer starts up, so does the FingerPrint AirPrint service. In the background application, a list of printers attached to the current computer displays, and you select those you want to be visible to iOS devices. Click on a printer to see any configurable options for it, such as supported paper sizes, in the General pane. In FingerPrint, use the Security pane to set up user access restrictions for printers by associating any access control lists set up in your OS to them.
Once the FingerPrint service is running, iOS devices on the same network see the printers attached to your computer and can print to them through your computer, using its printer drivers. iOS's AirPrint service supports just basic printing options, such as number of copies and duplex printing, but FingerPrint supports even fewer. The duplex option, for example, doesn't appear, as it did for Printopia, Genie, the Lantronix xPrintServer appliances, and EFI's PrintMe Mobile.
FingerPrint also can "print" to JPEG or PDF files sent to your Mac or apps such as iPhoto, Dropbox, and Evernote.
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