iPads – and tablets in general – are wonderful devices, offering a form factor that is simpler to use than a full computer, but more functional than a smartphone or iPod. That said, they have become – in many ways – the bane of school technology departments’ collective existence, largely due to the difficulty in managing them as we would a laptop. Whereas printers, wireless settings changes, and software can be easily deployed to laptops, the iPad’s iOS operating system is designed as a consumer-oriented operating system and does not allow this type of enterprise-level management.
Similarly, iPads weren’t designed to be used like traditional laptops in other ways. An iPad cannot view Flash websites, upload files in a website upload dialogue box, or easily connect to and use a printer. To get around this, Apple worked with a handful of printer manufacturers to introduce “AirPrint”-enabled printers, designed to work directly with an iPad. Unfortunately, these printers are all home-use models, and would not stand up to the demands of a small office, much less a school district.
Without the ability to use AirPrint-enabled printers, we are left to try several workarounds. The most promising seems to be a piece of software called PaperCut, which the district was already using to monitor district printers from a centralized print server. PaperCut also has the ability to allow iPads to print, using the following approach:
- PaperCut must be installed on a Mac server somewhere in the district, in addition to the Windows server it normally resides upon
- All iPads must have a PaperCut client application installed on them
- In an iPad app, the user would select “Send To” and then choose “PaperCut”, then open the “PaperCut” application to send the print job to the PaperCut server
- The Mac server renders the print job from the iPad, and then forwards it to the Windows PaperCut server, which sends the job to the printer
- The printer prints the iPad print job
I tried installing and getting this system working early in the year, but the software was still in early stages and had a number of bugs that I could not work around. I will be trying again with updated software to see if we can get this approach working, but in the meantime, there is no way to print directly from district iPads. As soon as this service is running, I’ll send an update out to ADM staff.
A non-ideal workaround for the time being is to click the button to send the iPad content as an email – this option should be available in any application that could send to a printer – and email the contents to a teacher who can then print the work from his/her laptop.