Now, I’m not particularly old. But I can remember when the very idea of having your own printer was the stuff of dreams. Printers were places you went to when you wanted to have something printed. And as for printing in colour, that was beyond dreaming.And then the first dot-matrix and daisy-wheel printers appeared, closely followed by laser printers and finally inkjets. And now everyone has a printer.
In the early days of printing, it was a bit of a nightmare. You had to have the right kind of printer, the right kind of software and the right kind of drivers to get anything sensible. And often the thing printed didn’t match the image on the screen, or was the wrong size or shape. Eventually things settled down. Standards were set and now you can buy a printer in the confidence that it will just plug in and work with your computer.
I reckon that 3D printing is following a similar trajectory. We are at the point where hardware is appearing and we need some standards so that it can be made available to the widest possible audience. My experience with the technology has left me thinking that a 3D printer is not yet an “appliance”, but that in the longer term the attractiveness of the technology means that pretty much everyone will want a device eventually.
That’s why I’m really pleased that Microsoft have announced support for 3D printing in Windows 8.1. This is really only a step on the road to widespread adoption, but it is a really good one.