What­ever hap­pened to FireWire?

Windows 7 Help & Advice - - FEATURE -

USB’s main ri­val in the early years was FireWire. In 1987, Ap­ple, IBM, and oth­ers started work­ing to­gether on a new high-speed in­ter­face. By 1995, it was ready, and it was some­thing of a tri­umph. FireWire – or IEEE 1394, as it is of­fi­cially known – could man­age 400Mb/s in both di­rec­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ously, sup­ply up to 1.5A at 30V, and daisy chain up to 63 hotswap­pable de­vices. Ap­ple added it to its Macs. Sony used it on its first gen­er­a­tion of semi-pro dig­i­tal video cam­eras. Mi­crosoft and In­tel took an in­ter­est. It looked as though it was go­ing to be a thing.

On the cusp of suc­cess, the wheels started to fall off. The col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort had also pro­duced 261 patents across 10 com­pa­nies. Ap­ple de­cided it wanted a $1 per port roy­alty pay­ment. A fuss was made, and even­tu­ally the cost was dropped to 25 cents, which was to be dis­trib­uted to all par­ties. The dam­age was done, though. In­tel pulled out in a huff, and added USB sup­port to its mother­board chipsets, rather than FireWire. USB had reached ver­sion 2.0 by this point, and the speed dif­fer­ence had eroded. Mother­board man­u­fac­tur­ers could add USB at very lit­tle cost, while sup­port­ing FireWire meant adding an ex­tra con­troller chip and pay­ing roy­al­ties. Most didn’t bother. Pe­riph­er­als went with USB, and that was that.

Faster ver­sions – FireWire 400 and 800 – couldn’t save it. In 2008, Ap­ple started drop­ping it from new Macs; 2012 saw the last FireWire Ap­ple prod­uct.

There were other is­sues that didn’t help: dif­fer­ent non­com­pat­i­ble ca­bles for each it­er­a­tion, and con­fus­ing names (Sony called its im­ple­men­ta­tion iLink, for ex­am­ple). FireWire sur­vives here and there, mostly in dig­i­tal video, but as a

main­stream PC tech­nol­ogy, it is dead. Roy­alty pay­ments can make you a for­tune – just ask IBM. How­ever, they are al­ways re­sented. If the suc­cess of a prod­uct is in the hands of oth­ers, then ask­ing for sub­stan­tial roy­alty pay­ments is also ask­ing for trou­ble.

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