Dis­cover the past, present and fu­ture of USB – the con­nec­tor that changed ev­ery­thing

Windows 7 Help & Advice - - NEWS -

There are, on av­er­age, 13 Uni­ver­sal Se­rial Bus (or USB) ports within 30 feet of you right now – amaz­ing. USB first ap­peared on PCs around 1996, and has done very well ever since. By the new cen­tury, it was ev­ery­where. USB ports are on cam­eras, cell phones, MP3 play­ers, print­ers, and in your car. Ev­ery­where. It has, in­deed, al­most be­come uni­ver­sal. Is there re­ally an av­er­age of 13 ports around you? No idea – we made that up, but it sounded be­liev­able, didn’t it?

Why has USB be­come so suc­cess­ful? The orig­i­nal tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions were rea­son­able for the pe­riod. Sock­ets and plugs are sim­ple and there­fore cheap. It in­cludes power – enough to drive a small de­vice or charge a larger one. You can plug things in and out at will, some­thing we’ve got so used to now we that for­get you used to have to re­boot a lot to get things work­ing. It has an­other vi­tal in­gre­di­ent of many suc­cess­ful stan­dards: no roy­alty pay­ments. If you want to use the of­fi­cial lo­gos on your gear, you must get it past the com­pli­ance test­ing, and pay a small fee. That’s it – you don’t have to pay a kick­back on ev­ery USB de­vice you sell. And, lastly, there is the mess of con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions that it re­placed.

In the early 1990s, most pe­riph­er­als had their own con­nec­tion. Your PC’s key­board had a chunky IBM AT five-pin plug, the mouse wanted a nine-pin se­rial port, the printer its own 25-pin par­al­lel port. The new-fan­gled mo­dem re­quired an RS-232 se­rial port. SCSI drives needed a SCSI port. IBM’s PS/2 key­board and mouse ports were neater, but were es­sen­tially just smaller ver­sions of the ex­ist­ing ports. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of stan­dards made cod­ing dif­fi­cult, and added lots of un­gainly sock­ets to PC moth­er­boards. If you de­vel­oped a new pe­riph­eral, where would you plug it in? The world was rapidly digi­tis­ing, and the av­er­age com­puter had no suit­able free ports to plug any­thing new into. Pe­riph­eral mak­ers of­ten re­sorted to ship­ping their de­vices with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing ex­pan­sion card to make sure they had the port that they needed.

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