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The unlikely origins of USB, the port that changed everything


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#1 OFFLINE   securitybreach

securitybreach

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Posted 30 May 2019 - 07:41 PM

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In the olden days, plugging something into your computer—a mouse, a printer, a hard drive—required a zoo of cables. Maybe you needed a PS/2 connector or a serial port, the Apple Desktop Bus, or a DIN connector; maybe a parallel port or SCSI or Firewire cable. If you’ve never heard of those things, and if you have, thank USB. When it was first released in 1996, the idea was right there in the first phrase: Universal Serial Bus. And to be universal, it had to just work. “The technology that we were replacing, like serial ports, parallel ports, the mouse and keyboard ports, they all required a fair amount of software support, and any time you installed a device, it required multiple reboots and sometimes even opening the box,” says Ajay Bhatt, who retired from Intel in 2016. “Our goal was that when you get a device, you plug it in, and it works.”

It was at Intel in Oregon where engineers made it work, at Intel where they drummed up the support of an industry that was eager to make PCs easier to use and ship more of them. But it was an initial skeptic that first popularized the standard: in a shock to many geeks in 1998, the Steve Jobs-led Apple released the groundbreaking first iMac as a USB-only machine. The faster speeds of USB 2.0 gave way to new easy-to-use peripherals too, like the flash drive, which helped kill the floppy disk and the Zip drive and CD-Rs. What followed was a parade of stuff you could plug in: disco balls, head massagers, security keys, an infinity of mobile phone chargers. There are now by one count six billion USB devices in the world.

Now a new cable design, Type-C, is creeping in on the typical USB Type-A and Type-B ports on phones, tablets, computers, and other devices—and mercifully, unlike the old USB cable, it’s reversible. The next-generation USB4, coming later this year, will be capable of achieving speeds upwards of 40Gbps, which is over 3,000 times faster than the highest speeds of the very first USB. Bhatt couldn’t have imagined all of that when, as a young engineer at Intel in the early ’90s, he was simply trying to install a multimedia card. The rest is history, one that Joel Johnson plugged in to with some of the key players. Their reminiscences have been edited for clarity.  —The Ed.

“I knew that computers could be made easy to use”

Ajay Bhatt: It was probably in 1992—I had joined Intel in 1990—that I started looking at the PC. I always felt that they were too difficult to use. I based that on my observation with my family’s struggle with computers and doing a simple thing like printing a document.

I also struggled, even as a technologist. I struggled with upgrading my PC when the multimedia cards first started coming out. I looked at the architecture, and I thought, you know what? There are better ways of working with computers, and this is just too difficult....................

https://www.fastcomp...tory-of-the-usb
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