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USB 1.1 v. USB 2: sneaky bastards

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posted on Jun, 19 2003 @ 01:08 AM

The USB forum pulls a fast one

Forum changes name from USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 _ and gets away with it


The computer industry needs trust on both sides. Trust, so that the Business Software Association knows that the public is not making naughty copies of software. Trust, so that the consumer knows that everything is as described.

The BSA uses the law to descend on small businesses and make them settle for substantial funds if they have too many copies of some software. Thus proving once again to all small businesses that they are safer to go with Linux. There may be better ways of building up mutual trust.

On the other side of the equation, industry associations make sure the consumer is not confused by the emerging technology.

Regard, then, with amazement, the peculiar case of the USB Implementation Forum.

USB was agreed to as a standard by Microsoft, Compaq and the usual suspects back in the 90s and a standard was issued in 1998. This was called USB 1.0 and then modified to USB 1.1.

It was excellent but slow, especially when compared with Firewire, the competition provided by Apple. So slow that at 12 Mbps it would not easily allow the downloading of video images from a camcorder to a PC. But fast enough so that all computers sold after 1999 pretty much were sold with USB 1.1 ports and most peripherals could be connected in that way.

But speed was a problem and so a faster standard was agreed and this was called _ pretty logical this _ USB 2.0. It was nearly as fast as Firewire at 480Mbps, and it was the way forward.

In fact, it will be a rare PC that goes on sale after the end of this year without USB 2.0. It is backwards compatible so no USB device is rendered out-of-date.

Good. Indeed, excellent.

At the end of last year the USB Implementation Forum met _ Microsoft is on the board of directors while the chairman/president is Jason Ziller of Intel _ and decided that the matter was perhaps too clear, too transparent to the customer. Rotten customers were asking what version USB was installed on a machine and if it was USB 1.1 they thought it inferior to USB 2.

The Forum came up with a clever way of dealing with this.

In December it announced that henceforth USB 1.1 would be called USB 2 and USB 2 would continue to be called USB 2.

To help the public grasp this subtle distinction USB 2, which was the old USB 1.1, would have ``Full Speed'' added to its title and USB 2, which was USB 2, would have ``Hi-Speed'' added.

Not only did the consumers not get the subtle beauty and usefulness of this change. Neither did the retailers.

They, unstudied clods that they are, thought that if a device said USB 2 they could sell it as being to the old USB 2 standard. In their ignorance they did not realise that USB 2 could be USB 1.1 or USB 2 depending.

Even the manufacturers were fooled at some levels.

Sony and Toshiba issued laptops with USB 2 on them when they were the USB 2 that was the USB 1.1. Many peripherals were sold in the same way. The help desks did not understand the difference.

The USB Implementation Forum refuses to comment in any way on this contentious matter. But someone has plainly pointed out to them that these actions are possibly illegal and they could be charged with misrepresentation. This is certainly true under the laws of the European Union.

Now USB has put on its web site _ _ a statement that states: ``The correct nomenclature for high-speed USB products is ``Hi-Speed USB.'' The correct nomenclature for low or Full-speed USB products is simply ``USB''. And in the FAQ section it states: ``High speed USB products have a design data rate of 480 Mb/s. Full speed USB devices signal at 12Mb/s.''

Trust. It is a lovely thing when you get it on both sides.


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