Microsoft will not support a budding peripheral-connection standard in its forthcoming Windows XP operating system, instead favoring a technology developed by Apple Computer.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker said it will not include support for
USB 2.0, the latest iteration of the universal serial bus connection
technology, in Windows XP, its next-generation operating system expected
later this year. Microsoft will instead throw its support behind IEEE
1394, also known as FireWire, which was developed by Apple.
USB 2.0, which will succeed the current USB 1.1 standard, and FireWire are
means of connecting PCs to peripherals, such as printers and digital
camcorders, at high speed. USB 2.0 will deliver throughput of up to 480
megabits per second vs. FireWire's 400mbps or 12mbps for USB 1.1.
That's up to 40 times faster than USB 1.1.
Although the company should be able to adopt it fairly easily in the near future, Microsoft's position further accentuates the debate over USB
2.0 vs. FireWire. It also creates strange bedfellows: Apple and Microsoft on one side pitted against USB 2.0's major backers on the other--Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lucent Technologies and others.
Microsoft, too, is a founding member of the USB
Microsoft's decision slams USB 2.0 at an important juncture in its
development, a move that could keep the connectivity standard from finding a firm
footing in mainstream computing, said IDC
analyst Roger Kay.
"The longer (USB 2.0) is delayed, the more traction FireWire gets," Kay said.
"USB 2.0 on paper is great, but the lack of real USB is going to give
FireWire time to entrench itself for those high-bandwidth types of
applications, such as video."
USB 2.0 becomes the second major technology not supported in Windows XP. Last week, Microsoft said it will
not add support for Bluetooth, a wireless connectivity standard, to Windows
As with Bluetooth, a lack of Microsoft support in the latest version of the
market-leading consumer operating system makes USB 2.0 adoption more onerous
for hardware manufacturers and software developers. The software giant won't
deliver a family of device drivers or other software to simplify how the
technology gets incorporated into Windows.
Microsoft refused to provide a product manager or executive to discuss its
USB 2.0 position, choosing instead to communicate through a press representative.
"USB 2.0 support will not be included in the (final) version of Windows
XP due to the fact that there is not a sufficient array of production-quality
devices to test against," she wrote in an e-mail. "Microsoft will not ship
support for a standard that they can't guarantee a great user experience
So far, USB 2.0 looks good as a concept, but little else, said Dataquest analyst Martin Reynolds.
If nothing else, Microsoft's "wise decision" proves that "USB 2.0 isn't
ready yet," Reynolds said. "We've had demonstrations of proof of concepts, but
without a plethora of products out in the marketplace it is difficult to
gauge it. At this point, it doesn't make a lot of sense for Microsoft to put
in a set of drivers that are not debugged and fully qualified."
USB has been wildly popular so far. But because of its slow speed, it has been relegated to hooking up supporting-role PC devices: less-demanding mice, speakers and other low-bandwidth peripherals.
FireWire, by contrast, is an attractive alternative for connecting digital
camcorders, scanners and similar high-bandwidth devices to PCs. Apple and
Sony offer it on virtually every PC or notebook they sell.
The speedy USB 2.0, building on USB 1.1's huge acceptance, was expected to be a major
challenger to FireWire. USB is built into 99 percent of PCs sold today,
according to market researcher Cahners
Cahners predicts that by 2004, there will be 750 million
USB-equipped PCs and peripherals in use vs. 112 million with
FireWire is the standard for connecting digital camcorders to PCs, and
storage maker Maxtor, among others, has made FireWire its preferred
choice for external hard drives.
While putting the brakes on USB 2.0, Microsoft has extended FireWire support
in Windows XP beyond that found in any earlier version of the operating system. Windows
XP, for example, automatically treats a FireWire card as a network and as a peripheral connectivity device.
Microsoft also fine-tuned how Windows XP attaches to and maximizes the
multimedia capabilities of FireWire-equipped digital camcorders and similar
With Windows XP supporting FireWire and its unique capabilities, such as
networking, Kay predicted the connectivity option would eventually become
standard fare on many PCs. While PC makers had resisted FireWire because of
the expense of adding another port to a system, many have aggressively
embraced the connectivity standard over the last six months.
Besides long-standing support from Apple and Sony, Compaq, Dell and Gateway
widely offer FireWire, with the latter two PC makers adding the connectivity
option to some portables as well as desktops.
"It's going to get harder and harder to ask, 'Why not FireWire?' if USB 2.0
gets further delayed," Kay said. "You need that kind of high-speed access."
So when USB 2.0?
The Microsoft representative would not say when the company plans to offer USB
2.0 with Windows XP. Microsoft "recognizes the importance of USB 2.0 as a newly
emerging standard and is evaluating the best mechanism for making it
available to Windows XP users after the initial release," the representative wrote in an
But MicroDesign Resources analyst Peter Glaskowsky believes Microsoft will
be able to add USB 2.0 support to Windows XP fairly easily. "The vast
majority of code is already in the (operating system), so all that is really
needed are new drivers," he said.
For now, consumers will have to rely on companies supplying the USB 2.0
components that go into PCs to supply the drivers. But even some of them
don't have a clear timetable for Windows XP support.
If or when Microsoft chooses to support USB 2.0 is not so important as why
not now, Reynolds said.
"It's the same thing with Bluetooth. That hardware isn't ready either," he
The message is clear, said Kay. Going forward, Microsoft is going to be more
picky about the kinds of technologies supported in Windows, "even if it is
something they back."
USB hasn’t always been kind to Microsoft in the past, either. One of Chairman Bill Gate's most embarrassing public moments came during his keynote speech at the spring Comdex trade show in Chicago three years ago, when he was demonstrating USB support in Windows 98. After plugging a USB scanner into a test PC, the system promptly crashed while displaying the familiar "blue screen of death" error message, a moment replayed on TV news shows for days.
News.com's Richard Shim and David Becker contributed to this report.