Sunday, May 17, 2009

How Apple Saved USB

It was June 2, 1999 in the Regency Ballroom of the San Jose Fairmont Hotel and Jon Rubinstein of Apple Computer was delivering the keynote speech at the 3rd Annual 1394 Developers Conference.  Rubinstein was lighting up the audience with examples of the success of FireWire.  70% of all camcorders (all camcorders) sold in Japan had FireWire, a dozen new Apple products with FireWire, 25 new products announced at MacWorld by other suppliers, new DV devices coming into the market every week and Walt Mossberger of the Wall Street Journal was heaping praise on FireWire. 

Rubinstein started to list the problems being encountered with USB 2.0 (“a compatibility nightmare”) when he made a statement which caused a mixture of incredulity, dismay, and some mixed delight.  Apple Computer had done what Intel could not do.  With the launch of the iMac in August of 1998, Apple saved USB.

Intel employees in the crowd started to snicker and some complained.  After the event, one of them made his way up to the stage to complain that Rubinstein’s comments were outlandish.  Two years later, that same Intel employee admitted privately that Rubinstein was accurate.  USB had been deployed in millions of computers but not a single peripheral device was launched until the first iMac.  USB was the only peripheral interface on the original iMac.  This broke the “chicken-egg” problem and opened the floodgate for other USB devices.

The USB problem had been so bad, that one Senior Fellow a Compaq Computer used to remark cynically that his day job was devoted entirely to debugging that port on the computer with nothing connected to it.  Only recently has it been revealed that Intel was very close to scrubbing the USB project as a complete failure until the release of the iMac.  Apple truly did save USB.  

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

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