The unlikely origins of USB, the port that changed everything #USB @FastCompany
Via Fast Company – 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.
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.
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Correction: You just plug it in, unplug and turn it over, unplug and turn it over, then it just works!