Microsoft Corp. this week said it will make available a universal serial bus (USB) 2.0 software driver for users looking to add the upgraded peripheral interface to their Windows XP operating systems.
Windows XP, which is scheduled for an October release, will not support the new interface natively because the specification was not finalized in time.
Microsoft's announcement that it will enable a software upgrade to support USB 2.0 is important for OEMs and suppliers that have invested several years in advancing the standard.
The initial version of the USB standard has become pervasive in computer peripherals, with about 98% of all scanners sold in the United States in March featuring the interface, according to NPD Intelect (formerly PC Data Inc.), Reston, Va.
"If Microsoft doesn't adopt support for 2.0, it's not going anywhere," said Trevor Yancey, an analyst at IC Insights Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz. "The difficulty is meeting all the specifications and making sure the signal that your peripheral sends out can be read by the computer."
The new interface standard was adopted last fall by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), an industry group with a vested interest in the technology. Marketed by the association as Hi-Speed USB, the technology claims to offer speeds 40 times faster than USB 1.1.
USB 2.0 will not be shipped with initial versions of XP because there aren't enough production-quality devices that conform to the standard to test against, Microsoft said in a prepared statement.
During a USB-IF conference last week in Beverly Hills, Calif., Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft Windows Hardware Strategy, demonstrated how a software driver would be used with Windows XP.
The company said it's exploring various methods, including OEM channels and Windows Update, to make the drivers available when XP is launched.
"Microsoft has been working closely with us, actually for the last year, on driver development. The driver support for USB 2.0 is in the refinement and testing phase now," said Jason Ziller, manager of technology initiatives at Santa Clara-based Intel Corp. and chairman of the USB event.
A Microsoft representative serves on the USB-IF board of directors along with executives from Intel, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies, NEC, and Philips Electronics. The new USB standard will initially attract the interest of high-end peripheral users, said Bert McComas, an analyst at InQuest Market Research, Gilbert, Ariz.
"Those users are typically not afraid of loading drivers," McComas said. "Most of the market who would like to have [USB 2.0] will be able to figure out how to get it."