REDMOND, Wash. Microsoft Corp.'s next-generation operating system will be limited in its support of USB 2.0 when the initial release hits the shelves later this year. But Windows XP will find a way to support the bus standard, the software giant said this week.
Microsoft is considering a number of options for getting the USB 2.0 software on the market in tandem with the Windows XP release, said Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Division. "How that USB 2.0 software is shipped in the final version of XP, we don't know," he said. "It could be shipped and turned on by default if suddenly a wave of hardware hits Redmond. It could be that we ship it but turn it off by default. Or it could be that we choose to distribute it through Windows later."
"Microsoft is evaluating the best mechanism for making [USB 2.0] available to Windows XP users upon its release," said Jason Ziller, a technology-initiatives manager at Intel Corp. and president of the USB 2.0 Implementers Forum, who called recent reports that Microsoft was backing away from USB 2.0 erroneous.
As the USB 2.0 industry continues to test and ramp silicon, one of the final key ingredients on the way to full implementation is Microsoft's support. Reports claiming that Microsoft favors Apple's 1394 technology over the Universal Serial Bus, or that Windows XP will be entirely devoid of USB 2.0 support, have begun to surface but appear to be misleading. Both Microsoft and Intel have reaffirmed that USB 2.0 drivers are ready to go, and will be available when XP rolls out.
Stork said there wasn't enough USB 2.0 hardware available to test when the time came to choose the bus technologies XP would support. Without that kind of due diligence, he said, Microsoft was unwilling to revisit the confusion surrounding USB 1.0's birth.
"We need a valid cross-section of USB 2.0 hardware to test, and that means host silicon, hubs and end devices," Stork said. "USB 1.0 had a rough birthing process. We shipped our software before we had done much in the way of testing, and it turned out that the hardware didn't work the way some of our developers thought it would. We had to rev that quite a bit, and I'd say it didn't get stable until Windows 98 shipped."
Beta versions of Windows XP support USB 2.0, Stork said, but in a limited way. "In Beta 2 of XP, the software that we've developed for USB 2.0 is there," he said. "It's not turned on by default, so people who have USB 2.0 hardware can turn it on. It's documented how to do it."
Back in October 1999, when the USB 2.0 spec was released, the USB 2.0 Promoter Group predicted that 2.0 systems would be hitting the shelves in January of 2001. At that time, analysts pointed to the key ingredients the emerging bus standard would need to nail down in order to produce swift, broad industry adoption. Chief among them was Microsoft, which said at the time that software supporting USB 2.0 would be ready by the end of 2000.
Early on in the development of XP, Microsoft chose not to provide in-box support of USB 2.0, Intel's Ziller said but that doesn't mean the support isn't there. He maintained that Microsoft would release USB 2.0 software with Windows XP.
"Microsoft's OS decision-making process is engaged very early, and when the decision to support or not to support was done months ago, USB 2.0 was not as far along as it is today," Ziller said. "Microsoft has told the industry that its drivers are now code-complete and testing, and it plans to deliver them when Windows XP is released."
Recent reports that Windows XP will not support USB 2.0 are wrong, Ziller said. "On several occasions over the past few months, such as the Intel Developer Forum and the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft announced plans to deliver USB 2.0 driver support when Windows XP is released."
Indeed, said Ziller, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates reiterated the company's support for USB 2.0 in his keynote at WinHEC last month.
What form that support will take remains to be seen. How the lack of full "in-box" support for USB 2.0 will affect the market is also in question, though Stork seemed confident of a smooth rollout. "I think you'll see some systems using USB 2.0 later this year," he said. "It's a pretty clear migration path from 1.1. And, honestly, we don't think that we were the gating factor of USB 2.0."
Meanwhile, Irvine, Calif.-based IOGear recently began shipping what it claims is the industry's first USB 2.0-compliant PCI host card. The product, based on a USB 2.0 chip set from NEC Corp., comes with five ports (one internal and four external), and can transfer data up to 480 Mbits/second. The card lists for $89 and is available immediately.