The USB Toll


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In 1962, a group of brilliant engineers have postulated the RS232 serial communications protocol, and until 1998 everybody worked with this communications channel very well. It was present on all PCs, until recently. Today, if you will check the newest models of computers on sale, you are going to discover more than half of the tower/desktop PCs do not have the serial RS232 connector (DB 9), and for certain no laptops have it. This is due to a group of only seven companies: they have figured out they can easily milk more money from users and developers, if they force the implementation of a “better" alternative to the old RS232.

Things are this way. A communications channel should be just what it is: a simple hardware communications channel. Each software routine or hardware module should be capable of accessing the communications channel easily, just by configuring it, and this is exactly the case of the RS232 protocol. Since 1962 millions of applications have been written based on RS232 serial communications, and some of them are technical, unique and very expensive. According to the most basic rule in the digital world, which says “backwards compatibility", it was logic and natural that RS232 was going to be upgraded to higher speeds, and smaller interface connectors. Unfortunately, logic does not sell very well these days.

The reverse of the good, decent logic says: “Why not make the serial communications channel very difficult to implement? Let’s make that communications channel driver so difficult to implement that people would be glad to pay money to have it already done. In addition, we could make this new serial communications channel strictly dependant, so that it will work only on one particular version of Operating System; for different OS versions, they will have to pay more money! Even more, if somebody is smart enough to develop this new serial communications channel driver, then that person or company will have to pay an annual subscription fee of, say, 10000 up to 20000 USD, in order to sell his or their products. "

“Wait a minute; we can also sell a unique code number with each new driver, named ‘Vendor’s Code’ so that only the big companies are going to afford getting one. The medium and small developers, and the public eventually, will have to pay for it!"

“Could we make it worse?"

“Yes, we can take out all ‘free of charge’ RS232 connectors, from all PCs, so that everybody will have to implement the ‘better’ communications channels. Ha, ha!"

“Can we make it even worse?"

“Yes, we do have many possibilities to make it worse, but we will implement them gradually, one at a time, so that our new source of wealth will never dry out!"

“Now, to add insult to the injury, I suggest naming the new communications protocol “universal": the Universal Serial Bus!"

“Ha, ha, ha!"

A communications channel it is just like a necessary tool: you grab it and work with it, then you put it back where you took it from. You do not need to work for 3 or 4 months to develop a “driver" for that channel-nobody did it with RS232. Today, implementing USB communications in a small project it is more demanding that the project itself, for most applications, and it is so expensive that small and medium developers cannot afford doing it: they have to buy USB drivers from “qualified-vendors"!

Sure, the qualified-vendors are also selling RS232-to-USB adaptors, but this is still lots of extra costs added to the totally free RS232 interface we had. However, what is really alarming is, the trend is to eliminate any trace of free communications channels, from all PCs! With little efforts today, the international community of developers and IEEE could get together and reinstate the old RS232 serial communications channel, based on an upgraded and (easily) backwards compatible new RS232 protocol. This is not very difficult and I offer my help.

Please note; besides from being intentionally very difficult to implement and costly, the USB protocol it is a proprietary one. That group of seven companies I mentioned has a license on it! This is not right, because PC architecture it is public domain, and same is the old, reliable, RS232 serial communications channel. They belong to all of us, and it is our right and duty to protect public domain from being stolen. If we do not defend our rights, now, rest assured we are going to see more parts of our PCs becoming the property of few groups of companies, one by one.

O G POPA is Professional Engineer in BC, Canada. His home site is Corollary Theorems at


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