I love standards

Published on 17 September 2008

I love standards... And you should too.

This time I'm not talking about web standards (although I love them too). I'm talking about hardware standards. When your hardware supports an industry standard, you can be sure your hardware will work on any OS, without having to install some crappy drivers.

Winmodems...

I remember the bad old days of winmodems. In the golden age of dial-up, at the end of the last century, instead of buying a regular modem that just does his job you could save a few bucks by buying a winmodem. The winmodem was a much simpler piece of hardware that was relying heavily on software to work. So you had to install the manufacturer's driver, and that driver was using your CPU and memory to perform various tasks normally done by the modem.

That was a disaster. Of course that was Windows only (hence the name) but even on Windows it didn't work quite well. Not only it was using the computer's resources (and people trying to save a few bucks on a modem were rarely the one with a fast computer) but the drivers were often buggy. And if you happen to upgrade you Windows (or purchased a new computer with a different version of Windows) well you had to wish the manufacturer provides a driver for your new system.

The only positive thing about winmodem is that we weren't forced to use them, because "real" modems existed before.

USB Mass Storage!

I remember how USB Mass Storage made my life better. USB stick, digital camera, mp3 player? Just plug it, and you get it recognized as an external disk. No need to check if it's compatible with Linux, Windows XP or Vista. It just works. No need to clutter your system with buggy drivers.

You're at a friend's place? Just plug it. Again, no need to install anything on your friend's machine.

And now, UVC!

This time it's about webcams. Webcams used to be a real PITA to configure on Linux, to the point that people didn't even try. Worse, when you could get them to work they were using proprietary compression algorithm (thank you Phillips) that would prevent any Open Source driver to use it to its full potential. Sure, your fancy new webcam would work, but only 320x200 at 5fps.

Recently, Mac Mini owners are in the same trouble because Apple is shipping all his other computer with an integrated camera, dropping support for iSight and causing a loss of interest in third party.

But now, we have the video counterpart of USB Mass Storage: USB Video Device Class! It's not really new because it has been finalized in 2005, but it's only starting to become mainstream today. We can thank Microsoft this time because UVC is required in order to get the Vista logo.

However... Most webcams only have UVC for very basic features and are acting as a "winmodem" for the rest: with software drivers. That's until now, because a few months ago Logitech released the Quickcam Vision Pro!

For some reason, their marketing people decided that (1) Windows users would prefer to pay 30 bucks less for a "winmodem" webcam (the Quickcam Pro 9000) and (2) Linux users don't exist or matter, so they called it a "Mac-only" webcam.

It's not a Mac-only webcam! It supports UVC at full resolution, and autofocus and light ajustment is done in hardware. So it works perfectly with any system, and I truly believe it's the best choice for any OS. For Linux users it's a no-brainer: it will work at its full potential as soon as you plug it. For Windows users, I believe it's worth 30$ to avoid the driver madness and get a future-proof camera.

Do you love hardware standards too?

A lot of Windows users will ignore hardware standards because they only see "supported on this system/not supported on that system". It will work on my computer, therefore it's good enough. And it's understandable because manufacturers usually don't explain the difference. A good way to know is to read if a driver is needed or not. When a manufacturer announces that you can use the device without installing any driver, that's generally a very good thing.

So, if you're a Windows user, why would you want to buy hardware based on a standard rather than one with drivers?

  • Easy installation: just plug it in. You can even plug it in an other computer and be set.
  • Drivers can be buggy, make your system slow, crash it.
  • You never know when you're going to fall in love with Linux or buy a Mac
  • You have no guanrantee that you'll have a driver for your next computer, equipped with the successor of Vista
Long life to hardware standards!
TAGS: Misc