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The Great Tech Call-'Em-Like-You-See-'Em Contest Winners

Our contestants wowed us with their technical brilliance, their biting wit, and their literary erudition. Well, okay — we got some really great essays. Here are the winners.
Second Prize Winner: Dale Evanchak
From: Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Category: The Hardware Hall Of Fame
Prize: X1 Desktop Search, Outlook + Lotus Notes Edition ($130 value)

USB: The Universal Savior Bus
In August, 1995, Microsoft introduced its new flagship OS, generically titled Windows 95. Despite its generic name, the new OS offered improvements on a monumental scale. We saw the introduction of Plug-and-Play, which in the beginning more resembled Plug-and-Pray, but was a huge step toward the hardware integration Microsoft promised and we all had hoped for.

But despite the hardware-aware OS, we were still challenged with numerous devices, scanners, printers, those new-fangled webcams, etc., running independently through their own proprietary (sometimes fixed) cable that required its own dedicated port, usually serial, on the back of our PCs. If we were lucky, our scanner had a parallel pass-through port built in. Otherwise it was a discouraging task to unplug your printer or scanner every time you wanted to use the other.

While Microsoft was on the right path to connecting all of our favorite devices to our PCs, the actual hardware seemed a bit out of touch.

Our savior came in the form of a Universal Serial Bus (USB). USB brought in a standard for connecting our disparate devices, and also provided a means for sharing a single PC port with a multitude of hardware. Our printers, scanners, digital cameras, webcams, gaming controllers, and backup devices quickly adopted the new connection standard.

You can't go to a computer store now and find a device that doesn't support USB in some capacity.

It wasn't long before hardware manufacturers recognized the potential of USB, and began outfitting everything imaginable with a USB connection, and after a few short years of proving itself to the computing world, the standard was ratified and the new USB 2.0 was born. Faster data transfer speeds prompted a slew of new hardware — such as removable media, external hard drives, multimedia devices, MP3 players, pocket PCs (not to be confused with handhelds), NICs, mice, keyboards, and camcorders, to name a few — which were specifically designed to take advantage of the USB 1.1/2.0 standard.

With the backing of so many hardware manufacturers, Plug-and-Play became what it was always intended to be. No more shutting down the PC to connect certain types of hardware. No more constant switching of devices sharing the same dedicated port. Hot swappable devices with self-activating device drivers are now commonplace. You can't go to a computer store now and find a device that doesn't support USB in some capacity. Try finding a PC, or an MC for that matter, that doesn't have a USB port. You'll likely be in awe of the relic before you if you do.

A technological marvel developed, not by a single corporation or research team, but by a conglomeration of industry leaders, businesses that required a more efficient means of getting their work done, and the public at large who demanded the interoperability of the numerous toys in their treasure chest.

No single piece of hardware technology has catapulted us into the 21st century as much as the now-ubiquitous USB.

More Info:
TechEncyclopedia: USB
Wikipedia: Universal Serial Bus