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Microsoft and XP give USB 2.0 a break

In a softening of its earlier position, Microsoft says it will support USB 2.0 in its next version of Windows--but only in the form of add-on drivers.

In a softening of its earlier position, Microsoft has said it will support USB 2.0, a budding peripheral-connection standard, in its next version of Windows--but only in the form of add-on drivers.

The lack of native Windows support for USB 2.0, the most recent version of the universal serial bus connection technology, is troubling for the system's proponents, notably Intel, because it adds to the complications of using USB 2.0-based devices. Microsoft now says it will make available drivers that can be manually installed, but the drivers will mainly appeal to early adopters who are not afraid of installing them.

The software giant made the decision earlier this year not to support USB 2.0 natively in Windows XP, to be launched in October, because final hardware was not yet available for testing. Microsoft has said it is being considerably more cautious about what features are supported by Windows XP because it wants to ensure the OS's stability.

Earlier consumer releases of Windows, such as Windows 95 and 98, were notoriously crash-prone compared with competitors such as Unix, Linux or even Windows NT. Windows XP is based on Windows NT but is aimed at both consumers and high-end servers and workstations.

Microsoft said it will make the USB 2.0 drivers available through Windows Update, manufacturers or other channels.

USB 2.0, marketed as Hi-Speed USB, is a move by hardware makers and sellers--with Intel as the prime mover--to create an open-standard, high-speed interface as an alternative to IEEE 1394. Apple Computer created IEEE 1394, branded as FireWire by Apple and iLink by Sony, and charges license fees for its use.

If USB 2.0 were as widely adopted as USB 1.1, it would free Intel and others from extra fees, but FireWire is entrenched as a standard for high-speed devices like video cameras.

USB 2.0 was adopted last autumn by the USB Implementers Forum and claims to offer speeds of up to 40 times those of USB 1.1.

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.