Back to Basics: USB

At this point, you probably have about two dozen USB cables, most of them identical. Much of the mobile world has standardized on the MicroUSB cable to power mobile devices, and for those who still use external hard drives, printers and that sort of thing, USB cables are just the thing for your connecting needs.

USB wasn’t always with us. Before USB, everything had its own cable. Printers used gigantic Centronics cables, modems (yeah, people had those) used fancy serial cables, and mobile devices used… whatever the heck they wanted. It was a mess. Most of these cables and connectors were so big that they actually made laptops bigger, and some were so delicate that they broke easily.

Before USB, you had to know where your stuff was plugged in, and use a confusing array of acronyms like LPT1 and COM2 to connect everything properly. USB was designed to not only be faster and use smaller cables than its predecessors, but to be a lot smarter.

USB was initially designed in 1994, with the first applications in computers around 1998. One of the first big hits for USB was the original iMac, which is kind of funny considering that today, Apple’s phones are among the only holdouts to not use USB.

The best part of USB is that it continues to evolve, getting faster and using smaller connectors, but it’s designed to be backwards compatible — if you have an old USB mouse from the 1990s it will still work with the latest computer out there. Pretty cool.