Obituary for FireWire 1999-2008


The MacBook FireWire Debacle

It's not often I simply republish a post I find on someone else's blog or website, but this particular piece was one of the most well written entries I've ever read, and particularly fitting given my own opinions of the MacBook FireWire debacle over the last few days.

Kyle Buckley on the The Nillabyte Perspective has a fantastic article on Apple's lost interest in the FireWire standard with the new MacBooks, and what we can assume other future products. It's appropriately titled The FireWire Obituary, and while I probably could have summarised it in only a few lines, I feel as though it's just too well written to chop up.

If you're interested in FireWire's history, what it has been used in, and it's now uncertain future in consumer devices, take a gander.

FireWire was born on January 7, 1999 in San Francisco when Steve Jobs introduced the break-through serial interface at Macworld.

At the time FireWire was born, the two most used serial connections were SCSI and USB 1. USB connections were simple, but both SCSI and USB were extremely slow when transferring data. The birth of FireWire brought transfer rates up to 400 Mbps.

The incredibly fast and sustained transfer data rate of FireWire was instrumental in the boom of digital cameras and digital camcorders. The speedy and reliable FireWire allowed for transfers of uncompressed digital content with no loss of quality. For this reason alone, the FireWire standard had been adopted by nearly every professional in the audio/video industry.

The talents of FireWire were not witnessed only by professionals–consumers were also deeply touched by FireWire’s capabilities. Consumers quickly fell in love with the protocol and soon more and more computers shipped with the precocious FireWire included. Not only did consumers use FireWire for home video and audio, they also used it for external storage devices since it offered a much faster transfer rate.

The popularity of FireWire was soon threatened when, in April of 2000, USB 2.0 was born. The new version of USB boasted transfer rates up to 480 Mbps, 80 Mbps faster than FireWire. This speed was quickly proven to be manqué and not founded in reality. USB 2.0 transfer speeds rarely surpass 250 Mbps due to USB 2.0 being riddled with ADD and needing constant parent supervision from the CPU. FireWire on the other hand is well disciplined and requires no supervision and can therefore be as fast as it is designed to be.

FireWire continued to have success for years. On October 12, 2005, however, FireWire received a severe blow when Apple dropped FireWire support from its 5th generation iPod. It is not known what FireWire ever did to Steve Jobs to deserve such a shun. Appearing as if Apple was disowning FireWire, more manufactures began to focus more on USB connectivity. Digital camcorders began using different protocol, which results in an inferior compressed video format that can be used with USB 2.0. Several USB enabled external hard drives began to saturate the market and finding FireWire among the USB infestation became the “Where’s Waldo” of peripheral connection types.

Yesterday, October 14th 2008, Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple MacBook with no FireWire capabilities. Apple had been the largest supporter of FireWire, and this abandonment was the final nail in the coffin, thus sealing FireWire’s fate. During his keynote, Mr. Jobs failed to mention the death.

The death of FireWire is mourned by many audio/video professionals as well as consumers who firmly believe that USB 2.0 is a bastardization of peripheral connection types.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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