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MultiSwitch, the First USB Sharing Hub

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the yours-mine-and-ours dept.

102

Iddo Genuth writes "A new extension to USB that will enable sharing of various USB peripherals between computers will be available early in 2007. The new MultiSwitch hub technology, developed by SMSC, allows the sharing of information and content from devices such as DVD players, cameras, printers, and scanners, and between laptops and desktops using a simple USB cable. Future hubs may also allow wireless sharing of peripherals."

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This Was Possible A While Ago (4, Interesting)

illectro (697914) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325692)

I remember a linux kernel module which would forward USB packets across the network to another machine which could access them like a virtual USB interface. It was kinda buggy and I don't think it ever made it into the main linux kernel, but it was a neat trick regardless, the guy who developed it told me he developed it after he was laid off and looking for work, but he got a job pretty quickly and stopped working on it.

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325740)

Plus I've seen USB cables that could link two computers, as with a laplink or a crossover ethernet cable.

But still, progress is nice I s'pose...

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

Slashcrap (869349) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325826)

Plus I've seen USB cables that could link two computers, as with a laplink or a crossover ethernet cable.

Which has nothing to do with the comment you're replying to since it's just a cable with a built-in host controller.

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

Bassman59 (519820) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326550)

Plus I've seen USB cables that could link two computers, as with a laplink or a crossover ethernet cable.

Which has nothing to do with the comment you're replying to since it's just a cable with a built-in host controller.

Not true; those laplink-style USB cables have a chip that bridges two devices. There's no host controller.

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17326198)

This is the link http://usbip.naist.jp/ [naist.jp] your looking for...

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

Swimport (1034164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326766)

Cant Windows do this if you share your,say usb hard drive, over your network?

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

ThatFunkyMunki (908716) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327500)

Yeah, but it's not an actual USB device, it's a CIFS share mounted as a drive.

Re:This Was Possible A While Ago (1)

piranha(jpl) (229201) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329886)

USB/IP is hot. If it worked with Xen, I'd be using it for my thin-clients (e.g. CD burning, etc.).

Finally (3, Funny)

KClaisse (1038258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325702)

Finally no more complicated CUPS setups for my printer!

How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (2, Insightful)

Programmer_Errant (1004370) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325742)

that cost me $14 at the time and supports switching to 4 different hosts?

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17325758)

No switch required?
All four can use it at the same time?

What will they call this new innovation? (1)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325942)

I have an idea...

How about "FIREWIRE!"

Re:What will they call this new innovation? (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338852)

When USB first came out, I refered to it as Universal Stupid Bus given that IEEE1394 could, and still can, do so much more. Frickin' Intel.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (3, Informative)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325980)

All four can use it at the same time?

If you had bothered to read the fine article, you would realize that four machines can't use the USB device at the same time with this, either.

From the article:
Q: What happens when two people try to use the same device at the same time from two different computers?

A: Keep in mind that USB provides a connecting technology and not a network. Since the USB MultiSwitch Hub is a standard USB 2.0 device, only one person can use a connected device at a time. For example, I plug in my MultiSwitch Hub-enabled laptop, share your printer and/or get what I need from an external USB hard drive and then, when you want it back, we switch the devices back to you. If we want to toggle back and forth, we can do that. But only one of us can access the desired USB device at a time.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (1)

Bastard of Subhumani (827601) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326386)

Fine though it is, it doesn't explain if this toggling is done with hardware or software. If it's hardware, Programmer_Errant's comment seems bang on the mark.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (2, Interesting)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328312)

My father has been running a USB switch that has software swithing for well over a year. This isn't new. I wouldn't by one because they require the PCs to be right next to each other, and you had to click on an icon to use the device. Too much trouble. What seems more interesting to me, and given how cheap ethernet chips are, would be to just make all of your devices ethernet devices. USB is great for mice, joysticks and memory sticks. Basically personal devices to be used right there and then. But, for things like hard drives, scanners and printers, it seems that it would be almost as simple design wise and is already designed for sharing.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (1)

Burz (138833) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330594)

I tend to agree. Switching USB devices between machines is easier.

Even Firewire has builtin multi-host support and daisy-chaining. I can plug my iBook into the back of my FW hard drive, and get access to both the LAN/Internet and the drive plus any other FW devices on the bus. I only have to dismount the drive on the desktop system in order for the iBook to be able to see the partitions.

Gigabit ethernet is also very nice between multiple computers and network drives, esp. if you need long cables.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (0, Offtopic)

alexhard (778254) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326974)

You must be new here...


PS. nice sig, I, too, suffered from vaginal dryness but have now "moisturised my situation"

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (1)

ewhenn (647989) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326046)

This allows access to the device amongst multiple computers simultaneously. It also avoids the pain of manually changing the setting evertime you want to use a device on a different computer.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (2, Informative)

n0dna (939092) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326154)

From TFA:

Q: What happens when two people try to use the same device at the same time from two different computers?

A: Keep in mind that USB provides a connecting technology and not a network. Since the USB MultiSwitch Hub is a standard USB 2.0 device, only one person can use a connected device at a time. For example, I plug in my MultiSwitch Hub-enabled laptop, share your printer and/or get what I need from an external USB hard drive and then, when you want it back, we switch the devices back to you. If we want to toggle back and forth, we can do that. But only one of us can access the desired USB device at a time.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (1)

zlogic (892404) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326288)

Because you don't have to run to the switch every time you need to switch the scanner to your PC.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (1)

DigitAl56K (805623) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326876)

"How is this better than a mechanical USB switch"

How is a 4-port router better than a manual ethernet switch?

Oh wait, stupid question ;)

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (4, Funny)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327290)

We really shouldn't answer. You've spent your $14. But more importantly, you've clearly made an emotional investment in your $14 hub. If anyone were to point out that this new type of hub was better, you'd feel hurt, and you'd probably start thinking that your $14 was wasted. So I think it's best if we leave you with your $14 hub and the rest of us will keep quiet about the benefit we derive from these new hubs.

Re:How is this better than a mechanical USB switch (2, Informative)

GeckoX (259575) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327492)

Only difference is that you can switch per device on this thing.

About time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17325760)

Even my cell phone has WLAN.. The only device left is the camera (which has a wlan extension if I wanna pay for it)...

I think they should've done this 5 years ago.

Big deal (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325778)

OK I read the article it just looks like a fancy USB switch it still only allows one device to access another at a time you can do that now with a simple mechanical switch and a powered hub.

Re:Big deal (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325860)

Heck, I have a 7 port USB hub that has two uplink ports ("PC A" and "PC B"). Each downstream port has a little switch on it to select which PC that port is routed through. Press it and it lights up to show PC A. Press it again and it goes to PC B. It's nothing fancier than two 7 port hubs with a mechanical switch controlling which hub it routes through.

Re:Big deal (1)

Cervantes (612861) | more than 7 years ago | (#17331628)

What's the model? That sounds exactly like what I've been hunting for.

Well, ok, not really hunting, just sort of idly speculating about, but still.... :)

Re:Big deal (1)

Basje (26968) | more than 7 years ago | (#17335450)

guess this one:
7 port buddy switch [ultraproducts.com]

google is your friend. USB 1.1 only tho (USB Hi Speed)

Collaborative sharing? (2, Informative)

Zorlac-GD (613908) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325836)

FTFA Q: What happens when two people try to use the same device at the same time from two different computers? A: Keep in mind that USB provides a connecting technology and not a network. Since the USB MultiSwitch Hub is a standard USB 2.0 device, only one person can use a connected device at a time. For example, I plug in my MultiSwitch Hub-enabled laptop, share your printer and/or get what I need from an external USB hard drive and then, when you want it back, we switch the devices back to you. If we want to toggle back and forth, we can do that. But only one of us can access the desired USB device at a time.
So its really collaborative sharing of the devices (I didnt expect anything different, really). If PC#1 mounts a USB drive to a drive letter, then PC#2 will not be able to use it until PC#1 unmounts its... is that correct? The review reads like there is some PC/Mac software involved in the switching process, like you would have to do if you wanted to share an internal hard drive, or attached printer. No mention of Linux though...

Similar products that have been out for a while (4, Informative)

paladinwannabe2 (889776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325844)

There are both software [eltima.com] and hardware [lantronix.com] solutions that do similar things already.

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with either company, but have used some of both company's techonology at work.)

Re:Similar products that have been out for a while (1)

amchugh (116330) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328412)

See also: Keyspan USB Server [keyspan.com]

The future? (2, Insightful)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325868)

Every time I see technology like this come out it makes me wonder how far we are a way from Maximum Overdrive [wikipedia.org] or Runaway [wikipedia.org] . With communication possible between your toaster, your Roomba, and your computer who knows what will happen if programming goes awry, or worse yet, a virus. Having your computer hooked to a network or the internet makes the concept even more interesting. How long before Fastjack taps into your home network and watches you and your wife on your security cameras? The possibilities of use and misuse are staggering. It's a brave new world out there, Timmy.

Re:The future? (4, Funny)

dr_strang (32799) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325922)

I think your tinfoil hat is on too tight, bro. ;)

stupid stupid stupid (4, Informative)

bananaendian (928499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325870)

Hello blatant product advertisement!

This is NOT "extension to USB"! - this is a proprietary technology that has nothing to do with the USB standard.

USB devices were never meant to be shared this way. Just because someone made 'a switch' that manages to reproduce and route the data between two different host machines at the hardware level doesn't solve anything. You will still have a hopeless guagmire of compatibility issues due to conflicting host software and drivers. Its hopeless because USB devices and software were never meant to work this way. Just because they show it works occationally on one or two devices, doesn't mean it'l work on your devices and with your software for them.

From their FAQ: "Keep in mind that USB provides a connecting technology and not a network. Since the USB MultiSwitch Hub is a standard USB 2.0 device, only one person can use a connected device at a time. For example, I plug in my MultiSwitch Hub-enabled laptop, share your printer and/or get what I need from an external USB hard drive and then, when you want it back, we switch the devices back to you. If we want to toggle back and forth, we can do that. But only one of us can access the desired USB device at a time."

Told you so! Haha!

Re:stupid stupid stupid (1)

ztransform (929641) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326054)

USB devices were never meant to be shared this way.

Maybe not, but I have found myself wondering of late how I have a number of peripherals that are useful to me on several computers, yet I'd rather not have to unplug them from one to put into the other. Notably, my USB webcam, my USB printer, and my USB memory stick reader.

I suppose an alternative to sharing devices is using a server, like a print server. Which essentially does the same thing as a switch, it lets one person "own" the device for a period of time.

KVM (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328350)

Maybe not, but I have found myself wondering of late how I have a number of peripherals that are useful to me on several computers, yet I'd rather not have to unplug them from one to put into the other. Notably, my USB webcam, my USB printer, and my USB memory stick reader.

I just use my USB-enabled KVM switch. I just have to be careful when switching whether any of the devices are currently in use.

This USB switch (if I can call it that) would be great if it has enough intelligence to accurately track whether a device is already in use vs. when it is idle and switchable so I don't have to worry about mounted volumes suddenly disappearing (esp. during writes) or scanners or printers disappearing in the middle of jobs. Even better if its logic could be incorporated into a KVM.

Of course, devices that are USB just for the power don't matter.

Re:stupid stupid stupid (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327324)

Duh. It's still useful though, it's like a very flexible USB KVM... eg. you can already switch your USB keyboard around to multiple computers (plus your xbox 360 and PS3, yay). But if you add extra peripherals to the USB KVM, they have to always be connected to whatever the keyboard is connected to. This lets you route your keyboard to your 360 while your webcam can be switched back and forth between your laptop and desktop.

Re:stupid stupid stupid (1)

greed (112493) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328342)

The phrase you're looking for is "USB KVMP"; keyboard-video-mouse-peripheral switch. The ones I've got from IOGear (see also Aten) have separate settings for KVM and P; so I can leave the printer (say) connected to the Mac while I do something on Linux or Windows.

This sounds like just the P part of one of those, with some magic goo to control it from the computer side, instead of hot-keying on an attached keyboard or whacking on a button.

And there's also USB-over-Ethernet sharing, which looked cute but not worth actually paying for.

Re:stupid stupid stupid (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327600)

This sounds like a decent device, allowing easy connection of multiple computers to a bunch of devices without having to swap cables. The main question is what constitues a particular computer using a device. If the driver only connects to the device when absolutely needed, then disconnects (assuming there is such a USB event), then you won't have any problems sharing the printer for example. But if the driver wants to keep in constant communication with a device, even when it's not in active use, then the first computer to connect will monopolize that device, presumably ending only when you unplug that computer's USB and then initiate a connection from another computer. I wouldn't be surprised if the latter is common, since I doubt USB was designed with multiple masters in mind.

usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (5, Interesting)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 7 years ago | (#17325976)

Sometimes I wonder, and this "multiswitch" idea just brings home the point, why we have USB and Firewire when it seems like it would be just as effective, and more standardized, for every device to just have built-in gigabit ethernet chips that can communicate using UDP or something.

Protocol? Why not USB over ethernet? Or use OpenSoundControl! _anything_ standardized... Think how much easier that would make it to write drivers. The point is that we can easily separate the protocol from the physical layer, or even from the transport layer. And yet we still have very specific protocols for USB and Firewire technology that are tied to the hardware they run on. It makes little sense to me.

It just seems silly to have all these communication standards that are basically just reinventing the IP protocol. IP has been "plug and play" for like a decade before USB was invented. At the time, of course, it was necessary to have something that could transfer data at certain rates that were unachievable otherwise, but now that most new computers have on-board gigabit ethernet, maybe it's time we took advantage of it. The nice thing about sticking to STANDARDS is that the next time they upgrade the ethernet hardware (10 Gb onboard, for example), device communication would automatically be upgraded with it. As a bonus, backwards compatibility would be easily assured.

Meanwhile, let's improve those damn ethernet connectors already. Goddamn tabs always breaking off...
I know the plastic tabs are a cost-effective solution, but I think we could do better, I honestly do.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326234)

Indeed. This would appear to require that yet another cable be threaded through the walls. Yes, there's a USB Multiswitch over wireless thing, but that sounds like a kludge.

On other hand, a family would not have to buy more than one flash drive, keyboard or mouse,

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

rueger (210566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326544)

Brother [brother.com] for some reason has taken to adding ethernet to a number of their low end multifunction printers. Once you've used it you get hooked fast.

I first set one up at my girlfriend's place, an MFC 420CN [brother.ca] . Plugged it into the router, added the software to her ancient PII laptop, and she can scan, print fax - everything.

Same from my Powerbook, via WiFi, and the kid's PC upstairs.

Now admittedly the Brother software kind of sucks rocks, and the printer is dead slow, but otherwise this really is the sensible way to do these things. I can't see buying another printer that doesn't have network support built in.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327378)

I agree that the Brother networked printers are awesome, but I urge anyone reading this to shell out the extra $100 for the laser version. The cleaning cycle on those things just guzzles ink (as well as triggers at the oddest hours of the night), and when it decides you're out of any color of ink, you not only can't print or copy, you can't scan, fax, or access the memory card reader.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327440)

We just bought the a model comparable to their 8460 (B&W Laser Printer/Color Scanner/Fax) for our Home/HomeOffice. (was dirt cheap at Costco)

First thing I did was go out and buy the Add-On network card. Worked like a charm and the wife loves it. It may not print in color, but the print speed is amazing (~18-20ppm versus her old HP 4L which spat out maybe 2-4 ppm), and its networked so we only need one printer for both of us. Also worked nicely for my Linux server and OS X laptop.

Haven't bothered with the software except to scan the occasional document (I love that you can scan across the network :grin:), but you're right, it did feel a bit clunky when I had to use it.

Brother certainly has made networked printers affordable and practical, and its held up fine for the past year and a half since we got it.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326574)

The only problem with making every printer/scanner/etc... an Ethernet device is that Ethernet is relatively complex compared to USB and Firewire. It's going to bring the price of the components up, especially stuff like cheap printers and scanners where the margins are really thin already (except on the consumables).

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328388)

Staples has a B&W laser printer with ethernet port for $150, color for $250. I wouldn't recommend Brother, since they have closed drivers, but HP printers use standards.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329350)

Which standards are those? Low ones?

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330214)

I wouldn't recommend Brother, since they have closed drivers,

Brother and Samsung printers are the only two brands that appear NOT to be encoding secret numbers (dots) on their print-outs.

but HP printers use standards.

Communication protocols are seconds to ridiculous prices for incredibly crappy hardware...

It's a shame. HP used to make very good equipment.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

Computerguy5 (661265) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330228)

I use a Brother HL-5170DN [brother.com] at home. It's a soho B/W laser with USB, parallel, and ethernet interfaces. I use the ethernet interface with a standard postscript driver via LPR. Works great! No non-standard drivers here. I know nothing about other Brother products, however.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17336696)

My apologies to Brother. I meant QMS.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330172)

why we have USB and Firewire when it seems like it would be just as effective, and more standardized, for every device to just have built-in gigabit ethernet chips that can communicate using UDP or something.

Multi-GHz desktop CPUs have a hard time keeping up with gigabit ethernet. Imagine what kind of CPU your digital camera and USB flash drive is going to need...

And once you have it connected, it still doesn't solve anything, because you have to decide on protocols over ethernet (unlike USB/Firewire/etc.) because there is no standard system of multi-user authenticated bidirectional communications over IP. Everyone will create their own propritary communication app, or downgrade to brain-dead file-copy-only with none of the useful features of the device (a lot like many MP3 players, sadly).

Protocol? Why not USB over ethernet? Or use OpenSoundControl! _anything_ standardized...

No, no, no. There has to be ONE standard, or there's no point. There's one set way for USB devices to communicate, so every system on the planet has those built in. Once you have 500 different protocols for different devices, you've completely ruined the utility of your Ethernet peripheral interface.

It makes little sense to me.

Don't go into hardware... Please!

The nice thing about sticking to STANDARDS is that the next time they upgrade the ethernet hardware (10 Gb onboard, for example), device communication would automatically be upgraded with it.

You mean EXACTLY like the switch from USB1.1 to USB2?

Meanwhile, let's improve those damn ethernet connectors already. Goddamn tabs always breaking off...

You can buy snagless boots are EVERYWHERE, and on all but the cheapest pre-made cables. I suggest you stop buying crap.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 7 years ago | (#17332954)

Multi-GHz desktop CPUs have a hard time keeping up with gigabit ethernet. Imagine what kind of CPU your digital camera and USB flash drive is going to need...


That's probably true, you have a point there. I assume USB and 1394 hardware do something more direct-to-RAM in order to circumvent CPU needs. Perhaps something similar could be done with NICs.


Don't go into hardware... Please!


Don't worry about that, I won't. :)

I am absolutely software guy. But one thing I've learned from software is that it's usually better to build on something that works instead of starting over from scratch. It's silly that USB and Firewire even exist when there was already a perfectly good physical and transport layer for communication available. They should have incrementally improved the ethernet standard instead: added power, etc. I would love to see a backwards-compatible device standard based on ethernet. You could plug your devices in and they'd get power, but you could still plug it into your router and it would work that way too.

(Yes, I know about PoE [linuxdevices.com] , don't worry.. I haven't read that much but I know there are some problems associated with it.)

And once you have it connected, it still doesn't solve anything, because you have to decide on protocols over ethernet (unlike USB/Firewire/etc.) because there is no standard system of multi-user authenticated bidirectional communications over IP.


Of course there would have to be a standard communication protocol. USB, for example, implements one. I'm only advocating that the hardware and software should be decoupled. There's no reason a hardware protocol couldn't be defined for UDP. Hell, there's already IP over 1394, which I use every day. Maybe that's the direction we should be going.

Everyone will create their own propritary communication app, or downgrade to brain-dead file-copy-only with none of the useful features of the device (a lot like many MP3 players, sadly).


Exactly. They are already doing this with USB. I had to install big, ugly, annoying drivers on XP for the HP printer I just bought. Why can't it just use the built-in, standards-compliant drivers? MP3 players are going the same way.. unfortunately, no matter how hard the industry tries to set standards, there are always plenty of companies that choose to ignore them.

No, no, no. There has to be ONE standard, or there's no point.


What are you talking about? My whole post was advocating having one standard.

Anyways, all I'm saying is that I'd rather have 6 general-purpose ethernet ports on my computer than 1 ethernet port and 5 USB ports and 2 firewire ports, like it is now.

There's one set way for USB devices to communicate, so every system on the planet has those built in. Once you have 500 different protocols for different devices, you've completely ruined the utility of your Ethernet peripheral interface.


I never said there should be 500 different protocols for 500 different devices. I said they should agree on one standard protocol for devices that can be implemented over IP. Or at least one per device class: Imagine an ethernet mouse. You plug it in and it immediately starts sending UDP packets containing [X,Y] pairs. I don't see how this is really that different from what's done with USB.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17333214)

I assume USB and 1394 hardware do something more direct-to-RAM in order to circumvent CPU needs.

It's that it's an entirely different type of interface. USB is a peripheral interface, instead of a network interface. Never the twain shall meet.

Perhaps something similar could be done with NICs.

Not in any way that would make it remotely resemble ethernet... You'd, at the very least, need to have a seperate NIC for your devices. At which point, you aren't gaining anything by using ethernet (USB cards are as cheap as NICs, and have more ports). Speed would also surely be compromised. It would still be a more expensive chipset for every device.

But one thing I've learned from software is that it's usually better to build on something that works instead of starting over from scratch.

My experience is different. It's FAR better to discard piles of irrelevant cruft, and come out with a simple, fast, cheap, standard.

I don't see how this is really that different from what's done with USB.

Sadly, I believe you...

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17330532)

You're so wrong, I have no idea how you got modded +5. Let's go over it step-by-step.
why we have USB and Firewire when it seems like it would be just as effective, and more standardized, for every device to just have built-in gigabit ethernet chips that can communicate using UDP or something

Because the environment is different. USB/Firewire are used to attach external devices locally. Ethernet is used to transfer data between two points that have some distance between them, but not to much. Also, gigabit chips are fairly recent compared to USB/Firewire, and even if the chips themselves have come down in price, the cables for GigE is slower.

Protocol? Why not USB over ethernet? Or use OpenSoundControl! _anything_ standardized... Think how much easier that would make it to write drivers.
USB is a hardware protocol, so I fail to see why you would layer it on top of Ethernet if you're goign to make everything standardized. I also fail to see how this has to do with difficulty of writings drivers. Are Linux developers having a hard time writing generic HID and mass storage drivers? Anything more specific generates a problem regardless of the protocol.

It just seems silly to have all these communication standards that are basically just reinventing the IP protocol. IP has been "plug and play" for like a decade before USB was invented.
You keep jumping between software and hardware protocols. Anyways. The IP protocol is definitely not plug-and-play unless you add something like DHCP to it (which btw adds complexity). Also, IP is used in a different environment and has to account for things like noise and wanting to send messages half-way across the world. USB doesn't worry about it.

At the time, of course, it was necessary to have something that could transfer data at certain rates that were unachievable otherwise, but now that most new computers have on-board gigabit ethernet, maybe it's time we took advantage of it.
And lose compatibility with all the USB peripherals out? Besides, the only case you need faster external peripheral speeds these days is for mass storage, in which case, skip Ethernet and use external SATA.

The nice thing about sticking to STANDARDS is that the next time they upgrade the ethernet hardware (10 Gb onboard, for example), device communication would automatically be upgraded with it. As a bonus, backwards compatibility would be easily assured.
Like someone mentioned, USB 1, 1.1, and 2.0 are standards and backwards compatible. Furthermore, you're not going to get a free speed bump. You're device is still going to be limited to the speed it was originally designed for. i.e. try connecting a 100 Mbps card to a 1000 Mbps switch - you're still only going to use 100 Mbps.

When you have clearly no understanding of hardware, you have to realize that when something like USB becomes as ubiqutous as it has, it's filling a need that other solutions don't.

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17331224)

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention - the USB standard (and probably Firewire as well) were designed in the first place to provide power across the USB cable so that the majority of devices would only need the one cable to connect. A lot of devices also use this to charge themselves as well (i.e. iPod). PoE still has a while to go and hasn't gained much momentum.

Another is the USB cables - if you've noticed, there's only one Ethernet cable. There are 4 separate receptacles and 4 separate plugs for USB. May not sound too good until you decide you'd like a smaller device and the USB cable is what's taking up real-estate.

Anyways, the moral of the story is you use the tool that's appropriate and you don't try to make everything use the same tool because of some skewed concept of aesthetics. I mean, isn't that the whole Linux diversity vs Windows monoculture argument that's made so often on slashdot?

Re:usb vs. firewire vs. ethernet.. (1)

GWBasic (900357) | more than 7 years ago | (#17351468)

I like the idea of merging USB and Ethernet; there are some obstacles to overcome. The most significant obstacle is that UBS provides DC power; Ethernet does not. (Granted, there are some power-over-ethernet standards.) Ethernet also doesn't have the same plug-n-play functionality that USB has.

Something to consider: It's very likely that home networking will work over the power lines. It would be possible to augment such a protocol so that it can have USB-like functionalities.

The first ? (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326024)

Surely I have seen such devices before ?

Re:The first ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17327838)

Here are a few
2-Port USB Auto Switch, Slate Blue [myofficeitems.com] $82.80
4-Port USB Auto Switch, Slate Blue [myofficeitems.com] $126.00
USB Peripheral Switch,2x1,Multiple Computer,Charcoal Gray [myofficeitems.com] $41.98
USB Peripheral Swith,4x1,4 Computers Access,Charcoal Gray [myofficeitems.com] $59.97

yes, Airport Express (1)

smitty97 (995791) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328724)

Isn't Airport Express [apple.com] a usb sharing hub?

The future will be amazing! (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326042)

Future hubs may also allow wireless sharing of peripherals.

Oh yeah? My future hubs may also allow wireless sharing of peripherals you don't even have.

Will /. give me free advertising, too?

Re:The future will be amazing! (1)

Attrition_cp (888039) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326108)

What made you think it was free?

It's called FireWire aka i.Link aka IEEE 1394 (3, Interesting)

maggard (5579) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326062)

It's called FireWire [wikipedia.org] aka iLink aka IEEE 1394.

It's been out for years, it's a mature technology, it actually does support true sharing insofar as the devices can, and it doesn't require a host system. Add into that higher speeds with substantially less overhead (USB is dependent on your CPU) and it sure beats out the it's-USB-with-our-own-wonky-'extensions' stuff.

The downsides are a slightly higher hardware price due to a more sophisticated chipset and a bit of licensing fees (US$.25/device). And of course FW/1394 isn't as universal as USB, though whatever you're looking for is almost always available from somewhere.

FireWire doesn't quite get that right (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328144)

FireWire almost has peripheral sharing right, but not quite.

Firewire has a built in allocation scheme for bandwidth, and a scheme to decide who runs the network (yes, there is a node in charge), but it doesn't have an allocation or locking system to decide which hosts are supposed to be talking to which devices. Some per-device hack may be developed to fix that, but if you create a FireWire net with two hosts and two slave devices, there's currently no system to keep both hosts from talking to the same slave device.

FireWire, incidentally, is really a local area network down at the packet level. Calling it a "bus" is marketing-speak. There are packets with source and destination, acknowledges, retransmits, multicast modes, and roughly the same machinery as Ethernet. Yes, there's support for loads and stores into remote addresses in the protocol, but in practice, that means some host generates "store xxx into device register yyy", and out in the peripheral, some embedded CPU executes a switch statement and reaches the "turn camera on" code. The load/store mode lets you send only 32 bits per packet, so major data transfers aren't done that way. It would have been simpler if the thing just had a command/response protocol, like SCSI, and in fact, there's SCSI over FireWire.

Firewire had such potential (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#17336734)

10 years ago, I was hoping today I'd have a fiber network in the house based on 1394b. That vision didn't pan out. It's a shame Apple has been so anti-Firewire in their lack of marketing support, especially and paradoxically since they bought Zayante.

Re:It's called FireWire aka i.Link aka IEEE 1394 (1)

dreamlax (981973) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328156)

. . . chipset and a bit of licensing fees (US$.25/device)

But is that point two five cents, or point two five dollars?

Re:It's called FireWire aka i.Link aka IEEE 1394 (1)

Hawke666 (260367) | more than 7 years ago | (#17341504)

This symbol means dollars: $

There's another symbol for cents(a c with a vertical line through it), but /. apparently won't let me input it.

So I'm going to guess since the parent used $, they meant dollars.

what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

kiick (102190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326068)

OK, it's neat tech and I'm all for pushing the envelope.
But what devices would you want to share via USB that you can't
already share over an IP network?
Mouse - two computers, one mouse? madness. Same for keyboards.
storage devices? well, can't you already share drives/partitions via
NFS or that windows stuff? Printers? been done. several ways.
Network ports? It's called a router - most computers can do it.

I just don't see the application. Am I missing something?

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (3, Informative)

radarsat1 (786772) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326268)

Mouse - two computers, one mouse? madness. Same for keyboards.


Actually I use synergy [sourceforge.net] to do this all the time. (Between Windows & Linux no less.)
It's useful when you have a laptop and a desktop workstation, like I do in my lab at school.

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

undercanopy (565001) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328988)

sure but you woulnd't want the same mouse plugged into both computers similtaneously and taking input concurrently... unless you were trying to identically configure multiple systems. synergy and win2vnc both take advantage of 1 mouse and keyboard controlling 2 computers, but not at the same time. there still needs to be logic telling the machines which

now.. perhaps a button on the mouse/keyboard allowing you to toggle devices ala kvm hotkey but that's what a kvm is for, yesno?

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17332478)

Wow, they reinvented x2x and x2vnc.

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 7 years ago | (#17332922)

On Windoze, you cannot share a USB scanner as you can do on Linux using SANE for example. So this device is a simple solution for that.

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

planetmn (724378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326290)

Scanners.

I would like to be able to scan from our multi-function printer to any of the computers in my house. Keyspan makes a little USB-to-Ethernet device, but it requires proprietary software to run (No linux support that I know of). If this didn't require special software then I would be interested in it.

-dave

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (2, Informative)

powerlord (28156) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327514)

Check out an MFC with ethernet. I've used two (a cheap HP MFC at work, and a more expensive Brother MFC at home).

In both cases, its real easy to scan a document over the network. I think the HP one lets you scan right from a webpage on the device. The brother may have required proprietary software, but I haven't done it enough to remember.

Either way, this tech is here now. Of course, you have to get a Multi-Function Copier to do it, but if all you care about it the scanner, then perhaps you can get a cheap ink-jet, without worrying about the consumables, since you aren't going to be replacing them.

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

Bent Mind (853241) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330884)

I would like to be able to scan from our multi-function printer to any of the computers in my house.

Have you looked into the network options for Sane [sane-project.org] on Linux? I have a HP PSC 2400 shared between 10 computers in my office. Scanning is shared via Sane and printing is shared via Cups [cups.org] . It works out really nice.

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

planetmn (724378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17331118)

That requires a "server" to be on at all times though, whereas if I could directly access the scanner from any computer, only that computer and the scanner would have to be powered up.

-dave

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

Bent Mind (853241) | more than 7 years ago | (#17331276)

That requires a "server" to be on at all times though, whereas if I could directly access the scanner from any computer, only that computer and the scanner would have to be powered up.

True. I've seen quite a few Linux-based router projects. I wonder how hard it would be to wire up an embedded controller with USB and Ethernet to run Sane/Cups?

Re:what, exactly, would you use this for? (1)

zlogic (892404) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326338)

Scanner, PDA sync cable, HASP key, USB-to-serial device connected to legacy hardware.

how is this useful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17326216)

So now instead of unplugging my pen drive from my laptop and plugging it into my PC I carry my laptop to my PC and plug that in? Sounds ultra convenient.

I have a KVM which does this. (2, Insightful)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326320)

The currently selected computer for keyboard, video, and mouse on my KVM gets to use the USB devices, too. Call it a KVMU switch if you like. I call it Natalie. :-\

It's made by Zonet, or at least sold under that brand name. It's called the KVM3204 [zonetusa.com] and it seems it is already discontinued.

It's one of their PS/2-to-USB KVMs, which lets me use a PS/2 keyboard and mouse with my USB-capable PCs and Macs. My Windows XP box, Mandriva box, and Xandros box even let me use a USB keyboard through the KVM's USB hub. The Mac (PowerMac G4) will use the USB keyboard through the KVM if the machine's booted with the KVM pointed to it and sometimes for the first few switches back and forth. Ironically, though, I have to use a PS/2 keyboard with this switch to get it work work reliably with my Mac.

So, I guess, damn the standards and full steam ahead with the product, or something. It works really well with a PS/2 scroll mouse and my favorite PS/2 keyboard on all my systems.

Re:I have a KVM which does this. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17328670)

I also use a USB-enabled KVM, but it is all USB, no PS/2. I've used it with both Windows PCs and Macs. However, I can't use the keyboard through the KVM's dedicated keyboard port since it won't let me hold down a key for gaming. I just plug in a keyboard I don't like to use into its keyboard port to keep it from complaining. It's the 4-Port SOHO USB and VGA KVM with audio in/out by Belkin.

I'm now looking for a better one that can handle two displays across four or more machines where the physical displays could be dual-link DVI, regular DVI, or DVI adapted to VGA, possibly such that each display is individually switchable (because not all of my systems use or are capable of using all the display types).

AWESOME!!!!1 (0, Offtopic)

shoolz (752000) | more than 7 years ago | (#17326782)

Now I can play Need For Speed Most Wanted, and Need For Speed Black Edition at the same time, on different computers using only one steering wheel! The future has arrived!!!!!

Share USB devices over ethernet (1)

gessel (310103) | more than 7 years ago | (#17327978)

http://www.keyspan.com/products/usb/server/homepag e.spml [keyspan.com]

"Our USB Server makes it possible for USB printers (including multi-function printers), USB scanners and other types of USB devices to be used and shared by PCs on a network. It is ideal for home office, small office or classroom use.

"The USB Server supports both Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks -- making it easy to print to a USB printer or connect to other USB devices from a Wi-Fi based laptop."

It has been out for years.

Disclaimer: I designed the case.

So, why am I using this? (1)

gatesvp (957062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329032)

This article seems to lack one very important thing. Why am I using this device?

The examples seem nebulous not compelling. So now I can share my USB external drive, but you have to run a USB cable over to my computer? Or I could unplug my portable drive and walk over to your computer. Unless we want to start running 50ft USB cables alongside our Ethernet cables this seems pointless. Given that most people are migrating towards Wireless Ethernet, why not just connect a USB hub to the router for the same effect?

Oh hey, we already have that Ethernet to USB feature. Want to share printers? We already have that feature, including the above-mentioned Network-connected printers. Want to share a thumb drive? It's a fricken thumb drive! Unplug it and throw across the room!

I know, we can share my USB headset/mic (except for the fact that they're plugged in to my computer!) Mouse? Keyboard? Tablet input? External Burner? Coffee warmer? Toothbrush? All of these things are local and pretty much unworthy of sharing

So, basically, the gear is useful if you have two nearby computers, a long USB cable, devices to share and no network connection. Sounds a little niche doesn't it?

DRM? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17329376)

allows the sharing of information and content from devices such as DVD players, ...

This sounds like something the RIAA/MPAA will be fighting with all its might, unless it's "protected" with DRM.

If my USB external disk (or flash) can participate in this "sharing of information", it seems like another vector for ripping.

Will we be seeing DRM applied to this?

Re:DRM? (1)

supremebob (574732) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329918)

Yeah, I could imagine an RIAA/MPAA lawsuit coming out of this. They seem to go after practically ANY device that allows folks to share and copy files from more than one computer. Hell... If the modem was invented today, they would probably sue the inventor of that as well.

USB/IP: USB sharing for Linux (1)

piranha(jpl) (229201) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329814)

USB/IP [naist.jp] is a Linux project to export USB devices on one computer so that others on the network may use them. As with the hardware described in this article, two computers may not simultaneously use the same device; USB has no provisions for that.

Too complicated (1)

brownsteve (673529) | more than 7 years ago | (#17329908)

The whole idea of packet-routing and proprietary extensions to the USB protocol seems waay to complicated for the purpose of sharing periperals between PCs. Why not just a dumb electrical switch box [national-tech.com] ? Sure, you have to turn the switch, but it's ten times simpler and ten times more robust. Not to mention cost-effective for the average consumer.

No PC, No Problem? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17330260)

What about no PC USB networks? I want my PDA as GUI to use my camera and its storage, without a PC in the loop. But those "peripherals" are all USB slave devices, requiring a USB master, like the PC, to control the comms. Is this MultiSwitch the master, making a PC another slave? Or some other way to hook smart little USB devices directly on a truly universal bus, without a PC calling the shots?

Re:No PC, No Problem? (1)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17332566)

That's been invented it's called Firewire.

Re:No PC, No Problem? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17332864)

I can't wait to connect all my USB devices to each other with FireWire. Or use all those cheap FireWire versions of my devices.

Compatibility! (1)

cyclomedia (882859) | more than 7 years ago | (#17334912)

seriously, and slightly off topic. why is it that every damned printer or scanner or digital camera in the universe requires a different clunky, slow and buggy set of drivers to operate? exactly how many ways can there possibly be to get a document off the screen onto a bit of paper?

IMO Devices should just be lumped into categories with standard protocols, (with the option to use the device's custom features / drivers if you really want to) so: a printer is a "document input" device. A scanner would be an "image output device" a digital camera could be three things: "video output", "image output" and "file I/O". a DAT machine would be both "audio input" and "audio output" all with simple digital stream standards that each can read and/or write. a cheap and dirty eBook, interestingly, could probably be just present itself as a "document input" device, and store several document streams internally, scrapping the "file I/O" ability.

THEN you plug your digital camera into your printer directly, one says "i accept images" and the other says "i output images" ... they both use the exact same image transfer protocol and so you can get printing. now it'd be up to the camera vendor if they wanted to extend their onboard image output capability into "document output" by allowing formatting for direct printing. but the printer by default should be able to at least get the standard image stream and stick it on a sheet of paper, scaled automatically to the embedded DPI and landscaped, probably too.

Re:Compatibility! (1)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17344526)

There's your problem, files are stored on a hard drive not a screen.

Re:No PC, No Problem? (1)

Lussarn (105276) | more than 7 years ago | (#17335464)

While it won't solve your problem exactly there are gadgets with USB host features. My gmini 402 has USB host, mainly for connecting to digital cameras to get the pictures out. If the feature is important to you I guess you could research more before buying gadgets. For PDAs there are CF cards with USB host. Of course this isn't universal at all but it could let you do some of the stuff you need.

Re:No PC, No Problem? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17337290)

Actually, the CF USB host cards get most of the way there. Thanks for the tip.

Though it would be even better to find an SDIO USB host, because my preferred PDAs use SD/IO, but apparently they're not out yet. So maybe I should be whining about the "silos" of different physical interface slots ghettoizing functions, instead of functions like USB host available in generic chips that connect with tiny adapters to any of the CF/SD/MS/etc interfaces.

What's all the hub-bub? (1)

xactuary (746078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17332304)

No hub-bub her Bub. Move along.

cheaper than ghost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17334636)

if its cheaper than ghost, i'd get it just to use a usb keyboard and mouse on a bunch of comps at once.

This isn't the first (1)

tuxlove (316502) | more than 7 years ago | (#17335254)

See the Keyspan USB server [keyspan.com] . It's been around a while.

Been dooing this for years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17370288)

Its called Networking.

In USB's case its sell the uneducated more stuff.
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