Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dousing FireWire

Note updated, corrected post on Apple's latest Firewire strategy.

One of Apple’s few really important inventions during the 1990s was FireWire. It was a high speed, hot-pluggable external bus that supported digital cameras, hard disks, and even peer to peer networking.

FireWire was particularly well suited for downloading gigabytes of digital video from a camcorder to a laptop, even though that required a different connector at the camera side. Longtime Mac users also know that Target Disk Mode (allowing access to a laptop HDD as though it were an external HDD) was one of its best system management features.

However, to make money Apple extracted a $1 per port while Intel was practically giving away USB. In 1999, Apple and its IEEE 1394 partners created a patent pool and cut their licensing fees dramatically to $.25 per device. But it seems like it was too little, too late, as USB 2.0 was just around the corner.

Due to clever marketing by Intel, a few people actually think USB 2.0 is faster than FIreWire 400, even though benchmarks show that it’s not true (due to bus contention, etc.) Apple and its allies released the faster FireWire 800, but (unlike USB 2.0) the connectors are incompatible and by the time it came out, almost nobody cared.

Today, FireWire is is officially appears nearing its end of life: Apple released its new laptops without FireWire, except in the largest model. in its entry level model. When combined with the lack of FireWire in the MacBook Air, this marks the end of FireWire as a tool allowing Mac users to edit digital video or restore their laptop drives (let alone have a speedy external hard drive). Apple has apparently concluded this is a niche market to be ceded to Sony and others.

FireWire coulda been a contender. It’s not clear if it had been created during the Jobs (or Jobs II) era if it would have been better managed — forestalling the threat from USB 2.0 — or Apple would have killed it even quicker based on a more extortionate licensing scheme.


test blog said...

Rumors of the death of Firewire are greatly exaggerated. Understanding the appropriate use of Firewire on low end laptops isn't the author's strong suite.

Joel West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel West said...

Dear Anonymous,

Upon further investigation, I agree, you're right. I thought FW was gone from 13/15 but actually it's only gone from the 13.

I think $2000 is pretty pricey for a Firewire port, but my previous post was (as you said) certainly inaccurate. I've made a new post with the correction.