Win2K Pro opens the door to the peripheral device market

Whether you're an IT professional or a PC power user, Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) offers lots of exciting new functionality for you. But the buzz is about the cool new devices you can connect to your desktop. New printing, image-capturing, and scanning features; Digital Video (DV) devices; PC-based digital VCRs (D-VCRs); PC DVD players that you can connect to your home system; and PC-based audio devices are examples of this intriguing technology.

Since Microsoft first introduced Windows NT 4.0, users have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of ports, buses, and peripheral devices that they can connect to a workstation. However, because NT 4.0 lacked Plug and Play (PnP) and access to several device drivers that consumer desktop systems use, the OS couldn't take full advantage of the peripheral device market.

With the introduction of Win2K Pro, Microsoft remedies these NT 4.0 limitations. Win2K Pro provides consumers with the ability to add devices that offer speed, convenience, and innovation. For example, Win2K Pro lets you use D-VCRs to view movies and store computer data. You can also use a digital camcorder to record video, and you can edit that video on your computer.

To understand what all the excitement is about, let's look at the new features and devices that Win2K Pro supports. And let's examine how Win2K Pro makes adding peripherals a breeze compared with what you have to do in NT 4.0.

New Features in Win2K Pro
Microsoft included several of Windows 98's best features in Win2K Pro to broaden the appeal of the Windows 2000 (Win2K) platform. Win2K Pro provides new support for software and hardware, including PnP, the Infrared Data Association (IrDA) system, USB, IEEE 1394 (FireWire), and legacy peripheral ports. (For more information about Win2K Pro's peripheral support features, see "Related Articles in Previous Issues.")

Plug and Play. PnP combines information from a PC's BIOS, hardware components, device drivers, and OS software to recognize peripheral hardware and adapt to configuration changes. NT 4.0's lack of PnP support made adding peripheral devices a challenge, but Win2K Pro includes full PnP capability. Win2K Pro also provides enhanced support for removable devices such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, batteries, and PC Cards.

Typically, Win2K Pro will automatically recognize PnP-supporting devices. If PnP fails, you can use Win2K Pro's improved Add/Remove Hardware Wizard to install support for a particular device or to troubleshoot devices that aren't working correctly.

Infrared Data Association system. The IrDA system is a wireless connection system that lets devices communicate via infrared ports. Two Win2K Pro laptops that you place next to each other and that have the proper internal router (IR) windows will automatically find and connect to each other (if you have set the laptops' security settings to permit the connection). You can use this type of connection to take advantage of all basic network services, such as transferring files and synchronizing databases.

Microsoft based Win2K Pro's IrDA technology on legacy serial technology but added automatic device identification and improved performance. For now, the IrDA system remains the technology to beat in the wireless field because of the system's low cost and proven performance.

Win2K Pro provides a Wireless Link icon in Control Panel. This feature makes setting up and troubleshooting the IrDA system easier than it was in earlier Windows versions.

Many businesses have given up on the idea of having an IrDA enterprise system that lets users roam through a wireless networked building. The primary reason IrDA systems haven't enjoyed success as a networking standard stems from limitations such as the IrDA system's need for a direct line of contact that is free of physical barriers between the two linking devices. However, a few devices, such as handheld computers, are successfully using IrDA systems.

USB. USB, a desktop serial I/O bus, is quickly becoming the peripheral connector of choice. USB couples decent performance with simple PnP installation. USB connection speed peaks at 12Mbps, and as many as 127 devices can connect in a daisy-chain arrangement through one port. However, certain devices (e.g., printers) reserve USB bandwidth, so the practical maximum number of devices that can connect through a port can be less than 127. Figure 1 shows a typical USB device connector and port.

In October 1999, seven leading vendors from the USB 2.0 Promoter Group reported that the USB 2.0 specification will be 40 times as fast as USB 1.1 (i.e., USB 2.0 will have a maximum throughput of about 480Mbps). And USB 2.0 will be fully compatible with earlier USB systems and peripherals and existing cables and connectors. USB 2.0 products (e.g., printers, video devices, scanners) will be available in the second half of 2000. (For more information about USB 2.0, visit the USB developers' Web site at http://usb.org.)

When you tap out of USB bandwidth and ports, you can use internal and external expansion hubs, such as the Xircom 4 Port hub (http://www.xircom.com), which sells for about $50. Expansion hubs work independently of other ports' reserved resources. You might also want to consider an external USB hub that provides several ports. However, because the hub uses a USB connector, it shares its bandwidth among all the connected devices.

IEEE 1394. IEEE 1394 (i.LINK for the Sony product) is a high-speed serial bus similar to USB. However, IEEE 1394 makes USB look like a pushcart on a horse track. At its slowest, IEEE 1394 is approximately 10 times as fast as USB; at its peak, IEEE 1384 reaches speeds that are typically found only in UHF television stations. Several emerging video and storage platforms are using IEEE 1394 as a quick connectivity port. Although Apple's Macintosh provided early strong support for the IEEE 1394, Microsoft only recently added full support for the device in Win2K Pro.

An IEEE 1394 cable consists of two power conductors and two twisted pairs of wire for data signaling, which Figure 2 shows. The cable provides power and transfers data in one device. Microsoft shielded the entire cable and independently shielded both twisted pairs of wire. The company also placed the cable connector's electrical contacts inside the connector structure to prevent accidental shock or residue buildup.

Some people believe that the popular IDE hard disk interface has reached its practical limit because IDE has a peak transfer rate of only 8Mbps. Microsoft has suggested to vendors to plan a transition to IEEE 1394-based storage devices to enhance speed, provide hot-plugging capabilities to hard disks, and make hard disks run faster. However, most vendors aren't shipping IEEE 1394 ports with their products yet.

The speed of IEEE 1394 makes it a good candidate to replace earlier connectors on devices such as printers and scanners. Several vendors are already shipping (or plan to ship) D-VCRs, digital camcorders, and digital satellite receivers that include IEEE 1394 interfaces. Model prices vary—for example, high-end cameras can cost as much as $5000, but low-end models might cost only $1000.

Legacy peripheral ports. Microsoft and Intel have expressed their preference for the new, faster (IrDA, USB, IEEE 1394) ports over legacy (serial, parallel) ports. However, millions of peripheral devices depend on legacy ports to connect to PCs. Table 1 lists common types of devices that use legacy ports.

Win2K Pro provides more support for legacy hardware than earlier Windows versions do. Microsoft tested thousands of devices, including several legacy printers, scanners, and digital cameras, with Win2K Pro. The downside to Microsoft's extensive support for legacy devices is that the public won't see a rapid conversion from serial and parallel devices to preferred devices such as USB and IEEE 1394. Several vendors are including USB ports on most PCs but aren't providing IEEE 1394.

To give you an idea about the port configurations that vendors are providing on their systems, we surveyed the common desktop and workstation lines that several major OEMs offer. Table 2, page 76, lists the port configurations for several systems.

How to Connect to Win2K Pro
You'll find several port types on workstations that vendors ship with Win2K Pro. To decide how to connect your devices, you need to know which devices work with which ports and the advantages and disadvantages of connecting a device to different port types.

Printers. Local printer installation in Win2K Pro is fairly easy. As with earlier Windows versions, wizards walk you through installation and tell you when to install a driver. Microsoft preinstalled many legacy print drivers in Win2K Pro to simplify installation. Most connection ports for printers are parallel and USB. Although USB is gaining ground, parallel ports are still the most popular connection port for printers because parallel ports have a top speed of 800Kbps.

Because of the small amount of data that typical printing jobs transfer, you won't notice much difference in speed between a USB and parallel plug-in port. However, USBs offer hot plug-in capabilities, which are especially handy for laptop users who need a quick print just before dashing out the door.

Installing a printer on a network running Win2K Pro is simple. You copy the driver files for a networked printer from the server the printer resides on. Use Win2K Pro's new Point and Print feature for installation, and select Install from the pop-up menu. If you have administrative rights, you can use the printer's Properties dialog box to create print-job rights, as you do in NT 4.0.

A new Win2K feature lets users employ an Internet connection to print to any printer that is attached to a Win2K server. This Internet printing feature provides an alternative to faxing or emailing documents. To take advantage of this feature, you need to install Microsoft IIS on your server and install and share the Internet printers.

Developers based the Internet printing feature on the new Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) standard. The Internet printing feature uses HTTP connections and security for transmissions over the Internet. And you can limit access to Internet printers the same way you limit access to networked printers. You can also use IPP to install an Internet printer driver similarly to how you install a networked printer driver—you download the printer driver upon demand on a client. Users can identify Internet printers from the URL in the Printers folder and in the Print dialog box.

You check an Internet printer's availability through the printer's folder similarly to how you check a local or networked printer's availability. You can also use a Web browser to open http://servername/printers and check the status of all printers. To check a specific printer, open http://servername/sharename.

Imaging devices. Before Win2K, many graphics and image-dependent users had difficulty maintaining color and resolution in images that passed among several devices. A company's logo might appear blue on one device when it should be green. This problem is particularly familiar to Web developers who work with several platforms and frequently suffer loss of color fidelity.

To address this problem in Win2K Pro, Microsoft integrates Image Color Management (ICM) 2.0 with scanners, monitors, and printers. When you use ICM 2.0, what you see on the monitor typically matches what you see when you print and what you view on your monitor through a Web browser.

ICM 2.0 lets software, such as Adobe Photoshop, and a scanner communicate and use an agreed-to set of color characteristics between the software's color management system and the device. For example, when you import the scanned pictures into Photoshop or another design program and then put those pictures into a Microsoft Word document, you won't incur color loss or modification during the process. In Win2K Pro, Microsoft integrates a group of color profiles that function as a uniform set that all devices and software agree upon. If the color you're looking for isn't available in Win2K Pro's pallet, several vendors provide add-ons with more color profiles.

Scanners. Win2K Pro increases the number of available imaging devices that have built-in OS support. Microsoft added support for several color flatbed scanners and more than 40 new digital still cameras. The company also improved and expanded its PnP capabilities, most notably for USB-based devices. You can connect and disconnect USB scanners without turning off the computer. USB 2.0 scanners that can create high-resolution digital images in seconds (a process that now takes several minutes) will soon be available.

The fastest available scanner devices are those with SCSI connections—no IEEE 1394 connections are available for scanners. Although SCSI is standard in most Mac devices, several PCs require a PCI card, which vendors often include with the scanner. Because of their poor comparable speed, parallel port scanners are the group's laggard. However, parallel port scanners are available at low prices.

Scanning times for an 8 * 10 color print at 600dpi can range from a quick 90 seconds to more than 20 minutes, depending on your scanner, software, and connection type. Watch your scanner settings because they can eat up time and disk space. For example, screen filters that remove moiré patterns, higher interpolated resolutions, and 36-bit color mode are all factors that increase scan time.

You might find that Win2K Pro supports fewer legacy SCSI scanners than earlier Windows versions. The reason for this limitation might be that developers will need to rewrite SCSI drivers to work with Win2K Pro. Microsoft might be hoping that consumers will instead choose to buy a new SCSI scanner that Win2K Pro supports or opt for a USB connection.

DV cameras. DV cameras typically have IEEE 1394 ports that let you connect the camera directly to the PC. You can edit video and audio and add several other effects, all from your Win2K Pro desktop.

Apple, a company known for its focus on multimedia presentations, has brought the public's attention to the world of DV. During the past several months, Apple has been touting its new iMac's DV editing abilities. Not to be left out, Microsoft added similar editing capabilities to the Win2K Pro bundle to let users enjoy video editing on PCs. Win2K Pro will detect an IEEE 1394 device similarly to how it detects a USB device. PnP is standard for many cameras, but if your camera doesn't work with PnP, you can install a driver to manually load a device.

Users can expect PC vendors to begin supplying the necessary hardware to support high-speed connectivity. Third-party PC Card makers have started providing IEEE 1394 ports to add to PCs; other manufacturers (e.g., Sony) are already building IEEE 1394 ports into their system boards. DV software designers are paying more attention to the home PC market, and storage companies are developing bigger and faster hard disks to provide the space necessary for desktop editing.

To set up a home video studio, you need a high-end PC, a DV camera and desktop editing software, and an IEEE 1394 capture board. For details about this equipment, see the sidebar "Setting Up Your Home Video Studio."

PC-based digital VCRs. Major manufacturers such as Sony and Panasonic will soon release D-VCRs, and Win2K Pro will be ready to support them. These devices will connect to a PC through an IEEE 1394 port that lets several data, video, and sound types transfer to and from the PC to the D-VCR with virtually no quality degradation. D-VCRs will also provide for mass storage—the expected D-VCR tape data capacity is 6GB. Because of D-VCRs' high cost (approximately $4000), Sony's initial marketing effort will target professional videographers.

DVD devices. Win2K Pro supports DVD for movie-playback and storage. Entertainment PCs typically support movie-playback capabilities, but several multimedia hardware platform PCs also require support for a high-quality playback system. Because a PC image has a higher number of pixels per inch than your standard resolution television screen, the image quality of a DVD running on a PC will be superior to that of a standard DVD video player.

Win2K Pro supports DVD-ROM in a Windows Driver Model (WDM) device driver. The driver prompts Win2K to read data sectors from a DVD-ROM drive and provides storage space as large as 17GB. Microsoft plans support for writable DVD discs when the DVD devices are available to consumers.

To play DVD movies from your computer on a television, you need a card with S-Video and audio input jacks and a video-decoder chip. You connect the S-Video to your television and the audio jacks to your receiver. ATI Technologies' All-In-Wonder card includes the input jacks and a video-decoder chip. This card also lets you select tightly integrated 2-D, 3-D, DVD, and television features, as well as an IEEE 1394 port.

Priced at about $200, the All-In-Wonder card delivers a punch to your PC. The graphics chip that the manufacturers built into the card and the DVD-player software that comes with the product provide full-frame rate, full-screen video. When you plug a television antenna or coaxial cable into the All-In-Wonder card, your PC works as a television. You also get your cable stations when you use an external cable box with the card. You can use this connection type to zoom in on a live television image when you drag your mouse cursor over the image.

You can also do screen and video captures when you record television programs as AVI, Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), or MPEG-2 files and monitor a program's closed-captioned text. An Instant Replay button lets you review live video immediately after you see it on television. The All-In-Wonder product comes with a Rage 128 GL graphics chip that lets you play 3-D games. (For more information about the All-In-Wonder card, visit ATI's Web site at http://www.ati.com.)

You can find alternative systems, but few video-device cards offer the comprehensive package that the All-In-Wonder card does. For example, you can add a separate MPEG-2/DVD decoder and video card and the DVD player software to your system to achieve DVD play. However, if you use the All-In-Wonder card, you'll save money and a card slot and have one less device to troubleshoot.

Audio devices. Win2K Pro can redirect audio to various devices (e.g., speakers and receivers) through USB and IEEE 1394 ports. Redirecting audio output to external devices shelters the signal from high amounts of internal radio-frequency noises and results in higher fidelity.

Have you ever accidentally disconnected your PC speakers and wasted several minutes trying to figure out why your CD player lost sound? Or have you needed to add another power adapter to your already tangled web of cords to externally power your speakers? Then try USB speakers. Many USB speakers are Win2K ready, which translates into easy PnP connectivity. Also, the OS alerts you to connect the speakers if you haven't already connected them. The PC can pick volume, surround, bass, and treble speaker controls so that you can control these features from your desktop, and Microsoft is adding PnP USB ports to Win2K Pro. USB speakers also obtain power from the PC, a feature that eliminates the need for another power adapter.

As PC users become more savvy about sound quality, more companies will begin to cater to those users. For example, companies are designing alternatives to multimedia speakers with built-in amplifiers. Emerging products are high-end amplifiers and tuners that plug into PCs and improve amplifying power. At $499, Yamaha offers the Natural Sound Personal Entertainment Theater (RP-U100), which is a high-end amplifier and tuner that plugs into your PC. The Yamaha receiver has 30 watts per channel and beats the most expensive speakers with built-in amplfiers. (For more information about the RP-U100, visit Yamaha's Web site at http://www.yamaha.com.)

Related Articles in Previous Issues
You can obtain the following articles from Windows 2000 Magazine's Web site at http://www.win2000mag.com/articles.

Mark Minasi
"Windows 2000 Overview," Winter 1999, InstantDoc ID 7426
Mark Russinovich
NT Internals, "Inside the Windows 2000 Kernel," Winter 1999, InstantDoc ID 7486
High-end amplifiers and tuners also let you add most speakers—including those found in home systems—and you can manipulate sound settings from the PC. For example, you can simulate 3-D surround sound and several other preset audio mix features, such as enhanced game noises and dynamic-range adjustment. Because most audio devices don't need the bandwidth that video calls for, most amplifiers will use a USB port, as does the RP-U100. Win2K Pro offers its USB port connection support to let you access these cool peripheral devices.

Connect to the Future
Microsoft's growing attention to the peripheral market makes Win2K Pro an exciting arrival. The new functionality that Win2K Pro provides offers more leverage in installing and using peripheral devices than NT 4.0 does. The peripheral device market is emerging, and you can expect innovative design breakthroughs that will bring converging devices even closer in the months to come.