Last week's mention of USB and FireWire (IEEE 1394) generated another flood of user responses. Most responses were from people who are having a lot of luck using USB devices and hubs, which I'm glad to hear. The others had FireWire questions, which I'll attempt to answer here.

USB currently has one big advantage over FireWire: It's built into the motherboards of most mainstream computers purchased within the past 2 years. But FireWire cards are relatively inexpensive (about $100 for a dual-port card) and easy to find (I got mine from the local electronics chain store).

FireWire's biggest strength is its speed. Although USB is only slightly faster than 10Mbps Ethernet, the current FireWire standard is 400Mbps, and plans are afoot for an 800Mbps standard. I purchased FireWire because I bought a digital video camera, and the camera's native interface, which allowed downloading directly to the computer without a capture card, was FireWire (almost all the digital video cameras support FireWire, under different brand names for the link). Transferring the video in high resolution creates some pretty large files. Twenty minutes of high-resolution video can equal a 4GB file, which takes nigh on forever to transfer over 10Mbps Ethernet. (It's not much fun on 100Mbps Ethernet, either, so I really appreciate FireWire's 400Mbps pipe.)

But I've also talked to a lot of people who've bought USB hard drives and are disappointed with the access speed. When I remind them that the access speeds are just marginally faster than their home networks, they ask about alternatives. The future for high-speed external storage lies with current and future IEEE 1394 implementations.

After writing this brief description of FireWire, I discovered that it's the technology of the week on Microsoft's Windows 2000 Web site. The site contains a longer description of the technology and links to Microsoft articles about IEEE 1394.

This week's tip: More Interface Customization
Many folks don't like the new Microsoft IntelliMenus, known as Personalized Menus, in the core Win2K OS. Turning off the menus is easy; right-click the Taskbar, select Properties, and clear the Use Personalized Menus checkbox. Administrators can automate turning this feature on and off via the registry.

  1. Launch Regedit.
  2. Open HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\.
  3. Change the value of the IntelliMenus entry to No.

You don't need to restart the system. The change will occur when the current user logs out, then back on.