Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When USB ain't

There was an (non)incident at SANS Virginia Beach yesterday that irks me more and more as I continue to think about it. It involves manufacturers "adapting" industry standards (and, no, it's not the old embrace and extend rant). Each student in the wireless class was issued a set of survey "gear" which included a USB-based GPS interface.

One student had a high-end laptop with a number of USB ports on the side and back surfaces. Upon plugging the USB GPS into the side port, he noticed that the LED was quite dim (where other students' LEDs were bright). Thinking that he might have a bad GPS (they're available online for about $35.00), he borrowed the next student's GPS. Upon plugging it in, it too showed a dim LED.

End result: two fried GPS's. Cause: Turns out the manufacturer modified the power spec for the side port, to allow for USB DVD drives.

I won't say who the MFR (feel free to use both definitions of that acronym) is, but you can bet that their entire line of products won't be on my list of prospective buys when it comes time to buy a new laptop. I shouldn't need to worry about my laser mouse burning a hole through the desk (and my leg). MFR's: stick to the dang specs! If you're going to modify a connector's spec, modify the connector too!