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Product management nays, USB server yays!

Aug 23, 20044 mins
Network Security

In the litany of connectivity technologies that have transformed the way we work, one of the most profound has been USB. While the standard isn’t perfect it manages to simplify some aspects of connecting peripherals such that you might wonder how you ever did without it.

Of course, there’s no technology perfect enough to prevent its implementation under Windows from being really crummy.

We just went through a ridiculous number of hoops to get our Sharp Zaurus 5500 PDA updated, and the cause of much of our frustration was the interminable reboots that Windows requires. It seemed like every time we did what should have been a minor change we sat there watching yet another reboot.

To be fair, Sharp hasn’t done a sterling job on the process for updating the Zaurus – the company has made it complicated. Product management is turning into a forgotten and dying art.

Product management is about bridging the gap between the sometimes conflicting needs of engineering and marketing with the goal of providing sales departments with the products they can sell. This requires product managers to look at products critically to see whether they fit in with the expectations of purchasers and end users.

Product managers have to cast a jaundiced eye on the cool stuff that the code cutters and hardware jockeys create to ensure that a product is what was planned.

We get to talk to product managers a lot, and over the years there seems to have been a slow and inexorable slide away from product expertise. It now has reached the point where a technical conversation with the average product manager either leaves you with a headache or the disturbing sensation that you’ve just lost a few points from your IQ.

Anyway, the reason that we decided to grapple with our Zaurus was that not only did it need updating but also we wanted to test a cool USB product. The Zaurus, having a USB interface for syncing with Outlook and exchanging files with a PC or Mac, was a fine test bed.

So once we had beaten the Zaurus into shape, we could turn our attention to this week’s topic: The Keyspan USB Server.

This product is unique as far as we can determine. It provides four full-speed (12M bit/sec), powered (500mA) USB 1.1 ports that are accessible across an Ethernet network.

Using a standard USB hub you can place your hub, at most, 15 feet from your PC. Using the Keyspan USB Server you can connect to USB devices anywhere on your network. The only limitation is in the types of devices the server supports.

The current release lets you connect to USB printers, USB multi-function printers, USB scanners and USB human interface devices (including mice and keyboards). Unsupported devices include USB hubs, as well as USB audio and video products.

Getting the server running is an easy, no-reboot process that installs a new USB Hub driver on your PC along with a utility that finds and manages connections to the USB Server (PC and Mac both are supported). The utility is called Keyspan USB Server. (Why call the client-side software the same name as the hardware? Sigh.)

The Keyspan USB Server (software) is first used to configure the hardware server’s name, IP address scheme (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, static or Rendezvous, otherwise known as zero-configuration networking, a standard we’ll discuss next week), administrator password, server mode (single- or multiple-user) and port to be used.

By default, the Keyspan USB Server uses User Datagram Protocol and TCP on Port 3842 so you will need to configure any firewalls between the server and your PC. From your PC you can connect to as many as eight USB Servers on a single port; to connect to the next eight the servers will have to use a different port.

To access a device attached to a USB Server you run the client-side USB Server software and can browse a list of the connected devices on each server on your network. Any devices not in use by other people can be connected to, at which point your PC will take over and “recognize” the attachment of a new USB device.

After that, the entire system is completely transparent. We synced our Zaurus, ran the Zaurus’ IP over USB software and connected to a variety of other USB devices, all without any problems.The Keyspan USB Server costs $130 but we’ve seen it priced closer to $100.

An outstanding device. Highly recommended.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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