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Maintaining Your Computer

Universal Serial Bus lets you simply plug in and play

by Mark Reed

USB plug When you install a new device like a printer or scanner, finding the right connectors, plugs, and cables can be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Now, thanks to Universal Serial Bus (USB), a hardware standard supported by Microsoft and leading computer manufacturers, things are simpler than ever. USB provides an instant, hassle-free way to connect new devices to your system, giving you true Plug and Play.

Get on the Universal Serial Bus
The Universal Serial Bus standard is designed to replace the various types of connectors and ports found in older computers with a single type of port for all devices. This connector lets you hook accessories like mouse devices, joysticks, keyboards, and scanners to your personal computer—without configuring the device or rebooting your machine.

To make things even simpler, USB devices use a type of input/output cable that carries power to devices and eliminates the need for a separate power supply or power cord. USB peripherals have only one cord—the one that plugs into your computer. Data flows both ways on the cable, allowing devices like force-feedback joysticks to interact with your computer and software. And USB technology transfers data like audio or video from peripherals to your computer much faster than a traditional serial port does.

Does your computer support USB?
Most computers built in the last two years have USB ports. To find out if your computer has them, consult the computer's documentation, or check your machine. USB ports look like this (please note that the location of the ports can vary):

Most likely, your computer will have two USB connector ports. To attach more than two devices, you can plug in a “hub” (a small box with multiple ports). Some devices also have additional USB ports built into them, allowing you to plug one device into another. Either way, you can potentially run over a hundred accessories on a single computer.

USB gives you true Plug and Play
Plug and Play is a set of architecture specifications for software, personal computers, and devices that connect to them. The goal of Plug and Play is to make computers, operating systems, hardware devices, and drivers (the software programs that enable a computer to work with a particular device) work together automatically without requiring input from the user. The simplicity provided by the USB standard is an integral part of this architecture.

How simple is it? You literally plug your peripheral device into the USB port and begin using it right away—without rebooting your computer. Windows 98 detects the device and automatically loads the driver.

Many USB devices are automatically supported in Windows 98, however some may come with specialized drivers for that particular device. Windows 98 will alert you if you need to supply a disk containing the driver.

Don't have USB? You can still play.
Although USB provides the simplest form of Plug and Play, many devices that use the older parallel and serial connectors on your computer are still considered Plug and Play, since Windows 98 automatically loads the drivers and configures the device. The main difference is that Windows 98 requires a system reboot during installation in order to detect the device.

If the device you are installing is Plug and Play (check the product’s documentation to find out) but does not use the USB port, here's how to install it in Windows 98:

  1. Turn off your computer.
  2. Connect the device to your computer according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Turn on your computer and start Windows 98. Windows 98 automatically detects the new device and installs the necessary software, or prompts you for the manufacturer’s CD that contains the driver.

You do not need to use the Add Hardware Wizard to install a Plug and Play device.

In the future, anything from printers and telephones to home automation and control devices and “smart” appliances will be Plug and Play devices. As more and more everyday items integrate with your home computer, you’ll be glad that Windows 98 makes connecting them so easy.


Mark Reed
Mark Reed
can't wait to hook up multiple force-feedback joysticks and invite all his friends over.

Need help locating a USB device?
The USB Implementers Forum’s USB Shopping Bag provides a handy checklist for selecting USB computers and products. You will also find a list of current USB products.

Windows 98 Second Edition provides the best support for USB. Learn more about the features here.

Having problems? Turn to troubleshooters.
If your Plug and Play hardware is not working properly, Windows 98 comes with helpful hardware troubleshooters that offer dozens of step-by-step solutions. Learn more about them in the Using Windows articles Turning to Troubleshooters, and Returning to Troubleshooters.