USB is far from perfect; however, it has replaced many ports we will never have to see again! Like all technology, USB has matured over time, spawning an array of versions with different connection speeds and various types of cables.
A plug-in known as type-c is currently in the works to replace all type-a and type-b ports of all sizes on phones, tablets, computers and many other peripherals. The type-c connection will support new, faster USB 3.1 spec with ample room to grow far beyond that as bandwidth increases. Furthermore, it is a significant possibility that in the future, USB type-c will become routine, replacing the tangled mess of cables locked away in your desktop drawers!
Whilst the decisions surrounding USB type-c is still unclear, let us take a look at where USB has been over the years!
What has USB replaced?
Connecting pretty much anything to your computer before the dawn of USB required any one of a large variety of ports:
For this type of connection, you would need to own a PS/2 connector or a serial port.
To connect a keyboard, you need an apple desktop bus or a DIN connector.
Printers and scanners
Generally, connecting a printer or scanner require large parallel ports; these can also be used for external storage.
Gamepads and joysticks
These require a game port, which by the 90s was commonly found on dedicated sounds cards.
Many of the above ports required their own dedicated expansion cards, they all took up a lot of space, and they were often fussy when it came time to configure or troubleshoot them. By the late 90s, computers were beginning to come with a couple of USB ports - usually, these would be found on the back of the system and were capable of speeds up to 12Mbps. Accessory manufacturers were hesitant to immediately make the switch; however, keyboards, mice, printers and other accessories began to include USB ports and connectors as an option, then as a primary interface.
In the mid-2000s, USB became more widespread, replacing items such as the floppy disk and zip drives, and in the slow fade of optical media - why use CDs and DVDs for data storage when smaller, faster, and more versatile USB drives can get the job done more quickly? USB 2.0 made it feasible to connect external peripherals, such as wifi adapters, optical drives, ethernet ports and so on - these previously needed to be installed inside the computer. Transfer speeds of up to 480Mbps assisted in making all of this possible, and in this era, USB ports began to multiply and completely replace older legacy ports on desktops and laptops.
The coming of age of USB 2.0 and its 3.0-speed increase to 5Gbps has made it even more helpful to the cases mentioned above! Taking less and less time to perform system backups or to move giant video files around and relieves a bottleneck for 802.11 ac or gigabit ethernet adapters.
To put it simply, USB is not without its problems. Still, it has managed to gain and keep comprehensive support from technology companies and the primary USB type-a connector found on most computers has stayed the same size and shape for 20 years!