Microsoft, MAC join on docking specification

Microsoft is working with hardware vendors on specifications for a universal docking station design that would let users swap notebooks from any PC manufacturer into any docking station.

According to company documents, Microsoft is working with the Mobile Advisory Council (MAC) on the specification and may base it on the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard. The USB I/O technology that was originally meant to connect simple devices such as mice and keyboards may be instrumental in bringing together notebooks and docking stations from different vendors.

"We in the MAC want to use something that is existing already, and we are looking at USB," said Rebecca Krull, co-chairman of MAC.

USB in its first iteration could easily be used for port replication, but its low performance of 12Mbps is insufficient to carry video, according to Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights, a US-based consultancy.

Still, the concept would likely appeal to corporate users and their sensitivity to technology's total cost of ownership. A universal docking station would offer device longevity by letting users slip an old notebook into a new docking station and vice versa; cross-platform capabilities; and possibly lower prices due to more competition from new docking station makers, Purdy said.

The objective for the common docking station architecture is to define one standard way for the operating system to interface with the dock, and recognise all of the resources available in the dock.

The result of an agreement between Microsoft and MAC members would be a class driver similar to the drivers that Microsoft currently offers to manufacturers of peripheral devices.

The MAC was established in 1998 by major notebook vendors to advocate mobile computing standards and design.

USB 2.0 at a Glance

-- Performs at 120Mbps to 240Mbps, vs.12Mbps for USB 1.1-- Forward- and backward-compatibility between USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices-- Can be used with higher functionality peripherals, such as videoconferencing cameras, unlike USB 1.1-- Includes power management mechanisms lacking in Version 1.1-- Cost differs minimally from USB 1.1