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IEEE stands for Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers which is (among other things) a standards body that develops communication standards used in computers and peripherals.

I think the easiest way to understand communication standards is to think of them as Languages that the computer speaks. A language is just a set of pre-defined vocabulary and grammar/word order and usage. A standards committee helps to set the vocabulary and grammar of communication. So a Linux server can talk to a Macintosh and a computer running Windows 98. All the computers understand exactly what is happening, because they are all speaking the same language.

While in actuality it really does just boil down to a bunch of 1's and 0's. think of how people talk on 2 way radios. You can't speak and listen at the same time, so people developed a type of "standard" where they would say a lot of "Over's and "Roger's". Assume that some one misinterpreted the standard, they might keep flipping the radio "over" or ignore the entire conversation because it is obviously intended for someone named Roger. The communication standards save us from a technological tower of Babel.

The most common IEEE standards that consumers run into are IEEE 1284, IEEE 1394, and IEEE 802.11.

IEEE 1284 is the standard used for communication to Parallel devices. (The other option would be to communicate directly with another computer… and that uses a different type of cable) IEEE compliant cables are used to connect parallel Printers, scanners, zip drives, and other devices. They generally come with three kinds of connections.

  • There is the basic DB25, which matches the 25 pin port on the back of most desktop computers.
  • There is the 36 pin Centronics port, which is about 2″ wide and acually uses a tongue and groove type interface rather than independent pins.
  • HP developed another port that they put on some of their printers and all-in-one devices. We call it the Mini Centronics but it is also called “Centronics C” sometimes. It looks generally the same as the standard Centronics port, (36 pins or contacts and the tongue and groove type interface) but it is about half the width, only about 1 inch wide.

IEEE 1394 is most commonly known as Firewire and is sometimes also called ilink or lynx It can be used to connect Hard drives, digital cameras and seems to be the connection of choice now for Digital Camcorders. Again there are three common connections.

  • 6 pin is about a half inch wide and kind of bullet shaped, with 3 contacts on each side.
  • The 4 pin connector is a small rectangle with one concave side. The 4 pins actually sit on the concave side.
  • There is now also a 9 pin connector that supports the Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b) specification. The 9 pin connection kind of has a picture frame look, a rectangle inside a rectangle, with 9 contacts on the inside.

802.11 is a standard used for wireless internet. First there was 802.11a, it was problematic and never gained wide acceptance. 802.11b is also known as WiFi, and virtually created the market for wireless networking. Most of the access points that you find in Hotels, Airports and Cafe’s use 802.11b. There is also IEEE 802.11g, which is backward compatible with 802.11b so it can use all of the WiFi access points. The “G” cards support a highter transfer rate (54 Mbps compared to 11 Mbps for WiFi transfers) and has better range. So if you are buying… look for 802.11g and you will likely be happy.

So that’s the basic rundown. If a User Manual or product description mentions IEEE, in any of it’s variations, hopefully you’ll have a feel for what they are talking about.

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