The IEEE 1394 interface, was developed in the late 1980s by Apple. Apple called this interface FireWire to put a more consumer oriented name to it. This interface is a serial bus interface standard for high-speed communications and synchronous real-time data transfer. Basically, we all know it as a method to transfer data from a storage device to a computer.
When firewire was first developed, the real competition was serial cable transfer or a brand new standard called USB. But firewire was hundreds of times faster than USB. This allowed firewire to become the standard for video camera data transfer as video moved into the digital arena.
Many Mac users were first introduced to using firewire with a video camera. A firewire connected video camera was an important part of Apple’s iMovie introduction because using this type of camera interface allowed the new iMovie software to not only load the video data but to control the playback of the camera. This was a huge advance from the need to press play on the camera and then capture on the computer. It allowed iMovie to become the standard for video production in homes and businesses world wide.
But firewire not only allowed video data transfer, it allowed data transfer of all types. Firewire harddisks became the gold standard on the Macintosh side of computing as people used the fast transfer ability to have quick backups and even use the external drives to run the operating system of their computers. Eventually, USB caught up in speed with USB2 but because USB was a shared bus system, slower devices or multiple devices on the bus reduced the speed to a crawl.
Firewire advanced to be twice the speed of USB2 but it never really caught on as the video camera industry moved to solid state memory and memory card storage. This left firewire to primarily a disk storage interface.
For years, I have recommended firewire to mac users (and PC users with a firewire interface) for harddrive storage. It has always had better throughput than USB2 and it was chainable so you could add an additional drive to the chain and get more storage.
Unfortunately, that time has passed. Apple has given firewire the boot in early June 2012 with it’s introduction of thinner machines. Firewire was already jettisoned from the MacBook Air since it’s introduction. At first, this was worrisome since USB performance just was not up to the large data transfer tasks. But with the introduction of Thunderbolt in Apple’s new systems, all that remains is availability of peripherals to put the nail in the firewire coffin.
Thunderbolt (originally called Light Peak)is an interface for connecting peripherals to a computer via an expansion bus. Thunderbolt was developed by Intel and Apple together. Thunderbolt provides a much more capable bus than firewire ever did and does so with blinding speed. But the technical capabilities will not kill firewire. The size of the connector is what has done that.
As devices get smaller, the space for a connector becomes precious. Firewire connectors are just too large for new devices while thunderbolt connectors are much smaller. Combine a better technical solution with one that fits and that explains firewire’s demise.
So for Firewire users world wide, it’s been a good run. Fortunately, Apple has introduced a Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt adapter to get us by until our firewire peripherals need to be replaced. Firewire served us well but its time has come for the old parts bin. Faster connectivity is here with thunderbolt and even with USB3 to some extent. Don’t morn it’s passing but revel in the faster data transfers of the future.