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USB Servers: Lets You Share Devices

By definition, a server is a computer or a device on a network that manages network resources. Resources can be just about anything including other computers, the files they contain and peripherals such as printers, external hard drives and scanners. An example of a dedicated server that has a specific function would be a printer server. Normally your printer is directly connected to the computer you are using and it can print only documents and data that come directly from that computer. With a printer server, the printer is connected to a stand-alone device or a computer that's acting as a server on a network. The idea here is that anyone who has access to that network has the ability to use that printer even though it might be physically located in another area. In other words, that printer is now a shared resource.

Most of today's computer peripherals connect directly to a computer via the popular USB 2.0 interface. Printers, scanners, hard drives, mice, keyboards and even more specialized devices like PDAs, digital cameras, thumb drives, electronic white boards and even telescopes use the USB interface to achieve computer connectivity. Until recently, these devices had to be directly connected to a particular user's computer and they would be accessible only by the person using that computer. Now Keyspan has just introduced its USB 2.0 Server and it lets people share these devices on a network.

Keyspan for some time now has had a USB server that is compatible with many of the aforementioned USB devices but this newer server model works with the faster USB 2.0 standard. Looking pretty much like a little rectangular black box with some indicator lights on it, the Keyspan USB 2.0 Server lets you connect two USB devices to it. This effectively lets you make two different USB devices available to anyone on your network and in some cases at the same time.

The Keyspan USB 2.0 Server can connect to the network via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection and automatically senses the network's connectivity speed. The device has its own IP address, which is how remote computers on the network can access the devices connected to the Keyspan USB 2.0 Server.

The included Keyspan USB 2.0 Server software supports USB printers, multi-function printers, scanners, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, serial adapters, mice, keyboards, and more. USB printers may be shared on an automatic basis. Other USB devices are shared on a "one user at a time" basis. Currently, USB audio/video products, as well as other USB hubs that would plug into it, are not supported. Keyspan has indicated that firmware updates for its USB 2.0 Server may include such support at a later time.

Still, this is a really useful little device, especially when you have limited resources and you need to share them with as many people as possible. It also eliminates the need to have a more costly computer dedicated to hosting a USB device. The Keyspan USB 2.0 Server is fully compatible with Windows XP and Vista, and Macintosh OS X systems. $129.

Craig Crossman is a national newspaper columnist who hosts the radio talk show "Computer America," heard on the Business TalkRadio Network and the Lifestyle TalkRadio Network 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday. For information, visit his Web site at