Convenience isn’t worth forsaking innovation (and liberty).

I normally enjoy John Dvorak’s curmudgeonly writing, but I’m afraid he might be serious with this article.

In this week’s complaint session, I’d like to complain about the little things. And I mean that literally. Little bitty things like proprietary PC connectors. I honestly believe that Congress should pass a law on PC connectors, keeping the number of designs to an absolute minimum. By law, product makers should have to choose between, say, two types of connectors, ensuring that devices work only with those two designs. I’m not kidding.

I agree with the complaint. I know Danielle would agree, given that she’s going through a re-organization of our junk, and we have boxes of orphan cables and connectors. But a law? No, thanks, even though here his call for legislation appears in the same type of context where people incorrectly use literally.

But he continues:

Why, for example, do we have so many variations of USB cables? One side is always the same—the side that attaches to the PC. It’s always a standard rectangular USB connector, and it plugs into any computer you like. But on the other end, the connector is always different. There are large, square connectors. Small, rectangular connectors. Trapezoidal connectors. I-have-no-idea-what-that-is connectors. And God knows how many others. Needless to say, you can never find the right cable when you need it. You end up accumulating so many of them, they’re inevitably scattered around the house. And when that Apple iPod connector goes missing, you can’t update your iPod.

What is the point of all this? I’ve complained about it before, pointing out that camera companies don’t even use the same connectors from camera to camera. Why not? Are they saving 2 cents per connector? Or what? It doesn’t have to be this way. This is USB we’re talking about, a ubiquitous 4-pin standard—not the wiring harness on a 1958 Studebaker. Seriously, we need legislation. This is costing us money for no good reason.

Again, I agree with the complaint, but now I think he might be serious. He gives Toshiba and Nokia as examples of companies that approach this well by putting the company name on the connector/power cord. Dell also does this, although it’s harder to confuse a laptop power supply than it is a router power supply. Still, not every company is dumb. We should applaud and encourage that.

But he continues:

Look, if there’s a law that forces a company to tell you what’s in a can of peaches (“Contains: Peaches, sugar, water”), then there can be a law that forces companies to label their power supplies. Can’t there? The construction industry abides by a book full of rules and regulations when they build out of wood. Can’t we consider mandating some aspects of technology design? Can’t we make a connector that everyone is required by law to adopt and use? Folks, the USB connector has only four pins! How many variations do we really need? Four pins! Now don’t get me started on the subject of batteries.

We do not need legislation. The next time someone needs to use an electronic device and the necessary cord or connector has gone missing, contact the maker of that electronic device and tell them you will no longer buy their products until they start labeling their cords and use standard connectors. Then follow through. It’ll change.

We don’t want to get into a situation where Congress legislates the use of Firewire cables, thus negating the development of the better USB 2.0 standard.