A stellar pair of reverse engineers, bushing and pytey from iPhone DevTeam/Team Twiizers, have launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to back OpenVizsla, a open/hackable hardware-based USB protocol analyzer. They've got my support — this work will continue to enable free/open drivers for everything from iPods to 3G modems, and allow indie software developers to continue making tools that interact with our hardware:
USB has a standard, published interface that is properly described (at great length) but the actual protocols for connected devices are not common and are often proprietary to the individual vendors or manufacturers. USB succeeded at eliminating most strange cables, but requires custom drivers for many types of hardware.
Often, these USB protocols are intentionally obfuscated to make them confusing and complex in order to attempt to restrict support to the original manufacturer of the device. In this case the USB packets themselves hold the key to the information that is necessary to write independent third party drivers.
Protocol analysis and reverse engineering is needed to create such drivers and these tasks rely on the real-time capture of USB traffic. Software-based analyzers are available, but only useful in certain limited applications.
Hardware based protocol analyzers are expensive and are usually out of the reach of most independent developers, hobbyists and hackers. The most popular products cost $1400+ and, with few exceptions, use proprietary Windows-only client software, proprietary protocols, and proprietary data formats that are hard to export for use with other software.
OpenVizsla will be a completely open design of a device that can capture USB 1.1/2.0 (high-speed, full-speed and low-speed) traffic passively between a target USB device and the connected host (usually a PC, but potentially anything that has a USB host port — think Xbox 360 and PS3). It will be controlled by any computer using open-source client software or potentially in standalone mode (where captured traffic is stored onto an on-board SD card).
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