Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet
In order for them to be useful, barcode scanners often have to be connected to computers. We will recall that in virtually all cases, the data which gives meaning to the barcodes they read is stored in databases, which are in turn hosted on computers. What the barcode scanners are meant to do, then, is to transmit the data they scan to the computer, with the computer checking that data against the database in order to assign meaning to it. In most cases, then, scanners without computers will tend to be quite useless. For a scanner to be useful, it has to be connected to the computer. And what we are interested in, for this discussion, is gaining an understanding of the ways through which barcode scanners connect to computers (at the simple, physical, external level).
As it turns out, there are four main ways through which barcode scanners connect to the computers which host the databases upon which they depend:
1. Serial port connection: this is where the scanner comes with a pin which you simply hook onto the serial port of your computer (like where you would hook an extra mouse), and thence connect the barcode scanner to computer. It was, arguably, the first method for connecting barcode scanners to computers to be developed. Its disadvantage is that it is not a plug and play approach. You have to go through quite a lengthy installation process for the barcode scanner, when you go this way. Furthermore, should the scanner 'hang' somewhere in the middle of a computing session, you don't have the option of just unplugging it and then plugging it in again to see whether it will work. Instead, you have to restart the whole machine again, and this can be very disruptive, for instance in the midst of a shopping checkout for a hurried customer. In this system, a scanner would also need specialized software to connect to various computers, meaning that there was no universality in scanner usage.
2. Keyboard wedge connection: this is a connection method where the barcode scanners are put in somewhere between the keyboard and the computer as a 'wedge.' It is something of an improvement on the serial port connection.
3. USB connection: this is what is to be found on most scanners, today. It is where you connect the scanner to the computer using any USB port. A scanner made in this way can, therefore, be used with pretty much any computer. Should it stall midcourse, you have the opportunity to just unplug it, and plug it again, to see if that solves the problem (which it often does). It is also convenient, because in this approach, connecting the scanner to the computer becomes as easy as connecting a USB flash disk to the machine.
4. Wireless connection: this is the emerging technology in ultra-modern scanners, where using systems such as Bluetooth, they are able to connect to the associated databases wirelessly.
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