Lantronix Ubox USB/Ethernet Bridge (see the figure)) is a handy gadget when the USB device you need to connect to your PC is farther away than your usual three foot USB cable. It is also a handy way to network USB printers (and these days what printers are not USB-based).
The unit plugs into an Ethernet network and it handles up to four USB 1.1 devices directly. It can be connected to a USB hub if more devices are to be connected through it. The key comes in the USB/Ethernet bridge driver and support software, called the Ubox Device Server, are installed on the Windows 2000 or XP PCs.
The driver looks like a normal USB device to the operating system. The only difference is the driver works through the network interface instead of through a hardware USB host controller. The operating system does not care. The driver works with the Device Server program that monitors the devices attached to the Ubox.
You can setup the system so newly attached USB devices automatically connect to a particular PC or the connections can be initiated manually through the program. The program shows what is currently connected. The setup can get rather sophisticated so particular USB devices will be associated with particular PCs. By the way, any number of PCs can have the Device Server installed and the software can connect to any number of Uboxes. Add a wireless range extender like Belkin’s and USB devices can be placed almost anywhere.
The Device Server has one other neat feature. It can auto connect/disconnect to printers when print jobs become available. This means multiple PCs can share the same printer but they need to use it one at a time.
The Ubox will not be a solution for all USB problems. It is not going to handle streaming video too well but it can easily do image capture from a remote camera. Still, it works great for the majority of USB devices like printers, scanners and memory sticks.
Lantronix Ubox USB/Ethernet Bridge is priced at $179.