The GPIB success story began at the end of the 1960's when Hewlett Packard invented the bus. The intention was to create a reliable bus system especially designed for connecting computers and instruments.
This networked system has all features that are required to create a measurement system. Remote control of instruments is one aspect of these features, but there are other more important features like data handshake for reliable operation and real-time response capability, only to name a few.
The original bus system, designed by Hewlett Packard (today the Test & Measurements divisions name is Agilent Technologies), was called HPIB, a short form for Hewlett Packard Interface Bus.
Because of its success and proven reliability, in 1973 the HPIB bus became an US standard, introduced by the IEEE. Since then, the name has been GPIB, for General Purpose Interface Bus. The standards number is IEEE 488.1.
In parallel, the International Electronic Commission (IEC), responsible for the world-wide standardization, approved the standard and called it IEC 625.1. Due to the introduction of a new naming scheme for all standards, it was renamed to IEC 60625.1 later.
There was a slight difference between the IEEE 488.1 and IEC 625.1: The IEC 625.1 standard used a 25 pin DSUB connector for the bus, the IEEE 488.1 standard favored a Centronics-like 24 pin connector. Today, the 24 pin connector is always used, but there are also adaptors available in case older instruments are equipped with a 25 pin DSUB connector.
For these historical reasons, there exist several names for the same interface.
The '.1' extension of IEEE 488.1 / IEC 60625.1 indicates that there are several layers of interface standards. In fact, there is a whole 'family' of standards:
Today, GPIB interfaces are found in nearly all instruments in the USD 1000$ class and above. Low cost instruments use RS232 interfaces. The GPIB standard has been established as the world standard in instrument connectivity. With millions of instruments in the field, the GPIB every day proves to meet the user's expectations for reliable and standardized Test and Measurement systems.
More information on the standards IEC 60625.1 and IEC 60625.2 can be obtained directly at the IEC. The IEEE 488 standards are distributed by the IEEE Standards Association.