Friday, January 4, 2008

By The Pricking Of My Thumb Drive....

From my days as a full-time tech writer, I'm on Andy Marken's list for press releases and other fun stuff.

No, seriously, it can be a lot of fun. I'm not sure how I got on his list but he's smarter than the average flak. Amidst the breathless hyperbole--which is also entertaining if well written--he'll look at the real problem the product he's shilling for addresses.

One of those problems is that industry has never really progressed past the 3.5" floppy stage. Back in the early days of the home computer, when the Apple ][ was king and there were a zillion different varieties of home computer, we had 5.25" floppies. (Go back further and you'll find 8" floppies which, had they persisted, would've probably nipped a bunch of dumb jokes in the bud.) Capacity of those first drives was about 140K or, in modern terms, .00014 gigabytes. (You could cut holes in the side and then flip them over to double the capacity, though.) They were your only storage so there was no danger of outstripping them.

When the IBM PC came out the 5.25" went to 360KB (or 720 with a hole puncher!) and then pretty quickly to 1.2MB, no punch required. They had finally made hard drives that would read both side of the disk. Then came the 3.5" floppies, which went up to 1.44MB--still chump change by modern standards but with hard drives at 10-20MB, it meant you could back up your entire drive on less than 20 disks.

And usually much less. Back when your disk drive was largely filled with your own content, 20MB was a lot to fill. A megabyte will hold about a 800 pages of plain text--which it all was back then--and I used to write about 4-6 pages a day, plus whatever code I was programming.

But the 3.5" floppy was set up in '87 or so. And it was creaking by the time CDs rolled around in the '90s. Installing an operating system from 15-20 disks was cumbersome, and with hard drives in the hundreds of megabytes, backups were a laborious, error-prone process. Along comes the CD with its whopping 600MB of storage.

But CDs were a terrible medium for the sort of dynamic storage floppies excelled at. First off, you couldn't initially burn them. They were Read Only. Then you could burn them, but you couldn't necessarily read them anywhere except the machine you burned them on. The rewritable ones were especially fussy, to say the least.

And it probably should be noted that this wasn't entirely coincidental and due to technical matters. Content providers want a read-only medium, and they want to be the sole source of that medium. To this day, some of us pay taxes on blank media as a result. (The mindset of this is worth exploring but this screed is already going long so I'll save it.)

The technology is mostly ironed out at this point with CDs and DVDs, but one again, at 4GB, a backup can go into the dozens and, they're still not very good at rewritable. They're also slow and fragile. (Back in the 3.5 days, you could slam a floppy into a drive and almost immediately start to read/write from it. Plus you could run over it with your car, burn it, put it through the washing machine and other horrors, with a reasonable expectation it would still work.)

So, I do think this solution is kind of cool:

It's not a cheap, disposable medium that runs about 10% of common disk size, true. We may never have anything like that again. And it's not a Flash Drive, which are stuck at 8GB.

What it is is a physically tiny hard-drive that ranges from 120GB-320GB and that runs at a slightly slower speed than most drives today. With a price that's around 80 cents a gig for the smallest configuration (and probably lower for the larger ones.)

I guess the two reasons I find this interesting is: 1) I've been involved in tech long enough to remember the big clunky hard-drives of the past; 2) We're getting to the point where the mechanics of the drive itself are an increasingly small part of the cost. (A floppy disk, of course, is just dumb media that needs to be inserted into the drive, where this carries its own mechanics with it.)

It's not inconceivable that the "floppy of the future" will be a self-contained device like this, not only containing its own drive system but its own operating system. Stuff like this already exists, actually, but will it (or anything) ever hold the position the 3.5" floppy did?

And will it survive if you put it through the washing machine?


  1. Now if this was Althouse and I didn't read the post, I would have thought that was a vibrator. And the headline doesn't help!

  2. Think I should sex things up a bit?

    Nah, that doesn't work for guys.

    I'll get some hot, sexy co-bloggers.... Yeah, that's the ticket.

  3. Now you're talking. Posting pictures in bikini's are the way to go. I always check Right Wing News just for the quick link to Celebrity Tuna. Even cartoon hot babes work.


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