Some of you may remember when 5 1/4-inch floppy disks were standard on computers for removable media that was rewritable. I believe I gave my last disks away with the old computer that used them.
In the 1980s, Apple pioneered the 3 1/2-inch floppy (no longer bendable, but still called “floppy”) capable of holding 1.44 megabytes.
In 1998, Apple became the first mass-market computer manufacturer to stop including floppy drives altogether. Since then, other computer manufacturers have followed suit.
When zip drives came out, they seemed to be the device that might replace the tried-and-true floppy. Iomega at Iomega.com boasts today that it has sold 50 million zip drives. A zip disk can hold 100, 250 or 750 megabytes of data. The 250MB disk holds the equivalent of 173 floppy disks. Yet, even with their popularity, zip drives haven't become standard hardware on computer systems.
CD drives have.
And why not? You can burn a CD to store or transfer large files with a CD burner (CD-RW drive) anywhere from 650MB up to 1 gigabyte. A CD-R disk can only be burned one time, but it can be read by most, if not all, CD players and drives. The rewritable CD-RW disk can only be read by a CD-RW burner or MultiRead-capable CD drives. These drives are becoming standard on new lower-end computer systems. Just look at Dell computers at Dell. com, for example.
All our computers here at the monastery have a CD burner. I just don't find myself transferring one or two files using it. I prefer the venerable floppy. But I find myself throwing away more and more floppies I have lying around that have gone bad, as many are years old. I do my main backup of “My Documents” on each computer using CD-RW disks in case the computer hard drive crashes.
Iomega says its zip drive out-paces the CD-RW burners in rewritable performance. (Until recently, CD-RW disks had to be reformatted to recover the space taken by “deleted” files when a disk becomes full, unlike the competing technologies like zip, which all offer true drag-and-drop functionality with no such limitation.) The zip drive had better be a considerable performance improvement since a 750MB zip disk will run you $10. On the other hand, CD and CD-RW disks are relatively inexpensive, running 16 cents and 32 cents respectively.
At the start of 1997, DVDs and DVD burners looked like the new king on the block. With a minimum capacity of 4.7GB and with disks now costing 30 to 60 cents, one would think CDs would be another obsolete technology. At first, wars over CD standards confused consumers and slowed the adoption of this technology. With newer drives, compatibility issues have all but disappeared. Larger hard drives have led to larger media files, especially video. This, in turn, makes larger-capacity disks like DVDs a necessity for transferring and storing files.
Just as CDs brought about an explosion in audio recording on computers, DVDs are doing the same with video. DVD burners can be found now on most new computer systems starting at around $1,000.
Even this technology continues to evolve. Current red-laser DVD technology is going to be replaced with blue-laser technology for greater storage density. If that isn't enough, Sony and Toppan have announced the development of a new groundbreaking optical disk, made largely from paper. This new disk can store five times more information than the current DVD disks on the market — a whopping 25GB. These disks will be able to hold two hours of high-definition images and, to ensure data security, disks can be cut up with scissors and thrown away. These disks will further lower the price of DVDs and may bring about the end of CDs.
Another removable media choice is the USB flash drive. It may well become the replacement for the floppy. Since 1996, computers have included USB ports. All new devices now plug into them, including flash drives. These very small drives can fit into your pocket. They are more durable than hard drives because they contain no internal moving parts. Basically, a USB flash drive is a portable hard drive with up to 4GB of storage capacity. You just plug it into your computer USB port and you have access to a new hard drive. They are so easy to use that the U.S. Department of Energy has banned their use in the workplace, saying they make copying and stealing sensitive data just too easy.
Flash drives are not cheap — a 2GB one will run you about $150, while 4GB runs $500. You may already have a USB flash drive and not even know it. Digital cameras appear to your computer just like a hard drive. You can transfer files to and from your USB camera that appears just like a hard drive under “My Computer” or move them to another computer. The same is true of other portable storage devices such as Apple IPods.
Floppies are the oldest form of removable storage, and there will always be some nostalgia associated with them. But who has time for nostalgia?
Brother John Raymond, co-founder of the Monks of Adoration, writes from Venice, Florida.