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It's time to fling the floppy disk and cooperate on a new technology

Douglas E. Welch

InfoWorld, August 17, 1992 v14 n33 p49(1)

COPYRIGHT InfoWorld Publishing Company 1992

Behold the humble floppy disk. Despite attempts to make it sturdier, more reliable, and better protected, it is showing its age. You would think computer manufacturers would have realized a long time ago that it is time to fling the floppy into the trash and develop an adequate replacement.

Over the 10 years that have passed since IBM introduced its PC, desktop computer capabilities have increased dramatically. Sixteen kilobytes of RAM just doesn't make it anymore, and neither does a 1.2-megabyte floppy disk. The size of an average data file has increased more than 100 times, while the floppy is barely six times its original 180K capacity. Despite various attempts at high-capacity floppies, no standard has been chosen, and the average user is left to drift through the morass of incompatibilities and limitations. Hardware manufacturers have missed the fact that floppy disk technology is already obsolete. They are still making technology for the computer equivalent of the Model T Ford.

A solution has been present for a long time, and not one manufacturer has picked up on it. For several years now, we've been able to buy 40-megabyte removable hard disks, which have been rendered obsolete by 80-megabyte models. With the extraordinary speed of innovation in the computer industry, it is easy to envision smaller, faster, and higher-capacity removable drives in the very near future. Just think: 40, 80, 120, 130, or 300 megabytes of storage you could pull out and take with you. Sure, the cartridges are too big for your pocket, but so, too, are 50 floppies.

Graphics and multimedia producers practically jumped for joy (and their wallets) when these gems arrived. Finally they could move their projects around without lugging cumbersome streaming tape drives or thousands of floppy disks. The new devices also opened up many new avenues for publishing service bureaus, multimedia developers, cross-country data transfer, and portable computing. Every computer user has something to gain from removable technology.

For all these benefits, no one has started packaging these drives in a standard PC. Instead of putting the best available technology to use, manufacturers are content to spend millions of dollars to develop a new floppy technology all their own. The "Not Invented Here" syndrome seems to be alive and well. Instead of productively adapting another company's solution to their systems, the manufacturers continue to push their specific technologies in an effort to corner the market.

These manufacturers are not serving their customers. They are seeking to increase their bank accounts with money from new patents and technology instead of providing customers a proven technology that is desperately needed. To benefit everyone, manufacturers should stop squabbling and produce a standard. It is still possible to make a profit and develop technology that can make everyone's life a little bit better. Cooperation should not be a dirty word. It was cooperation that created many of the technologies we use today.

In everyone's best interest, let's retire the floppy to its rightful place on the museum wall. It's time to move into the future and settle on a replacement instead of putting sticks-and-stones technology in a space-age box.

"Peer to Peer" gives readers a forum for discussing computing and management issues. Send submissions to Rachel Parker, Opinions Editor (MCI Mail 340-4371). Submissions can also be faxed to (415) 358-1269.

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