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Friday, 02 February 2007 07:51

The floppy's not dead, it's just changed shape

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News that UK chain PC World will stop selling floppy discs has prompted yet another round of eulogies for the once-familiar format. However, in the rush to proclaim the floppy dead, lots of people are missing the point.


Coincidentally, the same day that PC World made its announcement, Transit was in the process of cleaning out our desk and discovered a stash of old floppies from 1996 or so. Since all the data on them had long since been copied to various CDs, hard drives and network storage archives, getting rid of them was not a difficult decision.

It's certainly true to say that floppy discs have largely become redundant due to their limited capacity (just 1.44MB in the most common 3.5in format). However, what's equally notable is that the need for a rewritable, removable storage media is just as pressing as ever.

In the Internet era, many futurists posited that this wouldn't be the case. With ever-ready network connections, all our data could be stored online, and we'd access it from whatever device was most convenient at the time. Or that was the theory.

There's no doubt that you can try to live your life this way, especially if you're happy to load your Gmail inbox to capacity. But there's also no doubt that there are many occasions when you still want an offline copy -- one that you know you'll have access to even if your ISP chucks a wobbly or the 3G card suddenly offers sub-GSM performance.

Even in a connected environment, moving data off a USB key (the natural successor to the floppy) is much, much quicker than downloading it. If you're sitting in a hotel business centre and planning to send off some files, why pay more money than you have to?

For all those reasons, our need for external storage is as strong as ever. CDs and DVDs never quite cut it for portability; they're great for backup, but too slow for quick movement. USB keys have taken on that role, and while they may not be the same shape or capacity as the rapidly-fading floppy, they're serving exactly the same function.


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