Aardvark DailyNew Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 18th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.
Content copyright © 1995 - 2013 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk
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My first computer had no form of permanent data storage.
No hard drive, no CD drive, no floppy drive, not even tape!
Of course this didn't matter much because its memory was measured in hundreds of bytes rather than gigabytes so, although it was a hassle to type in (using hex-code) a program each time you wanted to run it -- that was the only available option.
However, despite my enthusiasm, I soon tired of all that keying on a crappy (but not cheap) keyboard so I built myself an NRZ interface that worked with the guts of an old audio cassette recorder. Now, at a lowly 110bps, I could save and load data from tape to RAM.
Of course this was 1978 and things have changed a lot since then.
I soon gave up building my own hardware and eventually invested in a TRS80 Model 1 which had its own infuriatingly unreliable cassette-tape based system for loading and storing programs and data.
Suffice to say that within weeks of buying this machine I found myself investing in an expansion unit and one of those new-fangled floppy disks. It was bliss!
A single-sided, single-density floppy drive could hold many times more than the total memory capacity of my humble computer's entire memory (16KB) and it could be accessed in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
Pretty soon, with the growing popularity of CP/M based systems, virtually all personal computers were shipping with 5.25" floppy drives of varying capacities and with wildly incompatible formats.
The floppy drive was what turned a hobby-grade machine into something that businesses could actually put to use. Being able to load software and save documents in a matter of seconds (rather than minutes) and with near-total reliability was something crucial to the commercial use of these machines.
The 5.25" floppy drive had an amazingly long life and was for many years, the primary non-volatile storage media. When you bought software, it would also come on a floppy drive. In the case of something like Turbo Pascal, it came on a single disk. In the case of Watcom C/C++, it came on a dozen or so disks.
Eventually, the 5.25" format was replaced by the 720K or 1.44MB "stiffy", hardcased floppy -- offering greater storage density and more robust construction. This disk also had a long and glorious life however, with hard drives now being commonplace, backing up onto dozens of these little bits of media was often a real chore.
And speaking of hard drives -- once prices came down, they became ubiquitous and pretty soon nobody even sold a "floppy-only" computer systems.
Then the CDROM arrived and it wasn't uncommon to see computers that had four or more drives fitted: the internal hard drive, a 5.25" floppy, 3.5" floppy and CDROM. This was truly the height of the spinny, whirly, roundy-roundy era.
Now things are changing again and drives are starting to disappear.
I don't know of any computers that ship with a floppy drive of any form as standard equipment these days -- they're dead.
CDROM drives were replaced by CD writers and then by DVD writers which handle both CDs and DVDs.
But now, even the humble optical disk is under threat. With high-capacity USB drives costing peanuts and capable of storing three to seven times more than a DVD, neither the floppy nor optical drive has much of a future, at least according to some.
Finally, SSD prices are also falling while performance and reliability seems to be improving.
It's becoming increasingly obvious that the writing is on the wall for all forms of mechanical drives. Solid-state memory will soon have replaced the mechanical drive and the only moving parts inside your computer will be the cooling fans.
When you buy new software it will either come on a USB drive or SD card -- or you'll just download it from the Net. Likewise, backups or data-transfers will be performed using these removable solid-state memory devices or via the cloud.
Mechanical drives have had their day and are now in the twilight of their years.
The only worry is -- how will I rip my DVDs once DVD drives are removed from the option-list when buying a new computer?
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