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February 10, 2003

Floppies?

“We don’t need no steenkin’ floppies!”

According to this Austin American Statesman article [link broken], Dell is planning to discontinue the floppy drive on their computers.

How … umh … innovative!
What will those wild-eyed revolutionaries think of next?

Dell wants to give floppy drives the boot

PC maker is phasing out drives, but buyers may have trouble letting go

By John Pletz
American-Statesman Staff
Sunday, February 9, 2003

Dell Computer Corp. wants to wean computer users from the floppy drive, a beloved but often little-used technology that predates the personal computer itself.

Starting later this month, a floppy will no longer come standard on high-end consumer PCs. Customers will have to pay extra for a floppy drive, although Dell hasn’t disclosed pricing.

Dell thinks writeable CD drives and tiny flash-memory devices that look like a key fob are better choices because they hold exponentially more data.

“Files have become larger and more complex, and the floppy drive isn’t cutting it anymore,” said Shannon Baxley, manager in Dell’s consumer PC business.

But computer users have a strong connection to the floppy disk, a 3.5-inch square sandwich of plastic, aluminum and magnetic tape that hit the market in 1984, long before widespread adoption of the personal computer.

The floppy dates back to the early 1970s when it was 8 inches wide and housed in a flimsy plastic shield, which produced the name floppy. Today’s version is smaller and is no longer floppy, thanks to a hard plastic shell.

The floppy was developed when computer data and memory were measured in bytes, not gigabytes, and when using a computer required rudimentary programming skills. But today its ability to hold data, just 1.44 megabytes, seems woefully inadequate. Audio files and simple documents can run 3 to 5 megabytes.

Users aren’t likely to give up the floppy without some persuasion. When Dell did focus-group studies, nearly all of the users said they valued their floppy drives. But when asked when they last used a floppy, about 90 percent confessed it had been six months or more.

“Although customers are looking at the floppy as a security blanket, it’s because they don’t know what’s out there,” Baxley said.

It’s true, says David Pimentelli, who sports a flash-memory key on a lanyard that hangs from his neck. He uses an Apple computer, which abandoned the floppy drive almost five years ago, as well as a Dell.

But he is quick to defend the floppy. Until he bought the flash-memory device, he used floppies at least once a month to provide copies of documents to friends or colleagues. At about 20 cents apiece, floppies are a cheap solution.

“I could just give them to somebody,” he said. “I’m not going to give someone one of these (flash devices) that cost $20. You wouldn’t hand somebody a twenty.”

PC makers are split on the floppy’s fate. Sony quit offering the floppy on some machines, but it still shows up in others. All Hewlett-Packard and Compaq consumer PCs still come standard with floppies, and there are no plans to drop them soon, a spokeswoman said.

Corporations steadfastly refuse to part with their floppy drives. Dell began making them optional in its corporate PCs about six months ago. So far, 70 percent of commercial buyers still choose the floppy.

That’s largely because a lot of diagnostic software comes on floppies, which technicians still use, said David Schwarzbach, a Dell product manager. But he says consumers seldom use the same maintenance tools and won’t miss the floppy.

He argues that the space in a computer chassis could be better served with another device, such as a writeable CD drive.

There are other factors, as well. The floppy drive is cheap, costing a manufacturer $15 or less. But they’re costly to test, said Richard Kelly, vice president of engineering at Accurite Technologies Inc., which makes alignment equipment for floppy-drive makers.

Dell executives have been focusing on reducing defects and repairs as a key strategy to cut costs and maintain profits in the cut-throat PC business.

Flash-memory devices are just one alternative to a floppy. In addition to CDs, there are floppies that offer much higher capacity, up to 250 megabytes. And Zip drives now provide 750 megabytes of storage or more.

Unlike the floppy, they’re not as standardized or ubiquitous, Kelly said. “The cheapest thing around that’s easy to deal with is a floppy.”

Dell, however, is pushing the flash-memory devices, which are attractive because they carry higher sticker prices than the floppy, ranging from $30 for 32 megabytes to $200 for 256 megabytes. That may boost sagging prices and anemic profits in consumer PC sales.

But adoption is likely to be slow, said Todd Kort, a computer analyst at research firm Gartner Inc.

“I think those little key-type drives are for the avant-garde users,” he said. “Until they come down in price, they’re not going to become a mass-market phenomenon.”

That’s why Dell is targeting high-end home users first. But it hopes to make the floppy an option on all consumer models within three to four months.

It could take two or three years to divorce the floppy from the chassis, Schwarzbach said. But external floppy drives that plug into a PC will remain on computer-store shelves.

“It will hang around,” he said.

© 2003, The Austin American Statesman

Posted by distler at February 10, 2003 12:47 AM

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/me hides his powerbook.

don’t tell michael dell, he’ll feel like a follower!

Posted by: Paul on February 11, 2003 2:18 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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