As users transition to newer kinds of removable storage, its vital that their computer BIOS first has bootable support for the new types of connections they require, including USB, FireWire, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In addition, users must be mindful that while a portable hard drive may offer more capacity, it also costs a lot more.
Officials at Dell, HP and Sun predict the floppy disk will be around for at least four more years because of the sheer volume of existing computers with older BIOSes.
Indicative of the outlook for floppies was market analyst Gartner Inc.s decision last year to cease its coverage of the floppy-drive market.
"Factory revenue for legacy 1.44MB floppies began declining in 2000, even though that was the year when shipments reached their highest point. Forty-two percent of the new PCs shipped in 2006 [will] not have a legacy floppy drive," said Gartner analyst Fara Yale, in San Jose, Calif.
What happens after that is too far out to predict, Yale said, but "if Dell and others decide to leave the floppy out of business PCs, it could decline faster than our projections."
Nevertheless, the floppy disk will be with us for some time.
Smeds Taylor would like to see floppy drives go, but because he has so much legacy hardware that doesnt have up-to-date BIOSes with support for newer storage connectivity technology or that doesnt have higher-capacity options, he is not sure he could get rid of the drives immediately.
"Id have to do some legwork to see the effect. We have a lot of legacy stuff," Taylor said.
Teac America Inc.s Data Storage Products division, a drive manufacturer based in Montebello, Calif., sees a gradual sunset for the floppy disk.
"It is true that not too many people use the floppy, but frankly, the floppy drive is the cheapest insurance on a PC to guarantee that you can easily transfer small files," said Les Luzar, general manager at the Teac division. "Even last year, we were still selling [5.25]-inch [disk drives]. Some people still buy them."
Even as replacement technologies mature and gain support, "kids give these floppies away, but youre not going to be giving your USB drive away," Luzar said.
But even Luzar will hardly mourn the floppy drives long slide into oblivion.
"If I had to put money on it, Id say in five years, there wont be much market left," Luzar said. "Ive been in the floppy business 21 years. I hardly use mine."
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