September 1997

Are Bigger Floppy Disks Needed?

The original IBM PC had a 360K floppy disk. That's about 0.35 megabytes (MB). Later the IBM PC-AT was introduced with a 1.2MB floppy disk.

Gradually the PC industry shifted from the 5.25-inch 1.2MB floppy to the 3.5-inch, 1.44MB floppy. Although the capacity was about the same, the 3.5-inch floppy was more reliable because of its hard shell and metal shutter. Also, smaller size and lower power consumption make 3.5-inch drives better for portable computers.

The need for greater floppy capacity first appeared when some programs began to require an unwieldy number of disks. For instance, WordPerfect 6.0 for Windows came on 12 disks. Now that CD-ROM drives are standard equipment on PCs, however, large applications have switched to CD-ROM as the distribution medium.

Another role which a higher-capacity floppy disk really cannot play is that of a backup device for a hard disk. With floppy capacities in the 100MB range, it is not practical to back up today's hard disks, which have capacities starting above one gigabyte (1024 megabytes). Tape drives, or writeable CDs, are needed for routine backup.

Nevertheless, there are applications for a bigger floppy. Sometimes you want to move an entire program from one computer to another. Or you might want to save a program and its data files together so they can be restored easily if something goes wrong. You could use the same tape drive you use for regular backups, but tape drives are slow and require special software.

Multimedia presentations with detailed graphics, sound, and perhaps even video clips can easily require multi-megabyte files. In this situation, a large-capacity floppy allows you to copy the presentation from your desktop PC to the floppy disk and then to run the presentation directly from an external floppy drive attached to a notebook computer.

The 100-Megabyte Floppy

Situations such as these are well suited to a floppy disk of approximately 100MB capacity. The most popular hardware of this kind is Iomega's Zip drive. The drive costs about $150 and a 6-pack of disks is about $100. The Zip disks are similar in size to a 3.5-inch, 1.44MB floppy disk.

One advantage of the Zip drive is simply its popularity. The disks are widely available, and if you want to send someone a large file on a Zip disk, there is a reasonable chance that they will have a Zip drive available to read it.

There are, however, some disadvantages to the Zip drive. For one, Iomega's technical support has been criticized frequently in the Internet newsgroups. In addition, the Zip drive does not replace your floppy drive. It is always used as an additional drive. You still need the standard floppy drive in order to boot your computer (for example, if you need to replace the hard disk).

Replacing The Floppy Drive

There is another technology, called the SuperDisk or LS-120, which actually replaces the standard floppy. The LS-120 is a 120-megabyte floppy which can also read standard 1.44MB floppy disks. In principle, you can boot from an internal LS-120 drive, which connects to the IDE interface just like a hard disk or CD-ROM drive. However, if you are upgrading an existing computer, you may need a BIOS upgrade on the motherboard or an add-in card. There is also a parallel-port external version of the LS-120 drive, but you can't boot the computer from it.

Of course, the LS-120 also has a few disadvantages. Some people who have used both say that the Zip drive is faster and more reliable. No one can say for certain whether the LS-120 will ultimately be successful in the marketplace, but certainly at the moment you will not be able to send LS-120 disks to very many people.

Zip Drive Or LS-120?

What makes the choice between the Zip drive and the LS-120 difficult is this: the ideal product would be as popular as the Zip drive but would replace the standard floppy like the LS-120 does. Then you wouldn't need two drives with similar functions.

While the Zip drive clearly must fill a need for many people, with more than five million sold, it isn't so clear that everyone needs a higher-capacity floppy. If, in the opinion of the PC manufacturers, not every user requires it, then they won't install the LS-120 as standard equipment because of its additional cost. Users who do need the extra storage capacity can buy a Zip drive or an external LS-120 drive. But if it doesn't become standard equipment on new PCs, then the LS-120 seems likely to fail; the advantage of compatibility with 1.44MB floppy disks becomes irrelevant if you already have a 1.44MB drive.

Organizing Your Work In Folders

Windows 95 makes it easy to organize related files for a project. First, create a new folder. Right-click on the desktop and choose New, Folder. Type the name of the project you are working on and press Enter. Double-click to open your new folder.

Next, fill the folder with shortcuts to the files you need for this project. Suppose you want to add a word processing document. You must find the document on your hard disk, which is the tedious process we are trying to avoid in the future.

One way to find a document is to choose Start, Find, Files or Folders. . . . This brings up the Find window, where you can type in the document name. When you have found the file, put the mouse cursor on the filename and hold down the right mouse button to drag the file onto the project folder. When you release the right mouse button, a menu pops up. Choose Create Shortcut(s) Here.

If you were to drag the file in the usual way, using the left mouse button, you would move the file from its present location (wherever that might be) to the new folder. We just want a shortcut to the file in the new folder. You can rename the shortcut, if you wish, without changing the name of the original document.

To edit the document, double-click the shortcut in the project folder. This should start the word processing program which created the document and load the document at the same time.

You can fill a folder with shortcuts to word processing documents, spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, and so on. Double-click on a file to work on it. By using shortcuts, several projects can share the same file.

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