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Everything old is new again


I just read an announcement about the Wii that made me think. I do a lot of thinking.

The Wii’s storage worked in an annoying way – not a lot of onboard space for downloaded games, applications and extra game content, but the ability to store things on an SD card. However – no ability to run things from the SD card, leading to having to copy things back to the minimal internal storage if you want to run them – a backup method rather than extending the internal storage.

Now they’ve changed their mind a bit and are releasing a new dashboard that will allow not only the use of SDHC cards (removing the previous 2gb limit on compatible card capacity) but will also allow software to be run from the cards, although save games will still have to stored in the internal memory. And thus did the thinking begin.

In ye olden dayes storage was all about the removable disk. I used to carry a 5 1/4″ floppy around in my school bag at all times, shipping my (not very good) programs between school and home, as well as between computers in the computer room (they’d ‘upgraded’ from a Spectrum network to BBC Bs by the time I started at a school with more than one computer). I dug out my Commodore 128D at the weekend, inspired by a visit to The National Museum of Computing, forced the lock on my old disc box, flicked through my games and had a quick blast on Winter Games and Magicland Dizzy. Removable media, even down to the industrially sized disk packs that were manhandled between mainframe readers, was the core of data storage. Then the hard-drive revolution happened and things became fixed in place – removable media was still around but after a transitionary period was very much the poor cousin. Networking rose in prominence and became The Way to exchange data, with CDs and DVDs being looked at as a necessary evil for those without fast connections, as a distribution media for commercial software or as a consumer backup solution. Even thatuse of optical media for backups has fallen away as external harddrives came to prominence as large reliable storage devices.

And then it changed again.

The external hard-drive got smaller and more portable. Ruggedised versions of drives, as well as enclosures built to protect the media inside, appeared and became affordable. Data density increased leading to smaller devices and Moore’s law kicked in on price, driving terabytes of portable storage down to affordable levels. USB sticks are now pretty much ubiquitious, almost being given away as freebies with cornflakes – cheap and universally compatible storage that fits into a much smaller package than any disk ever did, with a customisability that adds to their commodification as objects in themselves – how many times did you see people comparing disk labels and sleeves? Well, unless you were me and my mates…

Add into this the advent of the memory card – the natural successor to the disc. The explosion of digital cameras has rolled them out as something that the public are used to and the continued rise in capacity at the same time as an increasingly swiftly falling price per GB has left them as almost as cheap as memory sticks. So now we have Nintendo introducing the concept of having a stack of cards, full of games, sitting in a (Nintendo branded?) ‘disc box’ beside your console, ready for you to flickr through and load up the game of your choice.

Now, where have I seen this before?

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