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Slideshow

The evolution of removable storage

From paper tape to data sticks, and more

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Over the years, people have tried to transfer information from one computer to another in a dizzying number of ways. Here’s a look at some of the best, along with others that time forgot.


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Brave users of history's earliest computers programmed those massive electronic beasts through jumper wires plugged into arrays of sockets. With so few computers in existence (none of them compatible with any others), digital pioneers had little need for portable software: The programs stayed put. Soon, however, companies like IBM began selling multiple identical computers, and users sought a way to program the devices more efficiently, to move programs from computer to computer, and to reload programs later with a minimum of hassle. Thus begins the history of removable computer storage, which in many ways is the story of software distribution: The first job of removable storage was to share software without requiring any reprogramming from scratch. Over the next few pages, we'll revisit dozens of ways that engineers have solved the problem over the past 60 years.


  • Punched paper tape
  • Punch cards
  • Data on tape
  • The first removable disks
  • Tape cartridges
  • Printed on paper
  • The floppy diskette
  • The compact cassette
  • The ROM cartridge
  • The great floppy experiments
  • The optical disc
  • Magneto-optical storage
  • Iomega and the zip drive
  • The floptical disk
  • A removable mess
  • Not just a flash in the pan
  • Removable storage for your rodent?
  • The USB connection
  • The hive mind


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