The end of CDs

While waiting for the imminent release of PCLinuxOS 0.94 I started wishing for a USB flash drive to back up my /home data. I usually just buy the Live CD, but I then started to think, what I'd really like to have is the OS come on a flash drive. No installation would be necessary, just plug it in and use. Then in a flash, an epiphany, it became clear, the end of CDs is near.

And when I say CD I don't just mean regular old 700 MB compact disks, I also mean DVDs, and the new Blue-ray and HD DVDs optical disks too. In fact,I see a world in the near future (5 years?) where, like the floppy, optical disks will take their place in the trash bin of yesterdays technology.

Now I know Sony, Phillips, et al might not like to hear this, but the logic is unassailable, and the consequences inexorable. And the logic goes something like this.

CDs started out as a replacement for records (albums) as a way to digitally store and distribute music. And with the CD begat the need for the CD player. And things were good, and the music industry (and equipment makers) made a ton of money reselling content they had amortized the cost of production of decades before.

Then the computer industry realized that compact disks were really just another way to store lots of bits cheaply, and thus begat the use of CDs to store and distribute software. And with this need begat the ubiquitous CD drive in all computers, and the death of the floppy.

But for all the benefits optical disk storage brought, there was an Achilles heel inherent in their use -- they require a mechanical optical drive to play them with. And being mechanical beasts, by nature, they are subject to all the inherent negative aspects of such things (size, weight, fragility, etc).

For like the floppy before it, CDs ultimately just provide a standard, and relatively cheap, means to provide a higher level of data storage than what existed before it. And now its time too is coming to an end.

I see flash drives as the emerging king of mass PC storage. Not only will flash memory technology transcend the need and application of optical disk storage, it will transform what the PC has come to look like.

Well, when you break it down, all a PC is is an operating system, nonvolatile memory to store the OS and programs on, (RAM) memory to run programs out of, interface devices to provide for human interaction (keyboards, mice, etc), a screen interface, and eternal device interface (for printers, et al) capabilities.

Technically, flash drives already provide the means for a complete replacement for what optical disks are used for now. High capacity drives already provide for greater storage than Blue-ray/HD DVD (25-64 GB). The ONLY relative negative issue to overcome (for the average consumer) is price. But even that won't be an issue in 3-5 years.

Eventually, I see PCs just being a standard chassis that provides a base for the CPU, RAM memory, peripherals interface, and screen. If you want, you can get it with nonvolatile (flash) memory included, but for many people, they would just stick in their own flash drive and be instantly up and running with whatever OS they choose to have on it. There would be no need for the mechanical optical drive because everything now distributed on optical disks would be on flash drives.

In my mind the inevitability of this is a foregone conclusion. Sure, CDs, et al, will be around (like albums still are now), but you would just get an external optical disk player to plug into your non-legacy based PC, like you do now with floppies, Zip drives, and such.

So before you go out and blow a paycheck on that new Blue-ray or HD DVD player you might want to wait a while, for eventually we'll all be using cute little palm sized semiconductor memory drives to satisfy all our data storage needs.


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