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A few years ago, I worked with Brent, an out-of-town computer consultant, on a project. Every Monday for a few months, he’d trudge to my office from the airport with his computer attach� case. Brent’s attach� contained his PowerBook, cords, and diskettes, as well as a big, heavy external hard drive. He used the drive to stow software and files that he didn’t necessarily need, so that they wouldn’t clog up his laptop’s internal hard disk. Plus, it was easier to move stuff around from computer to computer, especially if our internal network was down. The drive easily weighed more than twice his PowerBook. Plus, Brent had to power down a computer, plug the drive in, and power it back up if you wanted to attach it to the computer. Brent’s external drive had a capacity of all of 500 MB, and he paid plenty for it. What a difference a few years make. We now have hot-swappable drives (no shutdown/attach/restart routine necessary); small, light media and cheap, cheap storage. It’s a lousy way to make money if you’re a manufacturer, but a wonderful time for consumers. Why should road warriors like Brent care about external portable storage? The main reason is backup — if something (software, a file) is important to you, then you should have a clean, undamaged copy. Then there are times when you simply need more space, or don’t want to clutter up your laptop’s hard drive. And sometimes, you have to run that snappy PowerPoint presentation on someone else’s computer, so you need to be able to offload it onto something light and easy to attach. After years of dueling formats, the PC industry finally has decided to take a stab at standardizing. Most modern Windows machines and all Macs now come with Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports. Today, connecting a peripheral is as easy as installing a driver and plugging the thing in. USB is fast enough for most everyday computing uses, such as copying files, and attaching non-pro scanners. But sometimes you just need more speed, for video and high-speed duplicating. For those uses, Sony and Apple are pushing IEEE 1394 (“Firewire” in Applespeak.) Firewire represents a break with Apple’s historic use of the SCSI interface. Most people think of IEEE 1394/Firewire as a way to connect digital camcorders to PCs and iMacs. But it’s suited for attaching just about anything, from pocket-sized external hard drives to high-speed scanners to CD burners. Then there’s the rest: all the little ways to add memory to other portable devices, such as digital cameras, PDAs and the like. I’ll deal with them below. SMALL BUT ROOMY Indispensible to the digital hub lifestyle are CD burners. Compact discs hold up to 650 MB and their price has come down to mere cents a disk if you buy in bulk. Newer models hook up quickly to your laptop via USB or 1394 connections. Among the lightweights (three pounds) is H45 Technology’s Quick CD Writer for PCs. You can plug it into your USB port or PC card slot and it comes with easy-to-use “burning” software. Iomega, which not too long ago seemed like a one-hit Zip disk wonder, has also entered the light-and-easy CD burning market with its ZipCD, for both Windows machines and Macs. Iomega isn’t abandoning the Zip, though. Rather, it seems to be repositioning it as part of our multimedia lifestyle. It’s been spiffed up and redubbed, in one version, FotoShow. You can put your digital pictures on it, hook it up to a TV — look, Ma, no computer! — and transfer images to a 250 MB Zip disk. If you insist on using it the normal way, it acts like a normal USB Zip drive that you hook up to a PC or Mac. Of course, Iomega will happily sell you a regular Zip drive, in either 100 or 250 MB versions, all with USB connectivity. Brent’s old SCSI hard drive’s spirit lives on in a slimmer form in VST Technologies’ FireWire hard drive. It’s about the size of a PDA and offers 6 GB of fast FireWire/IE3994 storage — much more than he had back then. And for those who want to hedge their bets, VST has a USB/Firewire combo drive. POST-PC STORAGE PDA makers like to say we’re living in a post-PC world, and to go with it, there’s post-PC storage. Just like computers, such devices as digital cameras, Palm devices and the like could all benefit from more storage. Iomega, again, is trying to get a foothold with its Clik drive, for about $100. The Clik never hit it big with computer users because of its miserly 40 MB capacity, but that’s enough for a virtual roll of film. Sony’s Memory Stick is more than mere storage, if you believe the pontifications on its Web site: “Envision a world in which all types of digital devices can be connected, and all kinds of digital data can be transferred and shared.” Sony’s VAIO laptops all have “stick” slots, as well as its various digital cameras and camcorder. And, says Sony, should you be so unfortunate as to have a Stick slot-challenged laptop, it will happily sell you a PCMCIA adapter so that you can share the memory. That other major computing platform, the Palm OS, is not about to be left out. Actually, it’s the Palm licensees that are hogging the spotlight. Handspring’s making good on its word to offer useful add-ons, using its “SpringBoard” expansion slot. For around $40, you can add a backup module, or for about double that, a removable storage card. And if you opt for Sony’s Palm clone, the Cli�, you can use — guess what? — a Memory Stick. I haven’t seen Brent in awhile. But I’d venture a guess that his back’s doing a little better now that he doesn’t have to haul so much around.

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