With the development of computers, the amount of data that could be processed rapidly expanded and methods of storing and transporting this amount of information had to be created. In the early years of personal computing, removable floppy disks were often the only storage format available as the hard disks of the time were large and expensive. Computers such as the Apple Macintosh ran completely off its 3.5” floppy disk drive which contained the entire operating system. Fourteen years later Apple’s iMac would be one of the first computers launched without a 3.5” drive.
The slow speed and fragility of floppy disks led to the development of optical formats such as the CD-ROM, which was originally designed to be purely a medium for audio recordings. The development of user-writable CDs allowed a user to create perfect reproductions of music recordings every time. This created a feeling of unease amongst the American recording industry, which imposed compulsory royalties on recordable drives and blank media. Later formats such as DVDs and Blu-ray would have increasingly complicated copy-protection systems which hackers would try to defeat in a constant game of cat and mouse.
The creation of high-compression audio formats such as MP3 further complicated the issue as users could compress audio tracks by up to 90%. With the rise of the Internet, these files could also be transferred and distributed to a worldwide audience, bypassing the need for removable storage completely.
With no moving parts to wear out as with floppy disks and less vulnerable to scratch damage as with optical disks, solid-state flash memory is the next generation of portable storage. These small cards are mostly used in small portable devices such as digital cameras and phones. The increasing development of integrated circuits has allowed these formats to grow in capacity exponentially, whilst retaining a level of backwards compatibility.