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Sony preps HiFD for PlayStation 2

Erstwhile floppy replacement to become consumer storage standard

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Sony is preparing to have another go at beating Iomega at its own game, when it relaunches its HiFD next-generation floppy disk format later this year. According to a report on CNet, Sony will re-introduce the 200MB HiFD drive in the autumn, with versions for connection to parallel, USB and PC Card ports. A FireWire/IEEE1394 version will ship further down the line. HiFD was unveil back in 1997, and finally shipped late last year. Trouble was, the drives didn't work, and Sony quickly suspended shipments. In any case, the format had long since missed its chance to make any kind of impression on the PC market. Iomega's 100MB Zip format has dominated the floppy replacement arena, thanks largely to a clever marketing programme and getting there first. Imation's 120MB SuperDisk format and LS-120 drives, the first real Zip rival, has singularly failed to dent Iomega's marketshare, despite offering backwards compatibility with 1.44MB floppies. Imation's plan -- like Sony's -- was to persuade PC vendors to fit LS-120 drives instead of a standard floppy drive and a Zip. However, very few manufactures complied, and the format remains an option extra rather than the standard component Imation wanted to be. Sony probably had more of a chance here than Imation. HiFD is more capacious and faster than LS-120, and Sony has a long history of supply standard floppy drives. However, Imation's lack of success in signing up PC OEMs suggests that Sony wouldn't have much luck here, either -- Zip is simply too well entrenched. So why is Sony bringing HiFD back? The CNet report reckons it wants to have another go at attracting PC vendors and users, and it may well push some units in that direction, though it's clear from the Sony source the report cites that the company has yet to win any business in this area. No, Sony's real motivation here is to turn HiFD into a storage format for its forthcoming PlayStation 2, which is due to ship in the HiFD relaunch timeframe. Last week, Sega announced it plans to offer a Zip drive for its Dreamcast console, to allow players to save games, and download files from the Internet through the console's built-in modem. Sony, like Sega, realises that games consoles are destined to become the WebTVs of the future, which is why Sega chose WindowsCE as Dreamcast's OS. It's still unclear what PlayStation 2's OS will be -- something based on the compact Linux kernel seems a good bet -- but Sony is certainly looking beyond games. That's why the device will contain IEEE1394 ports (or iLink ports, as Sony calls them), to connect up digital cameras and other digital consumer goods. They all require mass storage media, and, guess what, that's just what HiFD offers. ®

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