http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54739,00.html By Paul Boutin 2:00 a.m. Aug. 26, 2002 PDT Out: the Internet. In again: sneakernet. While Internet speeds stagnate and firewalls proliferate, portable storage media have been screaming ahead in capacity, transfer speed and, most importantly, ease of use. As a result, computer users are bypassing cyberspace and burning discs or toting plug-and-play drives instead. System administrators coined the term "sneakernet" more than 15 years ago to jokingly describe "transfer of electronic information by physically carrying tape, disks or some other media from one machine to another," according to Eric Raymond's Jargon File. But four years after pundits trashed Steve Jobs for refusing to allow a floppy drive on the original iMac, CDs have essentially replaced floppies and magnetic tapes. Gartner analyst Mary Craig has estimated 50 million CD burners will be sold in 2002. CD readers are built into "virtually every home and business computer" currently in use, according to the Optical Storage Technology Association. At Wal-Mart, disc burners are standard fare on sub-$800 PCs. Nearly 4 billion blank CDs -– found next to the candy in checkout lines –- will be sold this year, says the International Recording Media Association. Yet newer portable media make the 20-year-old CD-ROM format feel like writing on a wet napkin. A 1-GB USB drive, thinner than a pack of gum, can hang innocuously from a key chain. Larger drives not much bigger than a personal CD player hold up to 160 GB - enough space for 3,200 albums in MP3 format. Data-mongers say shipping such a drive via FedEx is faster and more reliable than transferring bits over the Internet. "If you're trying to copy something from home to work or vice versa, it makes a lot more sense to just carry it," said J.D. Falk, a Unix administrator from Oakland, California. "I used to FTP (file transfer protocol) files, but it took a long time, and it sucked up all my bandwidth at home." Falk now transfers software demos and other data using a 3-GB drive with both USB and FireWire cables, making it hot-swappable on most computers. "Scott McNealy used to talk about the ability to sit down at any computer anywhere and have all your data in front of you," he said. "That doesn't happen over the network yet, but it can happen if you have all your data in your pocket." Security consultant Derek Pearcy likewise says key-chain drives give him "everything I require to do my job in nothing larger than I can ... carry in a cupped palm." Even cute little electronics gadgets now come packed with enough memory capacity to hold years' worth of e-mail and documents. "Once I started using Compact Flash for my camera, I found it was a perfect portable storage medium," said amateur photographer Troy Sheets, who uses the matchbook-sized cards to transfer files between computers, up to one-half GB at a time. The coolest sneakernet accessory is, of course, Apple's iPod. Hackers quickly realized the fetishized MP3 player was, at its heart, a FireWire drive, with up to 20-GB capacity on new models. Posters to the iPodHacks.com website share tips for using the device as a portable boot disk: Mac users can drag their system disk onto an iPod before leaving on a trip, and then plug it into a friend's Mac at their destination. Rebooting from the iPod instead of the Mac (a practice Apple claims is unsupported) creates a mirror image of one's home computer, including the operating system and all personal files. Boot again from the Mac, and the iPod can be taken home with any newly downloaded e-mail or edited files, leaving the host's computer safely unmodified. At the other end of the scale, a recent paper from Microsoft Research seriously suggested a terabyte-scale sneakernet for supersize system backups and data exchange. "The Next Generation Internet (NGI) promised gigabit-per-second bandwidth desktop-to-desktop by the year 2000," the paper says. "Unfortunately, most of us are still waiting." FireWire and USB 2.0 drives can spew a CD's worth of data in well under a minute. But it's not just size and speed luring users away from the Net. Strict firewall configurations and procedural guidelines at corporate offices often make it simpler to burn a disc than e-mail an attachment. "It's often difficult as a matter of policy to get onto a customer's network," said Richard Threadgill, founder of security consulting firm Ponte, who has been working with computer data since the 1970s. "There was a point in 1997 or so where you stopped having to ask, 'Can I e-mail this to you,' because it just worked," he said. "But now, when you're sitting 5 feet away from the guy, but you have to get access from your computer to his network, punch through to your network, e-mail a file through his network to your mail serve and back to his again, then he still has to transfer the file to the right computer, but it's already got a CD-R drive ... it's a lot easier to just ask for a blank CD." Threadgill cautioned against industry observers who presume those 4 billion blanks this year will be used by music pirates. "I see it happening way more with PowerPoint than with MP3," he said. It seems no matter how much capacity hardware makers give them, avid computer users will find ways to fill it. Science fiction writer and one-man zeitgeist Cory Doctorow has touted the iPod-as-travel-Mac trick in the past. But now, Doctorow said, "I haven't been doing it much lately. My iPod is full of tunes." - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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