ZIP disks of iOmega, the vitamin diskettes that could store up to 750 MB and that failed

As far as non-standard proprietary formats are concerned, iOmega Zip disks, which appeared in the mid-1990s, came much further than most of their competitors. They managed to improve a format to which the public was accustomed (the diskettes of the whole life), just to gain notoriety.

Years before pendrives were generalized as a removable medium, these remodeled floppy served perfectly to people who needed to share large amounts of data. Recall that at the time of their appearance the blank CDs were not widely used and were not rewritable, while the diskettes could be rewritten and were easily portable, but had very little capacity. In his time he not only lived with the floppy disks, but even got a fairly large and loyal domestic user base, which for his time was impressive.

However, although the Zip disk had to compete against a product already established as the diskettes and had enough notoriety at the time of its launching, was ravaged by the problems almost from the beginning. The unit had flaws that generated major problems for iOmega, which ended its useful life at the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century. Today we want to remember the Zip disk, along with the era of proprietary storage for PC. We’re going to get into SCSI territory, buckle up our belts.

The Bernoulli Box, the ancestor of the Zip

Daniel Bernoulli, an eighteenth-century Swiss mathematician, said the following about the importance of mathematics to monetize a product …

There is no philosophy that is not founded on the knowledge of the phenomena, but to obtain any benefit of this knowledge it is absolutely necessary to be mathematical.

These words were never more true than when iOmega launched its first popular product, known as Bernoulli Box. The disc system, named for the way it followed the Bernoulli Principle was quite popular at the time.

The Bernoulli Box appeared in 1983 and admitted disks of up to 230 MB. They connected to the computer through the SCSI port. It was considered that this product was very well done for its time, with reviews like one of PC Magazine of 1984 where they emphasized its durable design.

The problem was the high price of the product. A Bernoulli Box cost thousands of dollars at the time of its release. In addition, the product had several problems that were discussed in an infoworld review. For more information, iOmega only gave a 90 day warranty. In the review you could read the following:

It is an attractive product in many ways and we have enjoyed using it, but its price, short warranty period, lack of self-startup on some machines and the attention it requires prevents us from giving it a better score.

The Bernoulli Box was the starting point for iOmega to start working on its Zip drives, although they do not share any technology or are compatible. To say that this system was the sole owner of that era would be short. The iOmega was not the only one, but was accompanied by other proprietary systems during the 80’s and 90’s.

ZIP disks of iOmega
Image Source: Google Image

The proprietary storage units of the 80s and 90s

During the 80’s and 90’s different non-standardized storage units emerged that attempted to sit their chairs in their own way. Let’s take into account that during this time also lived with computers with very different philosophies and operating systems.

We can highlight five different types that, like the ZIP, also shared the stage with the diskettes and CD-ROMs. On the one hand we have the magneto-optical disks of the Steve Jobs NeXT, which appeared in 1987. In the beginning they had to allow the users to transfer complete file systems when they changed computers. They were very slow to take on such an operation, but the technology used in the format found a second life in Sony’s Minidiscs.

We also found the SyQuest units, which came out in 1996. They functioned similarly to the magneto-optical disks of the NeXTs. These portable hard drives (they had discs inside them, in fact) contained in a cartridge had a follow-up that we could equate to that of the Zip disks. Its 44 MB units were especially popular.

Third is compact floppy discs, which were released in the early 1980’s. It was a diskette like any other, only slightly smaller than the 3.5-inch (these were only three inches) and with the same storage capacity as its 5.25 cousins. They did not have the sliding metal cap or there was a standard on how they should be physically. It suffered a slow death, like a forgotten format.

The fourth position is for the floppy units, that tried to get a hole towards 1993. No, nor I am drunk nor I have written badly. These devices of the early 90’s of the last century offered 21 MB of capacity by adding laser-like reading of the CD-ROM to its format. They tried to get a space offering backward compatibility with the floppy disks, but they did not have much success.

Last but not least, we are talking about SmartMedia cards that came on the market in 1995. These early examples of flash memory came in to replace the floppy disks. They were especially common in early digital cameras and MP3 players, but failed to prevail in the market they set as targets.

It would not be until the arrival of the Zip disk that the proprietary storage units would not get notoriety between the users. The Zip disk made a lot of noise, although not everything was good.

The Birth of Zip

iOmega introduced the Zip disk in late 1994. Originally released with a capacity of 100 MB, although later in its life cycle versions of 250 and 750 MB were seen. It became the most popular format for proprietary storage drives, but never had the same impact as the floppy disks it wanted to replace.

In any case, the stories must begin to count them from the beginning. In this case, we have one of the best on the success of a technology in the 90’s of the last century. iOmega, a decade after the experiment of the Bernoulli Box, was successful in selling very inexpensive discs with capacities of up to 100 MB in its early versions.

The units also experienced a significant price decline. If a Bernoulli Box cost several thousand dollars, an external Zip drive cost 149 and 99 if it was internal.

Yes, the idea had been very successful and it gained a public because it had not been able to improve the standard of the diskette of a way in which it could keep up the pace of the times. The ability to store files was essential, but few era-standards were good enough for the needs of modern users. At that time virgin CD-ROMs were not very common yet.

The success of the Zip disk has to be attributed to an iOmega CEO named Kim B. Edwards, who came from the marketing world instead of the technology. It’s similar to what happened with John Sculley at Apple, and in the first instance assumed that the company was very successful.

A 1998 article published in Businessweek tells of an idea by Edwadrs that was to put popular prices on a proprietary unit. The objective? Conquer the domestic market. He urged his teams to build such a device in a year and, by the time it hit the market, overwhelmed the advertising-based competition to discourage them.

He even persuaded large computer manufacturers to have Zip disks pre-installed on their machines . For example, they were one of the most notable features of the Power Mac G4, although Dell also made them a standard on their computers.

These strategies were a very clever way to circumvent iOmega own internal regulations and constraints. In addition, they helped the company to excel between the competition and the other proprietary formats that could be found in the market. And most importantly, they helped to stop perceiving their products as expensive devices only within reach of large companies.

Everything was celebrations, euphoria and pat on the back. Soon all this was about to change. Black clouds hung over the future of the Zip.

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The death sentence of Zip: Mechanical failures and new formats of storage

This rhythmic noise that is heard in the video is known as the “click of death” of the Zip. This flutter indicated that there were urgent manufacturing problems to solve.

In the first units that were manufactured the heads ended up misalignment in everyday use. By inserting a disc into one of these units, it was possible, without the user’s knowledge, to turn the disc into an unreadable piece of plastic. What’s worse: introducing a broken disc into a working unit, the head of the operating unit was misaligned. It almost looks like a Biblical plague.

For his part, Kim B. Edwards tried to iron out the affair to the press, suggesting that these problems affected only 1% of the units available on the market. This was a terrible error of judgment, which precipitated his departure from iOmega and resulted in a whirlwind of bad press and falling incomes.

This was because the iOmega strategy worked by selling the units with a low profit margin and the disks with a significantly higher one. But between 1999 and 2003 sales of these vitamin diskettes fell significantly. The company was facing huge losses and, instead of changing the strategy, Edwards continued betting on an aggressive marketing campaign.

The company struggled to survive after this CEO abandoned the ship. After this, nothing was ever the same. Zip drives never regained their popularity despite trying to produce drives with increasing capabilities. There were already other formats in the market that made life very difficult, making using them was less and less viable.

And this was just the beginning. The era of Geocities helped to fuel a war against iOmega that would eventually extend a message of discontent that would make many users distrust their products.

Hate to iOmega wins the battle

In the unofficial page about the click of the death of Geocities we can read the following :

Last year the click of death was something that only few people knew, and many thought it was a rumor. Since the introduction of the UICD website in early 1998, tens of thousands of people from the Americas to Zimbabwe have come up with a very real problem. This website is here so that the average consumers can make their voices heard.

This website played a very important role in informing the public about the problem of the click of death. The website, which raised concerns about iOmega’s lack of interest in offering support to those who had damaged devices or lost data, was one of many actors who played a role in filing a lawsuit against the company. The judgment was heard in 2001, resulting in the compensation received in the form of other company products.

In 1998, the New York Times wrote that “those who complain most fervently about the company on the Internet are particularly disillusioned about what they consider to be a continuing lack of response.” This article appeared a month before Kim B. Edwards got off the ship.

The foundation of iOmega was prior to the Internet era, but even though as a company its goal was to build state-of-the-art technology aimed at homes, they failed to understand the importance of the web as a vehicle for bad publicity. Rumors about the click of death, by the way, started arriving at the same time that Geocities was populated with pages ranting against Internet Explorer.

Like many companies of its time, iOmega no longer exists just as it did in its heyday. It has merged with other companies over the years and today is a subsidiary of Lenovo. Their discs have been left for use in very small groups, and have been supplanted by USB flash drives, SD cards and storage.

For a few years, however, iOmega was able to make a proprietary platform standard. It did not last long, and one reason for this was the mismanagement that was made of the subject of death clicks, at least at least.

It also did not help that the hard disks were growing until obtaining capacities of several gigabytes, which made that to store data in disks ZIP was less and less economical. As recordable CDs and DVDs topped the market, followed later by the arrival of USB drives, transport and storage of data in large quantities was very common and simple.

All these factors took the ZIP from the market, although for many years were the only way to share files that could not fit on a floppy disk or could not be attached in an email.

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