[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Forget the CD — Here’s the Optical Card

December 29th, 2008 by Benj Edwards

Canon Optical Card Ad - 1990Ah yes; a worm pun.

Around the turn of the 1990s, “WORM” (Write Once Read Many) became a common computer industry buzz-word for a new mass-storage concept. Numerous companies released their own WORM drives that used proprietary forms of optical media, most of which were incompatible with other WORM drives. Seen here is such an attempt: a curious “Optical Card” from Canon that obviously didn’t achieve widespread usage. According to the ad, it stored two megabytes of data on an optical layer that could be written once and never changed — much like a CD-R, but without the spinning disc.

Cursory Google searches reveal that the Canon Optical Card eventually saw limited trials as an identification card, either for travelers or medical information. Whether it’s still in use today is unknown to me.

[ From BYTE Magazine — October 1990 ]

Discussion topic of the week: Do you recall using any strange computer storage media that didn’t become a standard? (i.e. Bernoulli, magneto-optical, WORM, VHS, tape, cassette, Jaz, etc.) Tell us about the most exotic computer storage media you’ve used.

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15 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Forget the CD — Here’s the Optical Card”

  1. Spook Says:

    I think the only weird storage device I personally used was an old external SCSI SyQuest drive on my Mac Color Classic. 44meg removable hard disks don’t seem like that great an idea, except when you’ve got a 80 meg hard drive. They were briefly semi-popular, but rather a pain to use since nobody had them and the actual drives were only mounted externally.

  2. Peter Says:

    The most exotic thing I ever had was QIC EX (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_inch_cartridge), although that’s not very exotic compared to the optical card above. That oversized mini-cartridge did result in some weird looks when people saw it hanging out of the tape drive.

  3. Ben Says:

    I have a few computers with LS-120 drives, but not having any LS-120 disks, they only see (very occasional) use as an ordinary floppy. I also have a few PS/2s with 2.88M 3.5″ drives, but again I don’t have any 2.88M disks.
    Back when I was in middle school, we had an Apple II+ with a Corvus Systems external hard drive (I think it was 5 Megs, and the unit was almost as big as the computer!) that had connections on the back for a VCR in order to do backups, but it was never used. Interesting, though.

  4. Chrisbones Says:

    Wow… I was gonna say Syquest and my Color Classic too! But Alas, it was taken.
    So I will mention my love/hate relationship I had with Iomega ZIP 100. My Color Classic was way overdue to be replaced and I basically ran every app I had off of a ZIP disk and kept that 80MB hard drive as empty as possible. Which is not fun if you were running Photoshop off of one ZIP but needed a file off of another ZIP.
    Then there was the ZIP “click-of-death” syndrome… ah memories!

  5. Layne Says:

    I’ve used the ls-120’s and the magneto optical drives. I had the original Zip drive (parallel port, external). I’ve even used the SyQuest drives. I also used several tape drives (Ditto’s come to mind).


  6. Rockin' Kat Says:

    I have a couple SCSI Castlewood ORB drives. A 2.2GB removable cartridge media… the cartridge contains a platter much like a regular hard drive. I really liked it. If I recall right it cost less per GB than my dad’s Jazz 2GB drive and was far far FAR more reliable…

    Back when I first got my Mac G4 tower I got a SCSI card for it just for the ORB drive and a scanner.. Unfortunantly Castlewood never released an OS X driver for it, and I could never get OS X to see it on it’s own so I pretty much stopped using it on a regular basis when OS X came out.

    I actually used it for a while on my Apple IIgs. GS OS was able to see the whole 2.2GB drive and make use of it… And it even was able to handle ejecting and inserting disks without rebooting.

    …The Jaz 2GB drive had this irritating problem where formating disks had a tendancy to render them useless. I’d get a PC format disk, reformat it Mac and lose .2GB of storage.. if it got formated a second time, the disk would be rendered completely useless.

  7. Toon Says:

    I remember using not only Zip drives, but also Jaz(z?) drives in college. They were very expensive and the disks were even more fragile than Zips. Fragile disks + college computer rooms + rowdy art students = disaster. Could hold a whopping 1 or 2 gig, though. The sort of storage you now get on a free USB memorystick.

  8. Jarson Says:

    I remember the Video Floppy around 1992, which at the time I used it was part of the Canon Xapshot. Although analog, it was a precursor to digital cameras to come. It used tiny 2″ floppy discs and stored about 20-30 still images (I forget exactly). You can find an article about it on Wikipedia.

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    Hey Jarson, check out this scan to see an ad for a camera that used those video floppies you mentioned.

    By the way: great stories, everybody. Keep them up.

  10. Brian Deuel Says:

    NeXT put a magneto-optical drive in their early computers (or maybe all of them; not sure). This drive used discs that were similar to Mini-Discs.


  11. jdiwnab Says:

    I have a 2″ internal laptop hard drive in an old 486 tablet. It’s pretty bazaar the first time you see it. The interface is standard, but the drive itself is very small.

    I also recently obtained an 8″ floppy disk. Never got to use it, but it is still very unique, at least now a days.

  12. Bob E Says:

    I’ve been rumaging around the net trying to find a battery for my Canon Xapshot. I’m still digging around for the power adapter!

    I picked-up a case of disks and have a ton of pictures on them. Looks like I’ll need to move them onto a more modern platform! I even had a picture of the President of Commodore published in AmigaWorld that was taken with the Xapshot! Great little camera for 1988…..

    Now to dig through the junk cable/adapter pile!!

  13. Cody Says:

    I remember WORMs, they were a hot topic in the early 90s and really looked like they might take off if they would only drop in price …

    It never happened and I never saw one in real life.

  14. Phil Gokey Says:

    Way back in the 1970’s, as a product design consultant, I designed and built an optical floppy disc drive for a client. The system was patented by the client. It used a 4-inch diameter disc of silver-halide (black & white film). I made the device to read digital data from the card and feed it to a computer (cpm operating system). Others did the software to manipulate and present the data. You may consider it a little hokey, but silver-halide film has a life of over 500 years if stored properly. This is better than any digital storage media common today! It is extremely reliable! So WORMs go way back. Also in the 80’s EEPROM’s were WORMs used in many industrial applications. The technology is maturing now, but we used em long ago!

  15. Greg Says:

    Hello Phil,

    I read your post about optical floppy disc with great interest.
    I collect various media and never heard of it. Can you write more about this? Do you have any photo or drawing?

    Best regards

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