Seybold Article on MiniDisc

James Teter, Management Graphics

The recent (May 1991) introduction of the Music Walkman and its Mini-Disk by Sony could bring together pieces of the personal computer industry and consumer electronics industry.

Personal computers are moving from being desktop Personal Boat Anchors to laptops and notebook/intimate computers. The use of the Sony mini-disk as a small, high-capacity storage device instead of current micro-computer floppy disks, could be the critical link.

The Sony Mini-Disk specifications, as I understand them, include:

The announced and obvious advantages are low-power consumption and small size making this technology perfectly suited for portable applications.

At the recent Digital World Conference (4-6 June) the fact that the Sony Mini-Disk technology does not allow for real-time full motion video and that it has less digital storage capacity than CD-ROM made some people less than excited about the product.


Instead of bemoaning these shortfalls of the Mini-Disk, look at it as an audio tape killer in the music world and a floppy killer in the computer world. The portable size of the Mini-Disk coupled with the 120 Mbyte storage capacity could, and in my opinion should, mean the end of floppy disks.

I believe the Sony Mini-Disk should be incorporated in every personal computer and workstation, as well as consumer devices like the Music Walkman, and some future "Photo Album" type product. All such devices should be able to read "Directory" information off the disks, and read and write appropriately; thus, a computer disk is never inadvertently corrupted on a Music Walkman recorder.

Imagine if every Intel/Microsoft/IBM PC, every Macintosh, every SPARCstation, etc. had this drive technology standard and if that technology was formatted in such a way that audio Mini-Disks could be inserted, recognized, and played.

Imagine if the multi-media QuickTime Macintosh could write these Mini- Disks so they could be played on any Music Walkman.

Imagine if Canon, Minolta, Nikon, et al. could build their forthcoming digital still cameras to write these disks so that the digital photos could be read into computers.

And imagine if MIDI-compatible music machines could read and write these disks.

Some other uses come to mind as well. For business/professional and consumer use, publication of lectures, business personal development programs, internal corporate-specific and private audio communications could all utilize the Mini-Disk. Both the mass market and the local/niche market would be served.

FAX reception and storage could be accomplished with an on-the-road portable computer. For many people, one disk could be their entire personal database (for current computer applications). Publishing digital books, manuals, and newsletters, as well as digital photo albums on these disks will be easy. And remember, if it is digital, it can go over phone lines.

The Mini-Disk could also revolutionize software distribution. Thinking traditionally, one disk could be all you need to ship PC or Macintosh software. Thinking radically, PC, Macintosh, and other platform versions of software could be put on the same disk with a common data structure for the program; that way you could operate your product on almost any computer from the same disk.

Finally, I think the notebook size computers are the first true Personal [sic] computers. At a conference like Digital World, instead of having all those Personal Boat Anchor computers on the podium to run people's multi-media demonstrations, each person could approach the lectern with notebook computers in hand, insert their Sony Mini-Disk, clip them into the circuit, and make a great presentation. This would be more convenient than a slide tray or Macintosh with an operator.

The World is changed:

  1. In one fell swoop, one problem that plagues CD-ROM drives, that of relatively small market penetration, would be wiped out. Mini-Disks would be everywhere - a de facto standard.
  2. "same-drive" read/write is another plus over CD-ROM drives
  3. The notebook computer would become an indispensable business tool.
  4. The meeting of the computer and consumer electronics industries occurs.

What about IBM? The IBM read/write optical disk is an alternative, but is it a good one? Probably not for me. I want the music connection. I want portability - IBM uses too much power. I am very happy to see IBM become a player in read/write optical disks, but the 3-1/2 inch disk format may be too large for notebook computers (and at a price over $1,000).

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