Welcome Back, Maxell

Before DVDs, CDs, USB drives, and iPods, there was the floppy disk. You know what I'm talking about, right? Right?! (Yeesh, am I that old?)

Floppies were magnetic film disks encased in plastic squares and didn't have a whole lot of memory. The old ones typically held 128 kilobytes of data, or the equivalent of a handful of today's email messages. Starting to remember? Great. I'm on the floppy kick today because Maxell is in the news. This division of Japanese tech giant Hitachi (NYSE: HIT  ) was once one of the dominant providers of the little plastic doohickeys.

Today it is working with InPhase Technologies, a spin-off from Lucent (NYSE: LU  ) , to create a new removable drive capable of storing more than 300 gigabytes of data. And, startlingly, the drive even looks like a floppy, but it's juiced up on a whole barn full of steroids. The technology behind it is called holographic media, which uses the entire density of a disk to store information, unlike a DVD, which uses only the surface.

Here's how it works: Lasers are touched to light-sensitive crystals to write data onto the drive, which, according to Maxell, is capable of storing up to 150 million pages, or more than 63 times the capacity of a traditional DVD.

Will Maxell's latest innovation mean much in a world awaiting Blu-ray and HD-DVD? I think so. Surely there's going to be a need for larger hard drives for the increasing number of iPod-addicted netizens who can't seem to get enough video or music. And ask any among the TiVo set (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) if they think 100 hours of storage is enough. You know it isn't. And guess who is a huge maker of drives for all sorts of consumer devices? Yeah, that's right: Hitachi.

So, Maxell, welcome back. You've finally got a rare second chance to regain the Rule Breaking stuff that made you a household name in the '70s and '80s. I only hope you don't blow it this time. A third chance probably isn't in the offing.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers still thinks the holodeck was the best gizmo from the Star Trek universe. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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