Whatever happened to …

… magnetic tape?

From the Whatever happened to Padlet comes this suggestion from an anonymous contributor.

There are a lot of bases touched upon here taking us almost through the history of stored computer data!


Personally, I had experience with all of the above.  I moved from punched cards to the huge reels of storage and also punched tapes.  All were very fragile and the less you touched, the better.  Careful handling of any of it was important.

When I bought my first TRS-80 computer, I wasn’t surprised that storage was on a cassette player.  In fact, based on my university experience, it was a natural transition from the large reels of magnetic tape to a similar medium, only smaller.

My first computer science classes stored their programs on cassette tapes with the TRS-80 and Commodore PET computers at school.  Interestingly, the tapes weren’t interchangeable between computer types.  Eventually, the concept of floppy disks and then a fileserver came along and things got a great deal more reliable.

For storage, we had a metal filing cabinet and the students who didn’t have a computer at home would just leave their cassette in the filing cabinet and retrieve it when needed in class.  It was essentially our “cloud” of the time.

It was interesting, looking back now.  The transition from reel tapes to cassette tapes worked but it also showed a certain locked in mindset.  When you think about it, the cassette tapes were a logical step because we were familiar with a cassette player.  The only difference was the size of the tape.  (well, not really but to the lay person)  It was only when the mindset was broken that we moved to different storage media.  Of course, we’re all the better for it.  At the time though, there always was a desire from my students to “play” a program through speakers just to “hear” it.  It prepared us for another large step – dial-up computer access!

For a good summary of the various types of storage over the years, check this out.  We’re now witnessing micro media storing huge amount of data.  Where will we head next?

What are your thoughts for a Sunday?

  • does your history of computer storage go back to big reels of magnetic tape for file storage?
  • where in the big storage scheme of things did you first save your work?
  • have you ever lost data on your storage medium?  Did you ever know why?
  • I think we all know the concept of the huge data centres which we effectively call “the cloud”.  Do we do a disservice to students by using the term “the cloud”.  Should we actually describe it better for students to understand just what it is?

I always enjoy reading people’s thoughts on these Sunday morning topics.  There are so many good memories there for us all.

Please share your thoughts via comment below.  We really do enjoy reading them.

Do you have an idea for a future post?  Please send me a message or add your idea to the Padlet with my thanks.

All of the posts from this series are available here.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. The funny thing about this is that when I read the first line of this post, I thought, “Nothing’s happened to magnetic tape. I invest in tons of it every year to make just about everything in the room, magnetic. You have to love magnets on a roll!” I guess this wasn’t what you or this anonymous poster had in mind. 🙂 I guess it’s also clear that I didn’t write the anonymous post. Great news though: the magnetic tape that I was thinking of is still readily available in lots of stores and online! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  2. FWIW that was me how left that suggestion. I probably should have logged in or signed it or something. In any case I have a reel of mag tape on my desk at school for a visual aid. I also have a DECtape (small mag tape) that still has, in theory, a lot of the programs I wrote in university. Who knows if I’ll ever have the means to read it again.


Comments are closed.