Death of the Thumb Drive As We Know It?

This is a guest post by Abdul Karim.

Kingston DT310Since early 2000, the thumb drive has revolutionized computing. It made it possible to quickly and easily transfer valuable files between computers. Thumb drives [also known as USB drives and flash drives] were introduced shortly after the adoption of USB after an era where users were fed up with using blank CDs and floppy discs.

The problem was clear. Floppy discs were outdated and didn’t meet the data capacity needs for that time, and CDRs were too bulky and difficult to use for ordinary computer users. The thumb drive alleviated all that by providing a quick, easy and reliable storage platform where anyone with basic computer skills can transfer files between computers and create basic backups.

The Thumb Drive Today

Ten years on, and we’re asking the question: are thumb drives still relevant to this day?

Thumb drive technology has certainly improved over the years. 10 years ago if you had a 32MB thumb drive, you wouldn’t need to worry about running out of space for a long time. Today the minimum is more like 8GB, but the sky is the limit. It’s even possible to have 256GB data capacity on a thumb drive, thanks to the Kingston DT310, which could rival the hard disk space of many computers today.

The Internet in the Equation

With the rise of greater internet access and download speeds, it’s now possible to transfer files far quicker through the internet than it is to plug and transfer files using a USB drive. For instance, users have been emailing files to themselves for transfer purposes since the birth of email. And it’s a far better method for collaboration and sharing purposes too.

In fact, not only is the internet used for transferring files across computers and users, but with the wide scale adoption of cloud computing services like Google Docs, for many users the internet has become the primary location for storing data – completely doing away with local storage and the need for flash drives altogether.

Cloud Computing: Internet on Steroids

For a more organized solution that takes care of file management, online backup services provide a very useful way to keep online backups of files. They keep archives as well as synchronize data between computers. What’s particularly useful is the fact that users simply select the folders they wish to backup and synchronize and then the software goes to task, regularly uploading files which are modified. They are then downloaded by other permitted computers and users, which provides everyone with the latest version.

Online storage has been in wide use for the last 5 years, however with the increasing use of mobile computers, the industry has been asking how do you allow users to manage their data and their software licenses across multiple computers? The answer is the complete and seamless integration of the internet into desktop computing. Not only are we going to be storing our data online, but we are going to be storing all of our software online too. For the everyday user this will mean that you can have the exact same files, software, customization and settings from any computer, requiring less use of laptops altogether and of course flash storage devices.

Storage Platforms for Home Use

It’s clear that for long distance collaboration the thumb drive is redundant, especially as we begin to see more fiber optic technology being deployed by ISPs, meaning super fast download speeds. So it would seem that flash drives are still handy to have around at home.

The truth is, we’re beginning to see wider use of home theatre PCs (HTPCs) and network attached storage devices (NAS), which allow home users to centrally place their movies, software, user files and music on the local network, which can then be accessed wirelessly.

This all making the thumb drive even less relevant for the home user, except for occasional USB installation of operating systems on netbooks and tablets which don’t have an optical drive.

About the author: Abdul Karim is a tech enthusiast who enjoys web design and blogging and is a keen adovcate of cloud computing and online data management.


  1. Andrew_2010 Com says:

    Yeah, i know that thumb Drive is a small USB drive, which makes easy transfer of valuables data between computers. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

  2. Thumb drives has made transfer of data so easy and quick. I dont think it will be outdated in the coming years as it is also available in bigger capacity! Mailing has never affected the usage of flash drives and hard disks also.

  3. I don’t think the thumb drive is dead, just that there are now other alternatives, especially for file transfer and backup.

    My primary use of a thumb drive is for portable applications. If I can access a USB port on a machine, I can securely run these and work on whatever I need to, without need of an internet connection.

    Secondary use is the occasional OS install, provided booting from USB is available, or can be made available.

    Remember, access to the internet is not always available, but USB access usually is.

  4. Anonymous says:

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  5. You are correct the USB drive has lost some relevance for the home user, but it is still important for transferring large files that cannot be emailed or are too large to even post on an online service, but it is not worth wasting a cd on.

  6. The current trend based on 2 years working in the IT sector suggests to me that we’re going to be dependant even more on the cloud, the iPhone, iPad, Android etc are essentially cloud based devices that do not even have a USB port to plug in thumb drives. Why is this the case? Well 90% of the time we use computers mainly to go online, email, browse the net etc. This is particularly true in the case of home computing.

    Apple is usually right on the mark with staying ahead of the trend, many PC users dismissed apple for scrapping the floppy drive early, but then a few years later, rest of the computing industry followed. Likewise many computer users dismissed the iPad as a glorified iPod [and many still do], but we’ve seen based on market research that there are evermore tablets in the market mimicking the iPad.

    We will soon have Chrome OS, due to release late 2011, which is going to do away with local storage altogether.

    As for thumb drives, they will still have their place, but will take a back seat. Personally, I’ve made the leap already, I’ve had far too many flash drives die on me unexpectedly, and use the cloud for the documents and use my wireless LAN to transfer files between computers, which matches USB thumb drive speed pretty close [taking into consideration the fact that copying files between computers using a thumb drive is a two pronged approach PC1 –> thumb drive —> PC2, a wireless LAN allows you to transfer files in one step, and even stream moves straight off another computers hard drive; without delay.

  7. Reidwicks says:

    Have you tried downloading files on a school computer?

  8. Definitely thumb drives rule! They are so handy and so easy to load data!! Everyday for something or the other, you need these, especially if you are working in the world of computers!

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