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"Click of death" a matter of math

Some inexpensive portable storage devices, sold in the millions by Iomega and others, are bound to break down.

Problems with Iomega's storage products are emblematic of this category of inexpensive, portable products, according to analysts.

Complaints about both the 100MB Zip drive and the 1GB Jaz drive have spawned Web sites and bulletin boards devoted to anti-Iomega griping. These include the Click Death Home Page, special areas in online publications such as MacInTouch, and voluminous postings in newsgroups including "" and ""

But analysts say that the ire directed against Iomega is merely the product of the company's enormous success in selling millions of drives, and also a function of the product's inexpensive construction.

"When you've sold 12 million drives, even a 1 percent failure rate is going to mean a lot of complaints," said International Data Corporation analyst Bob Amatruda. "Ship 12 million and you're a victim of your own success."

Iomega announced last quarter that it had shipped more than 12 million Zip drives since it launched the product in March 1995. Company spokesperson Tyler Thatcher today said that the company sells about 1 million Zip drives every month, so the 12 million figure is already out of date.

Iomega refused to disclose its rate of failure or product return, referring only to the statement it made last week that pegged its customer complaints at below industry norms.

Amatruda said one basic problem with removeable storage was that it was removeable. "People think nothing of sticking them into your shirt pocket or throwing them in the car," he said. "There's a certain level of environmental risk, by the sheer fact of its being removeable."

Disk Trend analyst Jim Porter said the removeable storage technology used by Iomega and its competitors was particularly susceptible to dust contamination because of the microscopic distance between the media and the drive head.

"The distance from the surface to the disk head is between two and four millionths of an inch," he said. "That's a lot less than any microscopic dust particle. Anything could cause a problem."

Porter stressed that not only were Iomega's products within industry norms for failure, but that the risk for failure was statistically insignificant.

"The risk with removeable media is higher, but it's not even approaching the level that the average user needs to be worried about it," he said. "When you drive the car out of the garage, statistically you're not going to get killed going down the block. But you might."

Iomega's competitors in the removeable storage space include SyQuest and Nomai. Iomega has sued Nomai for patent violations and has said that its French competitor produces an inferior Zip-compatible disk that could damage Iomega's products.

Iomega has had some high-profile quality mishaps of its own. In April of last year, the company recalled a batch of Jaz disks. And the company bumped up the shipment of its next-generation 2GB Jaz drive to this quarter from last quarter because of quality control issues.