The following article was printed in Computer Shopper, June 1992 issue (page 152). Commentary follows.
The Big Squeeze
Compression Scheme Shatters Storage Logjam
Todd Daniel believes he has found a way to revolutionize data storage as we know it.
DataFiles/16, a zip-style data-compression product released by Wider Electronic Bandwidth Technologies (WEB), allows users to compress data at a 16-to-1 ratio. That’s a major advance when you compare it with Stacker 2.0’s 2-to-1 ratio.
DataFiles/16 relies purely on mathematical algorithms; it works with almost any binary file. Because of the math involved, the ratio of compression is directly proportional to the size of the uncompressed file. In order to get the full effect of 16-to-1 compression, the original file must be at least 64K.
During a demonstration at our offices, Daniel, the company’s vice president of research and development, compressed a 2.5Mb file down to about 500 bytes, four levels of DataFiles/16. Because successive levels compress at a lower ratio as the volume of the file decreases, DataFiles/16 directly zips and unzips files to the chosen level.
After compressing a file, users can compress the data another eight times with DataFiles/16. This gives DataFiles/16 the potential to compress most files to under 1,024 bytes, whether the original file is 64K or 2.6 gigabytes. By comparison, SuperStor 2.0’s new compression technique can be performed only once.
By June, WEB plans to release its first hardware packages utilizing the same method. The two new device-driver cards will operate impeccably, compressing and decompressing data on the fly at ratios of 8-to-1 and 16-to-1, respectively.
A standard defragmentation program will optimize data arrangement, while an optional disk cache will speed access time. Both cards will come in DOS, Macintosh, and Unix versions. The DOS version is scheduled for a July release, and the company says the others will follow shortly.
The implications of WEBs data-compression technique in the communications field have yet to be calculated, but Daniel says a 16-to-1 ratio could save certain companies up to 5 percent of their storage costs. If DataFiles/16 lives up to its early promise, data compression will have taken a quantum leap forward. — Jim O’Brien
So much Computer Shopper. Why have you (most likely) never heard of DataFiles/16? Because it was a scam, of course. And since it wasn’t published in the April issue, it was presumably not a hoax by Computer Shopper itself but rather by the company behind it.
The article perhaps highlights the terrible fate of journalists: Writing about things they don’t understand. A computer scientist, or really anyone with a passing familiarity with information theory, would immediately recognize the claims as impossible and preposterous, if enticing. The only question about the article isn’t whether the whole thing was a scam, only how many people were in on it.
DataFiles/16, like other similar scams, was most likely an attempt to defraud investors rather than scam end users. Such compression could never work, so the question is only whether the software failed to achieve anything like the claimed compression ratios, or if it did… and could never decompress to anything resembling the original files.
These days it may be more difficult to set up compression scams, but the hucksters certainly didn’t disappear, they just moved elsewhere.