Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The death of the floppy disk


I can remember the first floppy disks (also known as 'diskettes'), the 8" monsters IBM launched in 1969, and which continued in use through the early 1980's with its DisplayWriter dedicated word processor. In their initial form, they held all of 80 kilobytes of data (which wasn't bad for the time). The 8" diskette was followed by the 5¼" diskette, which really took off with the advent of the original IBM PC in 1981. It held 120 kilobytes in some early non-IBM incarnations, and 180 kilobytes (single-sided) or 360 kilobytes (double-sided) in PC form. IBM then moved to the 3½" diskette with its PS/2 computers in 1987. Using a rigid plastic case, it was known as the 'stiffie' to distinguish it from its soft-sided 'floppy' diskette predecessors, leading to such memorable advertising bylines as 'I'd rather have a 3½" stiffie than a 5¼" floppy!'. The new diskettes held 720 kilobytes or 1.44 megabytes, depending on type.




Diskettes have been slowly but surely disappearing from computers for many years. Apple dropped them from the iMac line as early as 1998, and Dell dropped them from its IBM-compatible machines in 2003. I haven't seen a new personal computer with a floppy diskette drive for several years. (In my case, since I have a slew of data on old diskettes, I bought an external 3½" diskette drive some time ago, and plug it into my computer via a USB port when I need it.)

Sony has been the only company still making 3½" diskette media. It's now announced that it'll terminate production in March next year. It seems that CD-ROM's, DVD's, flash drives and the like have finally done for the diskette. Now, all of us who have data on old diskettes are going to have to copy it onto more modern media, before it becomes useless. I guess it's not before time . . . I'm sure I still have copies of 1980's data files that can't be read by any modern software, anyway! I'm sure there are readers of this blog who, like me, used all three sizes; but younger readers may never have used a diskette at all. I feel old . . .

Peter

11 comments:

Dirk said...

So...I hope OS installations upgrade to allow reading from a flash or CD/DVD drive when you're doing things like a RAID setup. I did that a couple years ago with XP, and it was a royal pain in the butt to A) find a disk, B) find a drive and C) get the right files on it to proceed with the installation. Fortunately, I had some drives in some junkers that I've never gotten around to discarding, and a neighbor had some old disks.

Anonymous said...

No sir, old would be if you had paper tape and punch cards. >:)
LittleRed1

Noons said...

Hmmm.....
I threw away my last paper tape program less than 10 years ago.

Dang, it looks like I'll finally have to upgrade my copy of Word 2.0: it installs from a diskette and the upgrade to Office 97 requires the diskette to be present in order to install properly.

Have yet to fathom why I need anything else other than what O97 provides! At work we have O2008 and quite frankly it sucks. Big time!

:)

Crucis said...

I just looked up from my PC and noticed several boxes of 8" diskettes from my computer fixin' days in the '70s. Next to them are several flip boxes of 5 1/4 diskettes and several versions of MS-DOS. Shift to the right and repeat again with 3 1/2" floppies.

Guess I'll have some free space on that shelf.

Andrew C said...

I'm 23. Our first computer still accepted 5 1/4 floppies, but they were on their way out when we bought it. I know my parents still have a few 3 1/2 diskettes stored in their garage, but given how fragile and unreliable diskettes are, I doubt any still work!

George said...

I remember the fun/frustration of trying to load programs from cassette tapes on our old TI-86. When a friend got one of those huge 8" floppy drives, we thought it was the best thing in the world.

Fortunately, I'm just young enough not to have been in the punch-card era.

Silver the Evil Chao said...

When I was a kid, we used floppy discs for our computer classes, believe it or not. And in high school, our district was so far behind that the idiots running the computers didn't relax the permissions for the CD drives, so anything I typed up at the library either had to be e-mailed to me (fat chance, with the stupid filters) or put on a floppy disk...which, luckily, my desktop computer could read.

Oddly enough, out of the two of us, only my computer had a slot to read those things, unlike my mom's, despite the fact that we bought our PCs at the same time...

Shane said...

The first version of the IBM 5.25 inch floppy was formatted at 8 sectors per track instead of nine, so they had 8/9ths the capacity -- 160 Kbytes for single sided vs 180 Kbytes and 320 Kb double sided vs 360 Kb. Some people reformatted their disks for 10 sectors -- 40 whole kilobytes extra for a whopping 400 Kb! Reliability dropped from the floor to the basement.

B.S. philosopher said...

The last two machines that I've built didn't have an option in their BIOS for a floppy drive.

Floppies are far less fragile than one would suspect if they've been stored properly. I was playing around with a late model 1.2Mb 5 1/4 floppy and needed to check to see if it was installed properly. I grabbed a 360k disk from a pile of junk, tossed it in and opened it. The date was all intact and the files were dated from January of 1983.

Even more interestingly they were from some long extinct word processing program, but opened up and were converted flawlessly by Office 2003.

Try that with a Mac.


I suspect that a lot of people who get bit-rot on their floppies stored them in an attic or some other non-controlled environment

charles said...

At 29, I do remember using dual-5.25" floppy drive computers and later their 3.5" cousins. I also remember learning to use a mouse for the first time when Macs came out.

Steve said...

I have a couple of 5 1/4" drives and 3 of 4 3.5" drives pulled from old machines before scrapping sitting ready in a box in the closet. Just in case I ever need them for old stuff.

I first learned Cobol on a punch-card system about 1978, and worked on an IBM system that still used the 8" disks in the late 80s, but I don't have any examples of those in my collection of "junk".