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 . . .