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Tribute to Floppy Disk as Sony discontinues production

Posted by J Powers at 9:59 AM on April 26, 2010
8", 5.25" and 3.5" floppy disks

8", 5.25" and 3.5" floppy disks

The floppy disk has been around for a long time. In the last five years, it pretty much outlived usefulness. USB drives and off-site storage options have made the 1.4 MB device outdated – Not to mention it’s only 1.4 MB. Sony has seen this and decided to discontinue their production next year. Is this the end for the floppy medium?

My IT toolbox was filled with 3.5″ floppies in the 90′s until about 2006. Install discs, diagnostic discs and the one disk that would wipe a hard drive to DOD standards. Couldn’t use CD’s because a lot of the computers didn’t have drives in the 90′s. When USB drives came out, you could store files, but most computers would not recognize as a boot device. So the floppy disk was an important part to my library.

Today, I have probably one or two machines that has a floppy drive attached. I had a USB floppy, but I couldn’t tell you where that is. I haven’t used floppy disks for a couple years now.

Twelve years after the format has been first produced for consumer devices, Sony has decided to end production of the floppy disk medium. The last disk will roll off the production line March 2011, so if you rely on this media, you might want to stock up on disks now.

Of course, the first floppy was produced back in 1971. 8″ in size, it could hold only 79 KB. By 1976, we saw the size reduce to 5.25″, then in 1982 the size dropped to 3.5″, while the capacity increased – first to 28KB, then 720KB, finally 1.4 MB. The format was threatened around 2000 by the Superdrive and the Zip drive, but those formats could not replace the floppy disk.

So in tribute, let’s look at the many ways we used floppies throughout time.

Double Sided 5.25″ disks

The first thing I did when I got a 5.25″ disk was punch a hole in the opposite side. By doing this, I could copy data to both sides. that way I didn’t have to carry so many disks. The hole was a way to tell the computer the disk was protected and no other data should be written to it. The other side usually had a hole, but a piece of tape would cover it for the protection.

Early 3.5″ disks also had you putting a hole on the opposite side to double capacity. You needed to be a bit more careful because of the casing the disk came in. I usually used a soldier gun to melt a hole in. It was an art to do.

Self-made Floppy sleeves

Remember when you lost your sleeve for that 5.25″ floppy? No problem. Rip out a page in the Mead notebook, cut off the chad-style side and do your best origami to make a new one. A little scotch tape and you have a new holder for your disk.

Shall we play a game?

Remember some of the movies where floppies were used? War Games was the big one that came to mind. Real Genius, Hackers, Weird Science and The Net, amongst others, come to mind.

The first 3.5″ disks

Do you remember the first time you got the new format disks? I remember the first game I got with that format. Like most, it was Castle Wolfenstien. I also had Battle Chess and World at War.

Sony Mavica

The most popular digital camera at the turn of the century was the Sony Mavica. Pop in a floppy disk and take pictures at 1024×768 resolution. You could also take small MPEG movies with the camera.

DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98 on Floppy.

MS-DOS came in 3 disks. Windows 3.1 came on 6 disks. Windows 95 took 13. Windows 98 had the option of 1 disk and 1  CD. The Windows 98 Boot disk became a highly downloadable and used item.

Free Disks from AOL, Compuserve

Although I didn’t sign up for the service, I was always happy when AOL or Compuserve sent me a floppy in the mail. I could then format it and put something useful on it.

140 Floppy Backup of Windows 95

How many of you remember backing up your computer to floppy disk? I did. If I remember, it was 140 disks that held my install of Windows 95. Of course, I didn’t back up items like the Weezer video, but if there was a problem, I could restore to where I was within 4-5 hours…

The Wall of opened Disks

Anyone ever take apart the floppy? Anyone use that opened disk as wall art? It definitely had a disco-esque look to it.

What? It’s corrupt?

I stopped the 140 backup when one day one of the disks stopped working. Good thing it was a backup rather than a restore. That day I went out and paid $300 for a 4x SCSI CD-R drive.

Recycle those disks – and computer

Greendisk.org takes all your technotrash to recycle. If you have old floppies, drives, computers or whatnot, you can send to them. Of course, most communities now have recycling programs. Still, there is no reason why you should have a P-133 lying around.

**If your kids have your computer from 2000, you might want to recycle. The Lead, Mercury and Cadmium used in those older machines put anyone using them at a better risk of poisoning **

Next year we will see an era come to an end. While it’s overdue, it is still sad to see. What is your favorite memory of the Floppy?  Do you remember pulling out a big case of disks from your backpack ?

Of course, that will be overshadowed when the CD finally is laid to rest. I am venturing a guess of 2015 as the last CD being rolled off the presses…

6 Comments

  1. From Zyonin at 10:36 am on April 26, 2010

    Floppies, oh my. I have not used a floppy in well over eight years (at least). I pretty much replaced floppy discs around 2000 when I purchased my first CD-R Drive (an Iomega ZipCD). I first started using floppy discs in grade school (Apple II formatted 5.25 discs). The 3.5 arrived while I was in High School (the 3.5′ floppy drive hooked up to the single Mac IIgs in the computer lab looked so high tech at the time).

    I still have a floppy drive in this PC’s case, mostly because I have not bothered to remove it. However it’s never been hooked up to the current mainboard and power supply (which was installed in 2004 during the last rebuild). Somewhere in a box, I have a box of floppies collecting dust. These days, it’s USB flash drives, email and Dropbox that handles my backup duties along with the occasional backup to DVD.

    Anyway, the Floppy Disc, RIP

  2. From cman at 7:44 pm on April 26, 2010

    Back in the day I had disk caddy upon disk caddy to hold all the disks I had. Now I have one small caddy with a few disks in the back of one drawer. Most disks are for devices I don’t even use anymore, win95 and win98 startup disks, and 5 disks of Rise of the Triad. I doubt any of them even work anymore.

    RIP floppies! Old floppies never die, they just have bits fall off.

  3. From Mark F at 4:04 am on April 27, 2010

    It has been at least 5 years since I used any kind of floppy disk for it’s intended purpose. It seems to me that CDs and DVDs will be heading down the same road in the not-too-distant future.

    I have noticed a few sites that have started recycling them in a creative way so they are still useful… with a bit of nostalgia thrown in for good measure.

    ReturnVoid is a good site in the UK for stuff like this and I seem to remember ThinkGeek in the USA selling similar stuff.

    http://www.returnvoid.co.uk/store/other-stuff/5-25-floppy-notepad.html

    http://www.returnvoid.co.uk/store/other-stuff/m-3-5-floppy-notepad.html

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/

  4. From OhGizmo! » Archive » Floppy Disk Ceramic Tiles Would Make For One Nerdy Backsplash | The CaffiNation Podcast at 12:11 pm on April 27, 2010

    [...] Floppy Disks going out of production in 2011, how better to remind yourself of the worlds most identifieable piece of cruft than to surround [...]

  5. From Cynthia at 6:55 am on May 1, 2010

    I know it sounds dorky, but I had a “funeral” for the floppy disk.

    I filmed the entire thing:

    http://www.thecynch.com/video-funeral-for-a-floppy/

    -Cynthia

  6. From Guest at 2:07 am on May 19, 2010

    My first PC had a 250MB tape drive in 92 or 93, so I never needed to use floppies to do backup. But even with that on a 486DX it took maybe 20 min to 1 hour to backup. I remember using a cache program through config.sys to speed up transfers so the drive didn’t work so hard.

    I also had a cd-rom drive which later came in handy when I got into the BBS world. I had a shareware CD that I loaded into the BBS. I don’t ever remember using the floppy much except for games I bought to play over the summer like kings quest or space quest. Those were the best days of my childhood. Having people dial in to play tradewars or playing shareware. I even met one of the local sysops in a college class. He somehow remembered my handle and unique name.