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The demise of the floppy

The demise of the floppy

We knew the day was coming but, I must admit, I was a bit misty-eyed to hear that the end seems nigh for the floppy disk. Sony, which makes the lion’s share of them these days, announced it will stop production from March 2011, a decision that is likely to signal the floppy disk’s ultimate demise.

Dwindling demand and competition from other storage formats like USB drives and CDs/DVDs has meant the company has already stopped selling them in most markets. Also, most PCs and notebooks don’t even have a floppy drive any more. Yet there is still something rather sad about the whole thing, like losing an old aunt, who has been around for ages, was useful once upon a time, but in recent years has remained largely confined to the room at the end of the corridor.

The floppy disk drive was invented at IBM in 1967 and revolutionised disk storage in the 1970s. The first ones used 8-inch disks, which evolved into the 5.25-inch variety and ultimately 3.5 inches (that is 89mm for us metricians) in the early 1980s. Basically, it was a small, circular piece of metal-coated plastic (the flexible bit, hence the name floppy) similar to audio cassette tape, inside a tough plastic sleeve. Its reassuring squareness, silver blob in the middle, and the click of the slidey thing on the edge are forever etched in the memories of those of us who are old enough to have watched (and remember) the All Blacks win the World Cup.

I must have hundreds of the things – floppy disks not old aunts – lying around the office. I hate to think what is actually on them all. Photos, articles, a whole mish-mash of worthless stuff, no doubt badly labelled and corrupted, too.

Of course, that is largely the problem. Storage space … or the lack of.

Computing has quickly moved on from the days when an operating system could fit on a floppy’s 1.44MB. The writing was on the wall when we ended up having to use a dozen or more disks to install a program.

Should you hold onto your old disks? Well, it might become a collector’s item one day, but I’m guessing you’ll have to wait a few centuries. In their prime during the mid 1990s, there were an estimated five billion of the things in use.

On the flip side, I guess landfill sites will be pleased. If five billion were in use that would have meant similar figures being chucked in the bin.

I can’t remember the last time I used one, but I am a little teary to see them go. They’ve been part of our computer journey for nearly four decades.

Whether you remember them with fondness or not, perhaps the saddest thing of all … no more floppy jokes. No more smirking about comments like ‘leaving your floppy in the drive overnight’ or ‘inserting a floppy into the drive upside down’.

Ah well, there must be something mildly amusing about thumb drives and USB ports, if only I could find it …


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