R.I.P. Floppy

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Matt Barton's picture

I saw in the headlines today that Sony is suspending its million+ unit floppy disk production (3 1/2", of course). I guess what surprised me most was that it hadn't stopped long ago. Outside of retro purposes, does anyone seriously use these disks anymore? I have few good memories of them--just all the read/write errors and the inevitable march to destruction. The disk drives themselves were also always unreliable. I know I've replaced more faulty disk drives than any other component. They were a significant step up from the 5 1/4" disks, of course. It's too bad that the industry couldn't settle on a standard for the bigger capacity disks (iomega, zip, etc.), but of course those were mere flashes in the pan compared to the 3 1/2". The article suggests that USB and other types of storage killed it off, but I'd say it was more the CD and later DVD burners. Once the price got cheap enough, it made more sense to burn everything to those and tuck them away.

What are your thoughts on the floppy disk? Will they be missed? (And, yes, I realize that other companies will keep making them into the foreseeable future.)

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Well, it's probably more

Well, it's probably more accurate to say that solid state devices killed off all removable storage media once capacities crossed a certain threshold. I know even with Zip and Jazz disks - in particular the former which was the only real challenge to floppies - reliability was always an issue for me (and certainly others - the "click of death" was common).

It's like 8MM film, polaroid film, 35MM film, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, etc., there will likely always be somebody making them, since there's a lot of legacy equipment and/or active enthusiasts. I believe there are still supplies of 8" disks to be had, and who would have thought that?

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
My local Staples still keeps

My local Staples still keeps floppies in stock. I haven't used them in about 15 years. Email and Zip disks took its place. Today I have flash drives, hard disks, Mozy, Dropbox & Time Machine all working to back my stuff up!

For a time in the early 2000's I did backups with a CD burner, but that was a major pain in the ass.

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Can't forget businesses still running legacy systems
Catatonic wrote:

My local Staples still keeps floppies in stock. I haven't used them in about 15 years. Email and Zip disks took its place. Today I have flash drives, hard disks, Mozy, Dropbox & Time Machine all working to back my stuff up!

That's a good point, some businesses are still behind the times.

My backup strategy is all important data files are saved to/run through and synchronized with Dropbox, with my other data at various points in the cloud. I do every other week full system/incremental backups with Acronis True Image on all of my active personal systems (mine and my wife's; two laptops and two desktops) to a 2TB external drive. The only thing I don't have backed up at this point is my NAS, which has two 500GB drives that I want to RAID 1, but right now they act as two separate drives. I'll probably do that soon.

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
that was easy
Bill Loguidice wrote:

That's a good point, some businesses are still behind the times.

You can find them in the aisle with typewriter ribbons... no kidding.

Chris Kennedy
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Joined: 08/31/2008
A Long death for Floppy Disks

I've probably kept floppy disk drives in my computer much longer than most. I think the 5 1/4" made it all the way to my Pentium II system, and I still have a 3 1/2" drive in my current Quad Core system.

Floppy disks are an interesting story. I remember that early Sierra adventure games that used the AGI interface would ship with bad sectors on the floppy disk. They were marked bad on purpose and served as a form of copy protection. I found all of this out after running a surface scan (remember those?) on disk 1 of Space Quest II one day. Turns out I had no reason to panic, but at the time I thought my SQ2 days were OVER.

Is the further limitation of floppy disk options the market going to cause any sort of price change, or did we see the last adjustment to floppy disks and floppy drive pricing years ago? Sometimes things become so niche that the companies still producing them realize they can raise prices a little bit. I hope this isn't the case. I have a retro-PC to build in the near future...

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Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Half life...

Back at University we were always kidding about Half-life. Way before the game ever came out. On a lot of occasions we actually lost data transporting it on floppy disc because the media was unreliable. We introduced the use of the word half-life. If you wanted to take data home you'd better make sure the half-life on those floppies is at least 30 minutes :P

Back in the day it was no fun archiving a couple of megabytes of stuff downloaded from
ftp.funet.fi/pub/cbm
ftp.funet.fi/pub/atari

with the ARJ program spanning multiple discs using data protection switches only to find out that a couple of the discs exeeded their half-life :P

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John (not verified)
virtualize, virtualize, virtualize...

I played my first video game on a Amstrad/Schneider CPC6128 machine some 25 years ago. Around 1990 I started playing games for the PC and have been a passionate gamer ever since. I'm currently 42 years old and got myself quite a PC game collection over the years.

One of my biggest concerns was not being able to play my old games on newer machines. Old games have lots of compatibility issues with current versions of Windows (XP/Vista/Win7) and there is also the near-death of the floppy disk. Fortunately today we got emulators and virtualization technology - both absolutely great for playing old games.

I use DosBox (DOS emulator) for all my old DOS games and VirtualPC (Hypervisor) for all Win95/98/2K/XP games. I used WinImage to transform all my original floppy disks into "floppy disk images" which I can store on any device and mount easily in these virtual/emulated environments. Unfortunately some games had a disk copy protection based on bad sectors. I had to find myself a crack for those.

The fun thing is that I can now transport my virtual game environment to all kinds of devices. I can play my old games on any PC, laptop or even on my PocketPC/Smartphone. This way I can keep on enjoying my game collection - even better than in the old days.

No, the floppy will not be missed by me. Too many days of my life have I been waiting for a format/copy/install to be completed.

Greetings from Belgium.

Mark Vergeer
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John - good tips

I do the same with my old DOS-games. I use virtualization techniques to continue playing those older games. I do have an older PentiumIII machine running Windows98 with a Voodoo2 card but this will not last indefinitely and Virtualization is the safest bet yet.

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