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Floppy Disks: The Dinosaur That Won't Die

By Raunchola in Technology
Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 06:26:50 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

In an era where files are growing larger and larger, the humble 1.44 MB floppy disk still remains. But why?

I can remember my early days of computing when I'd go to the local computer store to buy a ten pack of floppy disks (or I'd just wait for AOL to send me one :)). Files were smaller then...one 1.44 MB floppy could hold my documents for school, a copy of Winroids, and whatever shareware game I yanked off a BBS. Nowadays, the floppy just doesn't do it for me anymore. Whenever I take my work to class, it goes on a Zip disk or a CD-RW, because there's just too many files that won't fit onto a floppy.

Even computer manufacturers are taking notice. You won't find a 3.5" drive on an iMac (although you can get an external one), and a lot of PCs now offer internal or external Zip drives as part of the software / hardware bundle that comes with them. Granted, there was a small commotion going on with the SuperDisk drives (which allowed you to read both 120 MB SuperDisks and 1.44 MB floppies) a while back, but even their webpage says that they've discontinued the sale of the drives.

Maybe someone can answer this burning question for me...why are 3.5" floppies and 3.5" floppy drives still around? It seems that they're the only storage medium that hasn't evolved to meet up with today's file sizes. Thoughts anyone?


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Floppy Disks: The Dinosaur That Won't Die | 77 comments (73 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why... (3.66 / 3) (#1)
by pb on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:08:35 AM EST

Floppy drives are still around because they're still needed, and they're still a standard. At the least, PC's need a writeable medium for booting an OS, and system recovery. You won't always have an uncorrupted hard drive, or a bootable CD-ROM handy, or a CD-RW, or a Network Card. Then, you'll need a floppy drive.

However, once someone puts out a new sort of drive and captures the market, the floppy drive will start to go away. The Zip Drive started to do this, but didn't succeed. Also, 2.88MB floppies never took off. Hopefully someone will make a combo drive that can read regular floppies *and* format them at a higher density. However, if it requires new media, it will be adopted more slowly.

Also, I still love my floppy drive. It's fun to see how much I can actually pack into a boot disk. :)
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
which reminds me... (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by _Quinn on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:11:22 AM EST

   ... has anyone been able to create a bootable zipdisk? I remember trying at one point and giving up; if it became possible/as easy making a boot floppy, I think floppy drives will start to die off.

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
NERD REPLY (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by pb on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:17:56 AM EST

I couldn't manage it under DOS, because I have a Parallel Port Zip Drive.

Therefore, I had to make (guess what?) a Boot Disk that would load the drivers for the Zip Drive, and then load whatever boot files existed on that. I'll let you know if I ever run something substantial off of that Zip Drive as well. :)
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
[ Parent ]
It's perfectly possible... (none / 0) (#13)
by itsbruce on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 06:04:55 AM EST

So long as your BIOS can boot from a zip disk. Many older BIOSes (and some current ones) can't.

Even on those that say they can, though, you may need to mark the partition on the zip disk as bootable. It's also useful to know that Zip disks use logical partition 4 by default (an obscure Mac-compatibility issue), though it's perfectly possible to remove that and recreate as partition 1.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
[ Parent ]
Yeah... it's easy. (3.66 / 3) (#37)
by SvnLyrBrto on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 04:44:12 PM EST

>... has anyone been able to create a bootable zipdisk?

All you need to do is format the disk and drop a valid system folder on it.

In fact, if your system folder is bloated with extra extensions, tons of preferences, and other crud that expands it over 100MB, like mine is; Iomega even includes a utility in their toolkit for making a recovery disk.

It automatically formats and verifys the zip disk, copies a striped-down, basic system folder over for you, and automatically drops disk first aid, and drive setup on it for you. All in all, a really nifty tool.

Of course, only internal IDE zip drives are bootable... Well, mabye external SCSI zips, but I've never tried that... Does Iomega even make such a beastie anymore? Anyone with only an external *USB* zip drive need not apply tho.

Nowdays tho, I don't even bother with my zip drive anymore. Not even for recovery purposes. I just have a bootable CD; on which I have my FULL system folder, with ALL of my extensions and preferences... so if I ever crash my hard disk, I won't have to go into re-install / setup frenzy if the worst ever happens.

I don't even know where my zip disks ARE anymore. I lost track of them not long after switching to CD for system recovery.... and haven't really missed them. A few othere in this article have already mentioned that zip disks are a total rip-off from a $/MB POV. I'll do the aol thing and say "me too" on that.


Imagine all the people...
[ Parent ]

oh, right :) (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by _Quinn on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:24:24 PM EST

   Making boot disks is Really Easy on Macintoshes :)

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
OT, but true (3.50 / 4) (#4)
by qpt on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:11:38 AM EST

Also, I still love my floppy drive. It's fun to see how much I can actually pack into a boot disk. :)
You, sir, are a nerd.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.
[ Parent ]

SuperDisk (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by cbatt on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:43:08 AM EST

SuperDisk drives can read and write both forms of media.

Superdisks also have a sloghtly higher capacity than standard ZIP disks (120MB vs. 100MB).

I really can't figure out why these never caught on, unless they are a proprietary format like ZIP disks. Though the mechanism is made by Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics and is/was being used be a variety of manufacturers. Maybe royalties to MKE were really high... who knows.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Actually SuperDisk (aka LS120) (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by ramses0 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:46:23 PM EST

...was designed to be an open standard which any hardware vendor could implement. I wish I could find the technical whitepaper I read on it... it was detailed down to how the drive was supposed to track sectors with a combination of three low power lasers, then write to those sectors with standard magnetic heads. Very interesting reading, but google wasn't able to turn anything up.

[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]
[ Parent ]

Boot disks (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by Kinthelt on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 02:05:47 PM EST

Floppy drives are still around because they're still needed, and they're still a standard. At the least, PC's need a writeable medium for booting an OS, and system recovery.

Here, here. And it's not only PCs that need them. When I first got my SPARC2, it had a clean hard disk. I had to go out and RAWRITE a floppy so that I could load the OpenBSD installer.

Also, I still love my floppy drive. It's fun to see how much I can actually pack into a boot disk. :)

Yeah, I used to do the same thing back in my DOS days. How else could somebody start up DOOM 2 without a bootdisk? Unless you didn't want to run smartdrv.sys or emm386.exe in your normal boot you needed it. Of course, the same problem doesn't arrive today. The floppy is now just for system maintenance/defibrillation.

[ Parent ]

Down with iomega! (4.33 / 6) (#6)
by delmoi on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:18:52 AM EST

If you ask me, I think what really killed the floppy-enhancement was greed on Iomega's part. Rather then work on an open standard, like the floppy disk had been, they tried to create a proprietary standard, and then suck up as much money as they could. A zip disk still costs around $10 (while a much cooler looking, and higher data capacity mini-disk costs $2). It's a rip-off, ten cents a Meg when 80gig hard drives sell for $250 (.3 cents a meg).

If zip had been an open standard, then we would probably all be using it now, but it wasn't.

I think people are pretty much using CD-R as the new non-networked method of distribution, which is kind of sad, since CD-Rs are far more inflexible then flop disks are, I mean you burn once and that's it. I haven't used CD-RW much, and not enough people have them to make it viable as a data-exchange format.

Maybe someday we'll all be using DVD-RAM

Of course, all of this is really missing the real removable-media killer, the internet. It's usually easier to email/ICQ/DCC or in other ways upload a file then to get in physical contact with a person after transferring a file to disk.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Internet not a replacement yet (3.50 / 2) (#15)
by Tim C on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 07:50:03 AM EST

Sure, the internet will be a replacement for most uses of removable media one day, but not until high-speed, unmetered access is as prevalent as floppies/CD burners are now. (I doubt that sensitive information will ever be routinely transferred that way, hence the "most")

I have a 33.6kbps modem at home, and the call charges for net access vary from 5p/min on peak (8am-6pm weekdays) to 1p/min off peak (12am Saturday to 12am Monday), and about 2.5p/min the rest of the time.

There's no way on Earth I'm downloading an iso image at home, or in fact anything over about 5 meg in size. I'll download it at work, and burn it to a CD to take home. It works out *much* cheaper that way, and doesn't leave the phone tied up for hours on end.

I'm moving house soon, and hopefully I'll be able to get ADSL there, but until I can, I for one am not going to be giving up my removable media.



[ Parent ]
There's a problem with CD-RW (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by yankeehack on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:26:18 AM EST

CD RW disks are not freely interchangeable to work with other CD Rom drives. I learned this the hard way, when I made a fancy presentation for a class on my home computer, only to see the in class CD Rom drive refuse to read from my disk.

The problem? My home drive was newer and the laser was more sensitive, thusly it could pick up the shallower pits on the RW disc. Apparently, the material used to make RW discs is only so pliable and can't make distinct pits. So, no surprise that the the older in class CD rom drive barfed.

So, the only solution when you are working with two different CD drives with a RW disc is to make sure that both drives can read from the disc before you give a big presentation. Or do a floppy backup. ;-)

No one who was bad in bed has ever been good in life (i.e. liberals, I've never had sex with a liberal woman who knew how to use her body.) Keeteel :-P I'm *right*!
[ Parent ]

They're not pits (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by fluffy grue on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:32:40 PM EST

CD-Rs and CD-RWs don't have pits like pressed CDs do. CD-Rs have ink which gets burned away to look like non-pits, and CD-RWs have ink which can be heated to different temperatures or something for a similar effect (I'm not entirely sure how CD-RWs work). They just happen to look similar enough to pits to fool most CD-ROM drives.

AFAIK, older CD-ROM drives are actually more sensitive, though, and don't recognize the ink as pits - it's not that older drives aren't sensitive enough, but that they're too sensitive, from a bygone era of having actual quality control requiring over-engineering.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

About CD-Rs and CD-RWs. (5.00 / 2) (#59)
by meldroc on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:01:16 PM EST

You're correct about CD-Rs - they have an ink layer which the laser burns, (though I was under the impression the laser burns create dark spots in the ink, which have low reflectivity, and are registered as pits, while the unburned spots reflect the light and register as lands.)

CD-RWs have several layers of material - two electrically conductive layers, with a special dimorphic material sandwiched between them. The laser burns in two modes. It can heat the material to a high temperature very fast, then let it cool quickly. The material vaporizes, then recondenses an an amorphous state, which is not very reflective, so it registers as a pit. It can also heat a spot slowly, to a lower temperature, and let it cool slowly. Then the material condenses into a crystalline structure, which is highly reflective and registers as a land.

The reason for compatibility problems with CD-RWs and older CD-ROM drives is reflectivity. CD-RWs have less reflectivity than CD-ROMs and CD-Rs, so the laser can't pick up the pits and lands on a CD-RW. Most CD-ROM drives made in the past 3 years or so can now read CD-RWs (assuming that the CD-RW is written in a recognizable format - DirectCD written CD-RWs use UDF instead of ISO9660, and most computers don't have drivers to recognize that format yet.)

[ Parent ]

Ah, thanks (none / 0) (#68)
by fluffy grue on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 07:30:10 PM EST

Thanks for clearing that up. Basically it's still not making pits, just dark spots which register at them, which was my original point. :)

About the CD-RW stuff, I thought he was referring to older CD-ROM drives not supporting CD-Rs, rather than not supporting CD-RWs. I've experienced many drives which an't handle CD-Rs at all. On a related note, a lot of early DVD players couldn't handle CD-Rs for a tangentially-similar reason (having to do with focal planes IIRC), though strangely, although my older Sony DVD player can't read CD-Rs, it can read CD-RWs just fine.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

The internet as a gloppy killer. (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by WWWWolf on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 06:42:37 AM EST

Of course, all of this is really missing the real removable-media killer, the internet. It's usually easier to email/ICQ/DCC or in other ways upload a file then to get in physical contact with a person after transferring a file to disk.
Easy, yes, but it has problems.

For example, the speed.

I have ISDN connection (128 kbit/s), and while it's faster than a modem, it just isn't as fast as, say, CD-ROM or even floppy.

I often sync my files over the net to the university with scp; it works nicely enough for my Mozilla bookmark file (218k) and is probably more convinient than carrying floppies around. Still, I wouldn't try to send a couple of megabytes every day with that...

(Damn, I wish my ISP would have broadband stuff available here, I'd hate to change ISP too often =)

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...

[ Parent ]
Mini-Disc data. (3.00 / 1) (#70)
by static on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 05:05:20 AM EST

Sony botched this one when they first introduced. Interestingly, I reckon they've got a second chance. For the first time I can remember, I've seen MD-Data disks for sale in a local music store. (This is because some multi-track recorders use them.) With a native capacity of 140Mb, plus support for reading MD audio, Sony shouldn't have a trouble resurrecting MD-Data as a viable format.

Unfortunately, the one thing wrong with this scenario is that Sony are pushing their Memory Stick product. :-/ MiniDisc is finally making some decent inroads outside of Japan so I hope they don't have any plans to abandon it.


[ Parent ]

Mini-Disc Data (none / 0) (#77)
by irie bj on Fri Jun 07, 2002 at 07:12:30 AM EST

I hope Sony will get their act together with regard to this awesome technology. I have hated them for nearly 10 years now for single handedly ruining the Mini-Disc.

I need a witty sig.
[ Parent ]

If you don't want yours, I'll have them. (4.33 / 9) (#7)
by Jin Wicked on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:45:06 AM EST

Today's file sizes? What exactly are "today's file sizes"? Methinks maybe you're just cranky because you can't fit your mp3s on them. ;)

I happen to like floppy disks. They're cheap, durable, and I think they're just about the perfect size. CDs are brittle and you have to keep them in a special case of some sort or they get scratched or otherwised damaged. (I can't stand jewel cases.) I bought a box of floppies while I was visiting my boyfriend out of town so that I could work on my writing while he was in school. I can keep the entire sum of all the archived writing on my computer on a floppy disk, and it's easy to chunk in my bag and tote around. It's also easy to save it while I'm working. No, it's not very good for toting around my .png, 25MB raw scans of artwork, but why on earth would I want to? That's something I'd back up once and not need again -- perfect job for a CD-R. I think your average person probably gets more use out of floppy disks than you do.

I mean, even if I had the option of a larger disk, I might not necessarily need or want it. Kind of like how I don't go out and buy a 100GB hard drive when I'm barely using 5GB now. I don't feel bad about putting a couple of JPGs on a floppy disk and mailing it to someone, or giving it to a friend. But I'd feel rather silly putting a couple of small files on a 10MB+ disk. I think it's just a matter of different methods for different needs.

This post was probably not written by the real Jin Wicked. Please see user "butter pie" for Jin's actual posts.

I know what you mean... (2.50 / 2) (#14)
by Tim C on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 07:34:06 AM EST

...about feeling silly putting a couple of jpegs on a 10MB disk.

I once had to send a PGP key pair to a client, and he insisted that it be couried to him on a CD.

The CD ended up with about 50KB of data on it. :-)

Talk about a waste...



[ Parent ]
Although... (2.50 / 2) (#21)
by Vulch on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 09:09:35 AM EST

For a PGP key, using a write once medium for the transfer does make it less likely the courier has altered it in transit... :-)


[ Parent ]
You're a bit young to be getting nostalgic (3.66 / 6) (#10)
by itsbruce on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:11:11 AM EST

Files were smaller then...one 1.44 MB floppy could hold my documents for school

Well, I remember when floppy disks were actually floppy. In fact, when I saw the title of this story I thought it would be somebody complaining about the fact that the name "floppy disk" lives on long after floppy disks died out.

A genuine floppy disk should be at least 5 1/4 inches big and with a data density so low that you can put a staple through it without losing anything. That beast is extinct.


It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
At least 5-1/4" (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:28:13 AM EST

I still have a box of hard-sectored 8" floppies in the basement, right next to my box of really wide ties.

[ Parent ]
8 inches. (none / 0) (#54)
by Raventail on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 11:32:50 AM EST

A little computer shop I worked at until recently has a box of 8" floppies (hard sectored, I believe) on a shelf behind the front counter.

-- "Lies. Deception. Treachery. Gratuitous violence. It's all good." - Armaphine
[ Parent ]
DS disks (none / 0) (#25)
by flieghund on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:34:48 AM EST

... didn't work when they came out with double sided disk drives.
My mother (!) took an adult education class on MS-DOS about 8-10 years ago. Her teacher showed them how to take SS (single-sided) 3.5" floppies and turn them into DS (double-sided) ones. You take an existing DS disk and place it over a SS one in the same orientation. You'll note that the DS disk has an extra hole opposite of the disk-lock. Take an eighth-inch drill bit and drill a matching hole through the SS disk, and viola! -- you now have a DS disk for the price of an SS. The teacher made it clear that this was a risky hack prone to data loss... but for a "meaningless" class disk, it was a reasonable and cheaper alternative.

Of course, this was back when a) you could still find SS disks, and b) there was a noticeable price difference between DS and SS disks.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Doubliong the storage space (none / 0) (#28)
by GreenHell on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:15:44 AM EST

heh... hadn't thought of that old trick in years... I'm sure if I search though the old computer stuff at home I can find this little thingy that was specially designed for that... You just slipped the disk in until it hit the end, then pushed down on a plunger-thingy and it made a perfect sized hole in exactly the right spot... no idea where I got it, but it worked well.... ahhhh.... floppies, who says their dead? I've still got botha 3 1/2 & and 5 1/4 drive in this machine right now :)

This .sig was my last best hope to seem eloquent. It failed.
[ Parent ]
bah (none / 0) (#47)
by spacejack on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 01:55:52 AM EST

The first PC I ever used was my cousin's TRS-80. We used to type in, hunt-and-peck-style, from magazines these BASIC programs and then save them to cassette tape. It was not very reliable. Nor was my typing at that age, unfortunately :( I think I can even remember us pondering at one point whether or not we should use one of my uncle's Maxell (or TDK?) tapes that we didn't really have permission to use.

[ Parent ]
Apple ][+ (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by lil on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:23:18 PM EST

I bought an old Apple at a second hand store a couple years ago. I didn't have a DOS for it so it could access the floppy drives so to play with it I pulled my stereo (worth about 30 times the computer) off the shelf and took an RCA plug and presto! A very expensive, very large, slightly unreliable disk drive! :) It was great.

I've also got a programming guide for AppleSoft basic that gives directions on how to hook your new apple up to your television. Fortunately I found a (green and black) monitor instead.


[ Parent ]
In that case, (none / 0) (#65)
by spacejack on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 05:06:07 PM EST

Heh, I guess you could also put the audio jack into your PC's sound card and save a file that way (better yet, then compress it as an mp3 :)

You might find this interesting.

Finally, (bear with me, this is a nostalgia trip) here's a stupid little beep program for you to try:

First, enter CALL-151 at the ']' prompt.
Then enter the following at the '*' prompt (don't enter the comments):

300:A2 40 ; change the 40 value to adjust dur
302:A0 90 ; change the 90 value to adjust pitch
304:AD 30 C0
308:D0 FD
30B:D0 F5

Then hit CTRL-C, Return. Then type CALL 768. That *should* beep the speaker by 'clicking' it, doing a small loop then looping around again. My friend and I actually built a digital sampler, by 'listening' to the tape input and filling bits in memory with on/off values. Then we could play it back by clicking the speaker for every 1 bit or doing a nop for zeroes.

Oh man, I can't believe I dug that up. I'm such a geek.

[ Parent ]
The manly way of doing things... (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by theboz on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 06:32:29 AM EST

I also remember a trick back in the old days that would allow you to *double* the storage of your floppy disks. You took a whole punch and created a notch on the opposite side, and then you could flip the disk and store data on that side (which of course didn't work when they came out with double sided disk drives).

I never thought of using a hole punch. I always used the knife I used to sneak in my pocket to school.

[ Parent ]

floppy refers to the disk, not the shell (none / 0) (#19)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:59:26 AM EST

Floppy disks are still floppy, they are just encased in a plastic shell. Take one apart. The actual disk is floppy.

Complaining that 3.5 floppy disks aren't floppy is kind of like complaining that a cassette tape isn't really tape because the tape lies inside a plastic shell.

[ Parent ]

"Floppy" (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:06:54 PM EST

Personally I've always preferred the term "stiffy" for the 3-1/2", but it never had a chance -- logical and descriptive as it is, it just doesn't go over well when you look at somebody and say, "No problem -- I have a stiffy!"

[ Parent ]
stiffy (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by pranshu on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 08:14:03 AM EST

It's what they're called in South Africa. Where stiffy doesn't mean erection.

[ Parent ]
Hmmmm.... hope B: still works. (none / 0) (#46)
by ka9dgx on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:19:35 PM EST

I type this on a box running NT4, with a 1.2Mb B: drive... hope it still works, and I further hope it doesn't know it's dead. ;-)

[ Parent ]
Main reason... (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by Inoshiro on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:59:12 AM EST

Is that there is no other convienently rewriteable and bootable media in existance. Bootable CDs exist, but truly rewriteable CDROM drive are expensive, and the process is a bit of a hack.

A floppy I make to install Slackware will work in all machines, and I can always change it to match whatever else I want to install. They also provide a convient means to move data between non-networked machines (again, rewriteable CDs don't read well in most CDROMs).

Come up with something like the ZIP Disk, but not shitty, and have it come pre-bundled with your PC. Then people will migrate. :)

[ イノシロ ]
Doesn't have to be 'less shitty' (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by ZanThrax on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 07:51:19 AM EST

it just needs to be 'less obscenely priced' I don't understand how the hell they can stay in business charging $20 (cdn) for 100 MB of storage. Get it down to a tenth of that (and thus only 16x the cost of blank CDs) and I'd consider using such a system.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

CD Writers / ReWriters (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by Anonymous 7324 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 03:44:06 PM EST

can now be had cheap. Under $100, if you look hard, and definitely for $150, which is exactly the price that I paid for my parallel port Zip drive a coupla years back.

Rewritable discs are now available for $1, or probably less (I haven't looked lately), and obviously hold far more than a zip disk, and is arguably more duable, since it's not suceptible to magnetic damage.

Moreover, one can make the case that most times, people still use floppies as write-once media anyway (say, to do things like create a boot disk for flashing the bios, or for emergency recovery), and thus normal CDRs, which can now be had for $10 for a spindle of 50 if you look really hard or or $15 for a spindle of 50 from Outpost permanently, is an equally viable solution.

[ Parent ]
You can have my floppy drive (4.20 / 5) (#20)
by 0xdeadbeef on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 09:03:13 AM EST

when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Bootable CDs don't cut it. They don't always work, even on modern systems.

ZIP disks are too expensive, too proprietary, and too slow for the file sizes they handle. It's faster for me to boot my laptop and FTP 100 meg of files than it is to copy them to a ZIP disk and copy them off again.

Floppies are cheap. They're disposable. They're ubiquitous. They make excellent quick and dirty boot disks. They're still large enough to hold a small kernel and set of system drivers, so at least you can get your CDROM or network working to get the files you really need.

I'm sure you can imagine what a ridiculous farce it is to install an operating system off of a CD, only to find that it doesn't recognize your CDROM without proprietary drivers. Especially when it requires multiple reboots to complete the install process.

Booting isn't a problem (none / 0) (#27)
by DeadBaby on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:48:39 AM EST

I've never had that problem with a modern OS. Certain versions of Linux laugh at my attempts to boot them but virtually every other OS works just fine.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
[ Parent ]
Try (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by finkployd on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 01:25:22 PM EST

Try installing the latest from MS someday. WindowsME is not a bootable CD (at least, the store bought shrinkwrapped version I have isn't)

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
[ Parent ]
CD-R/CD-RW already does much of what floppies do. (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by meldroc on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 01:51:23 PM EST

I haven't had many problems getting bootable CD-ROMS to work on modern systems. CD-Rs are cheap, disposable and ubiquitous (well, CD-ROMs are ubiquitous), but have hundreds of times the capacity and are many times faster than floppies.

The thing I hate about floppies is their lack of fault tolerance. CD-ROM/CD-R/CD-RW all have error correction built into them, so when (not if) the disk gets scratched, the system will usually reconstruct its data and keep working. Floppies have none of that. I've had floppies go flaky in a matter of days, and there's nothing I can do, short of making multiple copies. Most floppy disks are made so cheaply these days that they can't be relied on anymore.

The only thing keeping CD-R/CD-RW from replacing floppies entirely is the difficulty in writing to them. I know DirectCD partially solves that problem for Windows users, but that comes at the expense of compatibility, because DirectCD uses UDF instead of ISO9660, and UDF isn't universally recognized by most systems yet. If writing to a CD-R or CD-RW was as simple as dragging & dropping in (insert favorite filesystem explorer or GUI environment here,) or "copy foo.bar d:" (or "cp foo.bar /mnt/cdrom" for Linux/Unix) and that disk could be read everywhere - Unix, Linux, MacOS, Windows, etc., the floppy would be GONE.

[ Parent ]

cd drivers (none / 0) (#66)
by janra on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 05:47:31 PM EST

I'm sure you can imagine what a ridiculous farce it is to install an operating system off of a CD, only to find that it doesn't recognize your CDROM without proprietary drivers. Especially when it requires multiple reboots to complete the install process.

Oh yes. And it's even more fun when the floppy disks that were marked as cdrom drivers and came with the computer actually have the wrong drivers. And the boot disk that the manual claimed to be all you needed to start your computer and get installing from the cd didn't have any cd drivers on it. Oh, and the BIOS hasn't the foggiest what a cdrom drive is, even though the computer came with one.

Yes, this happened to me. Luckily I knew of a houseful of geeks who were kind enough to take my computer in for a weekend and get it working again - upgrading me from W95a to W95b while they were at it. It even took them a couple of days, so I didn't feel too dumb when they finally finished. And people say linux is hard to install.

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
There still around because... (4.50 / 2) (#22)
by tnt on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:23:28 AM EST

Floppy drives are still around because there hasn't been anything (that everyone has agreed upon) to replace it.

CD-ROM drives can't replace it, because they are read only. Zip drives can't replace it, because they are too proprietory. (Same with all the other super disk technologies that I've heard about.) But also, I think, for most people, the Internet is their floppy drive; they just upload, anything they want to access from another computer, to the Internet, and get it from there.

Who knows, maybe these solid-state key-size USB hard drives will replace your floppy. (I've already seen them in 1GB capacities.) They just have to get to down to the price of a floppy. Can you boot from a USB drive?

     Charles Iliya Krempeaux, B.Sc.
  Kuro5hin user #279

We need bootable CompactFlash... (4.50 / 4) (#24)
by Speare on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:28:20 AM EST

Others have already pointed out the continuing need for an easily rewritable bootable pocket-sized media.

I wish that it'd move to a standard like the CompactFlash/ SmartMedia/ MemoryStick storage devices. A two square inch piece of plastic with 64MB on it.

Of these, CompactFlash is my fave, because it's more robust than SmartMedia (I've folded a SmartMedia accidentally). I'm shying away from the more monopolistic Sony MemoryStick model.

I think there's room for improvement. I saw a PCMCIA retractable thumbprint scanner. Pop it out, thumb it, log into your Win2K or soon Linux. I'd love to shrink it to CompactFlash size, have some flash memory inside it, and organize it so that the thumbprint enables access to the data on it. Keep my PGP keyring on that, locked biometrically.
[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]

Floppy disks are dead. (2.00 / 1) (#26)
by DeadBaby on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 10:43:49 AM EST

You can easily build a system these days without a floppy drive and NEVER worry about not having one. If worse comes to worse, you can pull one out of your junk pile and hook it up but I can't say I ever have. My floppy drive hasn't worked correctly in years. Sure, I hook it up but it randomly (And not so randomly) causes my disks to never work again.

Floppy disks were replaced by e-mail, IM clients, IRC, etc. 1.44MB, even on dialup, takes less time than giving someone a floppy disk and it's insanely more reliable. The only reason machines ship with floppy drives these days is because they're so cheap. Almost any hardware that was $10 and was moderately useful would sell well.

Even a 4x CDR is faster writing 1.44MB of data than a floppy drive I suspect and the media is even cheaper.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Dead floppies (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by ucblockhead on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 12:25:11 PM EST

I recently discovered that my floppy drive wasn't even connected, and this was three months since I'd last had the case open.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Floppies will hang around...... (none / 0) (#75)
by Bomb Technician on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 02:45:47 PM EST

You're assuming that all computers have CD ROMS, Zip Disks, or Network Connections. This is not always the case. Say, for instance, that out of boredom, as a hobby, whatever, you decide to get an old system up and running. You've got it all going good until you find out you need a driver for it, and you can only find one on the net? You quickly become SOL if your machine doesn't have a floppy.
And if your boot sector takes a shit on your, or something else that prevents boot, what is the time tested way? Floppies of course.
At the moment, there are other alternatives, such as replacing the BIOS with and stripped down OS, and such. But untill these become standard, floppies will stay around.
"If you see me running, try and keep up"
[ Parent ]
Why the floppy won't die (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by cable on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:34:59 AM EST

Even Apple tried to kill it with the iMac not having one built in. Go back to the NeXTCube, it used a MagentoOptical CD drive and lacked a floppy.

Best way to transfure small files between two systems that are not on a network or even in the same room? Use a floppy disk. Unless both have CD-ROM drives and one of them has a CDRW/CDR drive?

What about school, if your system lacks a floppy drive, how will children take home homework from school? How will college students take home work from the computer labs? Unless they have access to the Internet for a web based hard drive, or have a CDRW drive on both machines, consider using a floppy disk.

Of course there is the Zip Disk, the old Sysquest disks, the LS-120, and maybe many more? Remember the Bernouli boxes? What we need is a universal open standard that everyone can use to replace the floppy disk. Maybe at least a 100M floppy drive replacement? Make it so that the systems that use it can boot off of it, and that both PCs, Macs, and other systems can use it. (Get Amiga, Atari ST/TT, BeOS, OS/2, Linux, etc drivers for it)

Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!

Pretty obvious, really (2.71 / 7) (#32)
by Nezumi on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 12:28:55 PM EST

It's simple to see why floppies are still around:

  • They're cheap, and so is the hardware to use them with
  • They're rewritable
  • They're durable
  • They're convenient, particularly for text and image files
  • They're a common standard
  • They're small, so storage is a breeze
  • There's no adequate alternative

I expect things will remain this way for quite a long time. I can't imagine anything that will replace floppies to any decent degree to come along any time soon.

Memory sticks (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by BigZaphod on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:50:30 PM EST

I think Sony memory sticks would be the perfect floppy replacement. They're pretty cheap (and could be more so if opened up to competition or something). They are fast. They are tiny. They can work in any modern computer with the addition of a small USB memory stick reader (which treats them as a standard USB mass storage device). They work in Sony's cameras (could be more if sony would open it up). They hold a lot (up to 32MB right now). They are more reliable (I can't count the times floppies have gone bad on me where I've never had problems with a memory stick).

Of course it probably won't happen. But I think it should. :-)

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Except... (4.00 / 1) (#52)
by CrayDrygu on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 11:21:09 AM EST

Except that Sony's memory sticks are proprietary. The truly great thing about floppy disks is that it's a standard technology that anyone can manufacture and use. You don't (AFAIK, anyway) need to pay licensing fees or royalties to anyone to manufacture floppy disks or drives. CD-Rs and CD-RWs are the same way, and they're catching on, too.

Whatever the replacement is, it needs to be cheap and widespread. And for that to happen, it has to be based on a technology that isn't owned by a single company. That's a good part of why ZIP disks didn't catch on, IMHO.

It also helps if the technology is included in new PCs.

[ Parent ]

Memory sticks - no thanks (3.00 / 1) (#53)
by robin on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 11:26:47 AM EST

They're a bit too proprietary for my tastes; compare prices of memory sticks to equivalently sized compact flash. I also don't like the sound of the MagicGate stuff (a friend of mine was pissed off when he realised that to use his new memory stick "MP3" player he had to re-rip the tracks every three times they went onto the player...)

I'm not saying that Sony are evil, but I wish they had just put compact flash sockets on all their nifty laptops instead of inventing Yet Another Format. I won't buy anything with memory stick support.

W.A.S.T.E. (do not antagonise the Horn)
[ Parent ]
CF slots on laptops (none / 0) (#67)
by Mitheral on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 06:44:43 PM EST

They do have Compact flash slots on their laptops; it's labeled the PCMCIA and adpters between that and CF can be had for ~C$40. :)

Mine works great and it is about twice as fast as the USB CF reader I have.

[ Parent ]

What I hate about memstick (none / 0) (#72)
by fluffy grue on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 12:54:46 PM EST

My problem with memory stick isn't the proprietariness of it (don't want to use it? don't use it), but the fact that on the Picturebook they implement it like a USB floppy instead of a USB memory technology device, and their implementation is apparently somewhat broken, which confuses the hell out of Linux's USB storage layer which in turn confuses the hell out of Linux's SCSI layer, which in turn means I can't have USB floppy support enabled or else my system stops working right. Very annoying.

Myself, I wish Sony had put on a second PCMCIA slot onto the Picturebook, instead of the memory stick slot, so that I could have both my network adaptor AND my (PCMCIA) DVD-ROM drive plugged in at the same time; it sucks being able to access the network OR access CD-ROMs but not both. I also wish they'd put in an IrDA port instead of the crappy RJ-11 adaptor (i.e. pathologically software modem), since anyone who actually cares about having a modem these days could just get a PCMCIA one, and IrDA would be really useful for syncing with a PalmOS device, such as, say, a Sony Clie. (And IrDA Palm syncing is apparently easier to get working under Linux than USB syncing, not to mention cheaper since there's no adaptor to buy for those of us with serial cradles. Not that I can ever get my friend's Visor's USB cradle to work.)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Well. (none / 0) (#71)
by mindstrm on Fri Apr 06, 2001 at 10:36:36 AM EST

I too have a sony laptop, and find memory stick useful, but only because I have a sony camera as well.

What you say about external readers equally applies to smartmedia and compact-flash... all common flash mediums have this same thing.

What will really make a replacement, I think, are flash devices with USB or other connectors (Firewire?) already attached... I believe there are already several manufactreres making little 'usb-key' flash devices you just pop in, read/write, and pop out of the usb port.

[ Parent ]
Not in my experience (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by MSG on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 08:35:10 PM EST

My experience with floppy disks is oposite your statements on almost all counts.
  • Cheap compared to what? A CD-R is less expensive by about half where I shop.
  • Floppy disks are made so cheaply these days that I get write errors on nearly all disks that I try to use more than once, on any computer.
  • See above.
  • I'd argue that they're not. Copying a file onto and off of a floppy disk is so slow, that it's faster for me to connect to my computer over the internet (https) and download the files where I need them. I also don't have to carry around files and worry about whether they'll actually be readable on the other end.
  • iMac's don't have them. If you do work in a lab using iMac's that's also no longer true. Small percentage now, but probably greater in the future.
  • Not nearly as small as a smart card, which can hold more data.
  • Given my experience with floppy disks, I will argue that they are also not an 'adaquate' alternative.
I don't like ORB or ZIP as replacements for floppies, but I see them used a lot. ZIP disks and the drives are really expensive. ORB is even more expensive, but you get a metric ton of storage capacity. I'd take ORB over ZIP any day, but only if I needed that kind of capacity.

I favor smart disks (common in digital cameras) and USB memory sticks. Both are solid state, fast, and come in sizes from 4MB - 64MB. They're ideal for most purposes. There are a few problems, which are easily remedied: USB memory sticks are only convenient if USB ports are present at an accessible location (some computers have this, and so do some monitors), but otherwise work with any computer with USB. Smart card readers aren't common right now, but are inexpensive and also hook up to USB.

[ Parent ]
I hate floppies. (3.00 / 2) (#39)
by YelM3 on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 06:24:37 PM EST

I work part-time in my school's main computer lab. We support around 300 PCs, mainly doing software support and troubleshooting for the users. I've worked here for 2 years now and I would estimate that at least 70% of my time on the clock is spent diagnosing problems with floppy disks. Not a day goes by when someone doesn't lose their 10-page report because their floppy was damaged by a magnet in their purse or crud in the front pocket of their backpack.

I don't know why anyone uses floppies anymore. Zip disks are nearly the same price, if you consider they will fit 100x as much and easily outlast a floppy that is being transported and used on multiple computers daily.

I would certainly get rid of floppies altogether if I could - it would save literally hundreds of students a year at my school alone from late or missed assignments, and of course make my job that much more interesting.

Personally, I haven't used a floppy disk in years. In past times all I ever needed them for was boot disks for linux, but these days all OS cdroms are bootable anyway. If I need to bring a file to school to print or edit, I just ftp it to my campus server before I leave home.

As for why people still use floppes, I think it is basicaly because most people don't really know there is any alternative. They are used to them as the way to transport computer files

CD-ROMs not always bootable (none / 0) (#51)
by Steeltoe on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 08:47:45 AM EST

I have a new and shiny computer without a bootable CD-ROM. I wish it wasn't so, but I got a good price on it. It's probably a BIOS problem, but I don't want to spend the next 6 months waiting for my PC to return.

- Steeltoe
Explore the Art of Living

[ Parent ]
Zip disks = Click of Death (none / 0) (#74)
by Tezcatlipoca on Tue Apr 17, 2001 at 11:07:02 AM EST

Enough said.

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
[ Parent ]
Floppy wont die till PC BIOS Dies (4.00 / 5) (#45)
by datazone on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 11:18:52 PM EST

The true reason that the floppy is still in use, is not for storage or transport, those are valid reason, but are a side effect of a greater reason. The Intel PC BIOS sucks! The limited power of the current BIOS leaves the individual computer user at the mercy of a bootable cdrom or hard drive with an OS already installed.
If you ever had the chance to use either a SUN or SGI machine, you would see the potential that a BIOS can be. In essence, the BIOS should be replaced with a bare basic stripped down OS that can be used to LOAD your real OS.
This will of course lead to a redifinition of what exactly an OS is.
Imagine this:
You just bought a new motherboard, cpu, memory, hard drive, nic, case, etc... You put it together, turn it on, and you are at a shell prompt, (sort of like one you would see if you serialed into a router) you have a bunch of options you can choose from to configure your hardware, and you can tell it to boot your os from any device you want, in any order you want, on any partition you want, sort of like a super bootloader. you can even use it as a thin client and connect to a terminal server and start work right away! clone devices, setup partitions, all the things that you would normaly have to do before you install your real OS. imagine the freedom? It would be a dream for me... but i dont have hopes for this to ever happen, if some manufacturer ever built somthing like this onto their motherboard, they would probably not let anyone else use it. maybe if phoenix or award created it, the motherboard manufacturers would use it. or maybe with the open bios / linux bios projects it might be a reality one day...

damn, it seems that i have rambled on too long.

Perhaps you want a LinuxBIOS (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by pin0cchio on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 12:25:35 PM EST

In essence, the BIOS should be replaced with a bare basic stripped down OS that can be used to LOAD your real OS. This will of course lead to a redifinition of what exactly an OS is.

Oh, something like Atari's TOS system? DR DOS from Lineo is an embedded DOS system that can be booted from ROM. Or you could just replace your BIOS with a Linux kernel; a big flash chip could hold a complete mini-distro to get you started.

[ Parent ]

Possible replacement for BIOS: Intel's EFI. (3.00 / 2) (#57)
by meldroc on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 01:37:09 PM EST

Intel & partners have been working on a firmware replacement for the PC BIOS called EFI. EFI (External Firmware Interface) is a firmware, with an API so hardware manufacturers can add drivers for whatever hardware happens to come along for the future. It also has an MS-DOS like command shell, built into the firmware that can access FAT filesystems, do all sorts of configuration work, run batch file-like scripts, even run EFI specific programs such as configuration GUIs, boot loaders (an EFI version of LILO for Linux already exists.)

EFI was written primarily for IA-64, though I believe it is also ported to IA-32.

[ Parent ]

extra capacity on floppies (3.50 / 2) (#55)
by robin on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 11:40:48 AM EST

Check out superformat if you want to squeeze just a bit extra onto a floppy. There are some restrictions on when this makes sense, but some degree of interoperability is possible with other people's drives and operating systems, and I haven't personally had any trouble at all.

Also don't forget (if you format your floppies as ext2) to not reserve any blocks for root (eg mke2fs /dev/fd0 -m 0). Also tweaking the number of inodes and the block size can buy you some extra space (how many files does anyone actually put on a floppy, in any case?).

Of course split, tar and dd can all also be useful when tinkering around with floppies.
And bzip2.
W.A.S.T.E. (do not antagonise the Horn)
Check out Dataplay (4.00 / 2) (#61)
by Eccles on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:28:54 PM EST

One possible option for a new medium is Dataplay's quarter-sized disks. (~2 cm to our overseas friends). While they're promoting them for copyright protection reasons, they're also recordable, with 250 MB on a side. And the claimed pricing model is much lower than the cost of Zip disks. (Tom's Hardware claimed little more than a dollar a disk to start.) They're small enough for cameras, notebooks, palms, etc., and unlike CDs and DVDs, they come in an apparently sturdy case. It'll be interesting to see if they can get sufficient market momentum to become popular.

need a writable write-protectable medium! (4.50 / 2) (#62)
by winitzki on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:54:13 PM EST

I use floppies all the time. To be more precise: I use _one_ floppy all the time. On my computer at work, a write-protected floppy is always kept in the floppy drive, and a nightly script reads that floppy and checks that no system files are modified. This way I know that a remote attacker from the Net will not be able to change anything on the computer without my knowledge, since they will not be able to unprotect the floppy. Once in a while, I upgrade the system and update the information on the floppy - after which I write-protect it again. What other medium would I use instead of a floppy? ZIP disks have no hardware write-protection; CD will have to be re-burned every time; a CDRW is unrealiable, has to be erased every time, and I only need about 50KB of information anyway. So: long live the floppy...

OT: Curious (3.50 / 2) (#64)
by Biff Cool on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 03:41:54 PM EST

How do you make sure they don't modify the script?

My ass. It's code, with pictures of fish attached. Get over it. --trhurler

[ Parent ]
Re: OT: Curious (none / 0) (#76)
by Soruk on Thu May 03, 2001 at 09:35:19 AM EST

Either the script runs on floppy... or it could check itself against an md5sum held on the floppy....

just my thought...

[ Parent ]
ZIP drives. (2.00 / 2) (#63)
by Dogfood on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 02:58:33 PM EST

At my university, all the machines on campus have 100Mb ZIP drives. Proprietary, yeah, and not the cheapest, true, but then again, most people I know only need one(and unlike floppies, they don't HAVE to be replaced every other time you use them). The "superdrives" like ZIP may not be what everyone is looking for in a solution, but at least around here, ZIP drives have become a standard, and so it works pretty good. Admit it, there are replacements for floppies, but the author of the story doesn't seem to like the ones which are currently working very well in some situations.

path of least resistance (3.00 / 1) (#69)
by celestina on Thu Apr 05, 2001 at 09:53:37 PM EST

Most non-expert computer users are just looking for the easiest and cheapest way to make the computer do what they want. So they have little incentive to upgrade or change if it means having to learn something new or shell out of lot of cash. I once (not too long ago)had a 2 week stint as a temp in a small town law office where they used what was possibly the oldest IBM still in use and 8" floppies. The computer was basically a typewriter with a monitor, and the printer was so huge you could serve dinner off of it. The main lawyer there was a cheap, grumpy old man, which was why they hadn't upgraded since 1978. He even made people write down every single photocopy that was made to keep track of costs. While I think this is an extreme case, I must admit that this dinosaur served its function (printing out letters and other documents), and did so surprisingly well. The grumpy old guy saw no incentive for him to get a newer system. While most people aren't this far behind, I think the principle is the same: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Floppies aren't all bad... (5.00 / 1) (#73)
by YelM3 on Tue Apr 10, 2001 at 12:34:12 AM EST

Here is one of the best uses of a floppy disk (well, 70 of them) that I've seen. I guess they're not useless afterall.

Floppy Disks: The Dinosaur That Won't Die | 77 comments (73 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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