Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Death of Mr. Floppy

(Pictured with his older, deceased brother below)

While you were sleeping last night, we all lost a former valuable friend. Once regarded as an essential part of every computer, the A:/ drive, "Mr. Floppy," has gone on to computer heaven, replaced by the much younger, more robust and dependable flash drive. Years ago every computer had a true "floppy" drive that read thin, flexible magnetic disks suspended in an outer plastic casing, which allowed them to be handled by end-users. The capacity of these floppy disks introduced originally by IBM in an eight-inch format were approximately 76.7 kilobytes. Commercially available since 1971, the floppies, as most English-speaking computer enthusiasts called them, went through a series of improvements to make them smaller and able to hold more data. By 1978 a smaller version at five and one-quarter (5 1/4) inches was available and it was utilized to run applications or even an entire operating system such as Microsoft's DOS (disk operating system). The popularity of these disks lasted for several years until the three and one-half (3 1/2) inch varieties began to be manufactured. Even though the smaller 3.5 inch disks were encased in a hard shell, they were still affectionately known as floppy disks to computer enthusiasts. At first only one side of the floppies were able to be read, holding a maximum of 720 kilobytes of data. Eventually, though, both sides were able to be read, yielding an impressive 1.44 megabytes (1.44Mb) of data. At the time this was considered a huge amount of data that could be placed in a pocket or a purse. In humorous fashion, computer networkers have often referred to this ability to share data on what would later be termed local area networks by the tongue-in-cheek labels of "Sneakernet" or "Frisbeenet." Several computer companies manufactured both 3.5 inch A:/ and 5.25 inch B:/ drives in their personal computer offerings in the 1980s and 1990s. When Windows 95 was first unveiled to the public, it was only available in the 3.5 inch format and B:/drives went the way of the dodo shortly thereafter. Mr. Floppy was once considered invicible. Boot disks and startup disks were necessary in order to troubleshoot computer problems. Mr. Floppy interceded on behalf of the end user time and time again. In recent years as flash memory with no moving parts or friction came onto the scene and the demands of applications that required larger and larger executable programs than could be held by Mr. Floppy, it became obvious that he was headed for obscurity. Mr. Floppy became as useless as a pair of stretch socks that become "quitters." The death knell was sounded when Intel began manufacturing motherboards that didn't even have a place for a floppy drive to be added. For those that mourn the loss of Mr. Floppy, who has joined his older brother B:/drive in the firmament of outmoded computer parts, there are two things to take to heart. First, there are several external floppy disk readers that work on USB ports regularly selling for less than $50 each. Compared to $20 for internal disk readers, they are a bit pricier, but they are fully compatible with the newer motherboards. A word of caution, though. Some don't report as an A:/drive. Teac and others make an external floppy disk reader that does report as an A:/ drive. Some flash drive devices require they occupy the F:/drive space on a computer and that may create a conflict with an external floppy disk that occupies that same drive letter. So be careful that your external floppy drive reports as an A:/ drive or you may be constantly plugging and unplugging your drive in order to use your wireless mouse, optical player devices and your jump drive along with the external floppy reader. Lastly, regardless of where Mr. Floppy has gone, he will always be a part of our computer culture. Anyone who has saved a document will see an icon that serves to recall Mr. Floppy and what he once stood for all those many years ago. He has moved from being indispensable and the sine que non of computing to a metaphor of the past. As long as we remember him for what he did, he will truly never be gone from our hearts. Aside from his older brother, Mr. Floppy is survived by his numerous flash drive cousins, his hard drive father and, of course, his motherboard. In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to be made to the computer scrapyard.

1 comment:

whalechaser said...

It is interesting that you created an entire topic about this. When I gave up my PC 2.5 years ago for my first laptop, I was shocked and dismayed to see there was no floppy drive at all, not big, small nor the super condensed floppy. All that I found was a CD or is it dvd (or both?)drive. So how am I going to use all those data disks that I have been faithfully creating as backups of my precious data, I wondered.

In due time I had to admit I knew the answer: I wasn't.
Sure would have been nice if they had warned me first instead of cutting me off completely.

Now we just use those silly flash drive thingys...they hold gigabytes now and can be used anywhere...well for a little while anyway.
Ah the progress.