A major computing milestone passed by not too long ago and no
one noted it: the effective end of the floppy disk.
As computer devices go, the 1.44 MB, 3.5″, double-sided floppy
was a veritable Methuselah. It came into widespread use in
around 1990 (when IBM adopted it for its latest PCs; Apple much
earlier had adopted a 720 KB, one-sided variety for the
Macintosh), and it remained an industry standard for roughly 15
Curiously, the 3.5″ floppy kept the “floppy” nomenclature even
though it encased its magnetic media in a hard plastic case. The
old 5.25″ disks used in the original IBM PCs actually were
In any case, the disks were all-in-all a pretty handy medium. A
PC could be booted from one. It could hold a fairly large number
of word processing documents and spreadsheets. Long before users
set up home networks, file transfer via “sneaker net” – copying
from one PC to floppy and then copying from the floppy to
another PC – was a well-established practice.
Ultimately, of course, multimedia and escalating file sizes did
the floppy in. CD drives and flash memory sticks with the
capacity of scores of floppies are now the favored medium for
physically transferring files. At some point – I would guess it
was some time in the last two or three years – the number of
computers sold without floppies exceeded the number sold with
them, and that effectively marked the end of the floppy as a
Aside from marking the end of an era, the end of the floppy also
marks a particular computing problem: what to do with the data
on your old floppies. Remember, once your last PC with a floppy
drive is gone, those disks are effectively unreadable. So now is
the time to take your floppies and burn them on a CD.
Which in itself is a lesson: One CD will take the place of about
(c) 2007 Al Gordon.
In addition to his computer interests, Al Gordon is a principal
in the Boston-area strategic consulting firm, Mary Fifield