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Data Storage Hardware

The History of the Floppy Disk 204

Esther Schindler writes "Ready for a nostalgic trip into the wayback? We had floppy disks long before we had CDs, DVDs, or USB thumb-drives. Here's the evolution of the portable media that changed everything about personal computing. 'The 8-inch drive began to show up in 1971. Since they enabled developers and users to stop using the dreaded paper tape (which were easy to fold, spindle, and mutilate, not to mention to pirate) and the loathed IBM 5081 punch card. Everyone who had ever twisted a some tape or—the horror!—dropped a deck of Hollerith cards was happy to adopt 8-inch drives. Besides, the early single-sided 8-inch floppy could hold the data of up to 3,000 punch cards, or 80K to you.'"
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The History of the Floppy Disk

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  • by andyteleco ( 1090569 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @04:16AM (#41163211)
    I remember taking bunches of old DD 3.5'' floppies and drilling a hole on the lower left side in order to later format them as HD (1.44 MB). Of course many of them were destroyed or ended up with lots of defective sectors in the process.

    Aaaaah, the good old days!
  • Re:Read Error (Score:5, Informative)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @05:00AM (#41163449)

    Netware 2.15 came on 40 floppies and could not be installed from the originals, you had to make a backup copy first, which needed half a day alone since each disk had to be switched several times during the copy process.
    Then during install, you noticed that the 40th copy was bad.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @05:06AM (#41163465) Homepage Journal

    We would call the big ones "floppies" and the small ones "stiffies" (for obvious reaons) to keep them apart. And we would do it with a straight face.

    This seems to have been a local thing in South Africa, however, since I have only heard it there.

    lerppu(floppy) vs. korppu(hardy).

    of course hard disks were then called kovalevyt so.. but we had that distinction in finnish too. maybe english is the only language where it doesn't exist?-D

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @06:56AM (#41164071) Homepage

    Data density was much higher on a floppy disk than tapes of the day (if you think about it , and entire floppy disks surface area is probably only equivalent to a few inches of tape) so consequently minor faults that would do nothing to data on a tape could cause complete data loss on a floppy disk.

  • by rs79 ( 71822 ) <> on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @07:05AM (#41164121) Homepage

    It wasn't. 9 track tapes lasted a few years and at that point the oxide flaked off. Ever wonder where Google's Usenet archive came from? DejaNews. Wonder where that came from? (I think it's all still there somewhere in 4 of the biggest files on earth). Wonder where they got it from? I sort of arranged them to get a copy from magi@uwo who had taken Henry Spencer's tape backups made because a friend of his wanted rec.birds ad it was easier to just store all of it. magi told me at the worst point they'd run a tape for a foot, then have to stop and clean all the flaked oxide off the heads and keep going. It took, I think, two summers to read them all that way.

    Tapes were ok if you used them the same year or next, but if you were serious about data, you kept it on disk packs, either 2314 single platers or 2311 packs or multiple platters.

    8" floppies may have been introduced in 71 but it wasn't really anywhere close to common until the late seventies and never had much traction with large computers. More so with minicomputers but still fairly useless given the volumes of data. Where they shone was with micros, their 8-bit cpus and low data requirements made them ideal; you could easily boot an O/S off one and have all your data on the other and this lasted until about the early to mid 80s when 5" floppies - much less reliable - took over.

    IBM introduced them and they were called "flexible diskettes" and nobody thought they would work or work reliably if they did, which really wasn't too far off the mark.

    You know all those gaps in Google's Usenet archive? That's where the oxide flaked off and that data is just plain extinct. No, tapes sucked but then, as now, expensive dick drives had outstanding longevity.

  • by Tore S B ( 711705 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @09:19AM (#41165303) Homepage

    You're describing "sticky shed syndrome", or hydrolysis of the polyurethane binding layer between the oxide and the base. Some tape brands are more susceptible to it than others. Storage conditions are another significant determinant.

    Basically, humidity reacts with the glue that keeps the rust sticking to the plastic. If there was archival data of such significance, the tapes should have been "baked" - that is, slowly heated to a precise temperature which would re-dry the glue. After that, the tapes would probably mount fine.

    If you had conferred with some people like the Computer History Museum (just down the block from the Googleplex), they would have helped you out.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake