OBSOLETE TECHNOLOGY: Floppy Disk

Maybe you think you remember the floppy disk. “Hey,” you say, “That wasn’t that long ago.” You’re remembering the 3.5″ hard blue plastic disks that were common as late as 10 years ago. Everyone used them back then.

This is the 8″ floppy disk shown being held by an average adult person. It was one disk, about the size of an iPad. It didn’t have a hard plastic shell so it was a lot easier to damage. It held an amazing 100 kilobytes (that’s [strike].001GB[/strike] a ridiculously small fraction of a gigabyte, and a typical flash drive is 8GB.) You would need 7,000 of these to hold one CD worth of music.

When it first became available in 1971, it was the wonder of the age. Programmers in those days used gigantic storage platters that were 2 feet in diameter and 1 foot tall. This was a storage medium you could put in a briefcase and that was impressive.

The floppy disk used the same magnetic technology used by tape readers but combined it with random-access technology like what was used in jukeboxes at the time. A robotic arm could position itself anywhere on the spinning surface of the disk, meaning that it didn’t take a lot of time to find the data you were looking for.

It took about twenty minutes to read all the data from that floppy disk, which wasn’t as fast as other storage technologies of the day but it was easy to take from place to place. You could even bring it on an airplane!

8″ floppy disks gave way to the nearly identical-looking 5.25″ disks in the late 1970s and then to the 3.5″ disks you remember in the 1990s. Today floppy disks are gone from our lives, although they still show up as the “save” icon in your word processing program, mostly because no one has figured out a better icon for that yet.