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Death knell for floppy drives
February 9, 2003 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Dell plans to stop offering floppy drives as standard equipment in its high-end Dimension 8250 series. Based on consumer response, that move may signal the end of the floppy. Remember when this was a bold move for Apple? Will the PC world accept the demise of sneaker-net?
posted by mr_crash_davis (64 comments total)

 
I haven't used a floppy disk in ages. Ever since I upgraded to XP with NTFS format, it doesn't even make sense to keep it around for booting purposes.
posted by riffola at 12:27 PM on February 9, 2003


We'll just move on to the next brand of media that will be obsolete in ten years.
posted by Down10 at 12:28 PM on February 9, 2003


That took long enough. I'm not a huge Apple fan, but why did it take the PC world so long to notice what Apple saw years ago? Now I'm waiting for a computer with no internal drives that I can pick and choose external drives to hook up when necessary via a connection comparable in speed to an internal drive. Then Apple will come out with a cool looking secondary case and it'll take two years before the PC world puts out a shoddy-looking ripoff.

Hopefully it'll all look like a C64.
posted by yerfatma at 12:29 PM on February 9, 2003


We'll just move on to the next brand of media that will be obsolete in ten years.

I don't think so, though I suppose hard drives are another type of media. I was talking about this exact idea yesterday: I look forward to a day when my entire music and movie collection sits on a set of external hard drives that take up a few cubic feet of space.
posted by yerfatma at 12:32 PM on February 9, 2003


My floppy drive hasn't worked for years. Really, in the age of flash cards and recordable CDs, what is the justification for keeping legacy hardware as standard? Only today, I burned myself a copy of Knoppix so that in the event of a hard drive problem I can boot from a removeable media. For data transfer, CD-RW is the way to go.
posted by salmacis at 12:38 PM on February 9, 2003


That took long enough. I'm not a huge Apple fan, but why did it take the PC world so long to notice what Apple saw years ago?

It probably had something to do with MS not having a consumer OS that could boot off of a CD-ROM until XP came along. I remember just a few months ago I was trying to install Windows Me on a laptop that had no OS on it and being totally shocked when I was unable to install it off of the CD-ROM, especially since I had no floppy disks anywhere in the house.
posted by gyc at 12:39 PM on February 9, 2003


I'm not a huge Apple fan, but why did it take the PC world so long to notice what Apple saw years ago?

Probably the number of USB floppy drives that were being sold. The problem with the iMac was that it didn't have ANY portable storage drive; it was a great computer for an initial home user or for mass-quantity purchase for a network. At my school, the only thing the iMacs were useful for were the e-mail and print terminals.

The reason floppies stayed was that the next most-popular media, ZIP disks, were expensive albiet practical. Building your own PC, you can buy a floppy drive for less than ten bucks- it's an afterthought. ZIP drives were at least $30-40, plus ten bucks a pop for the media. ORB and Jaz disks had great storage, but cost a fortune and crashed all the time. At least up until a year or so ago, buying your own CD-R would set you back at least a hundred bucks for one remotely fast enough to merit having an advantage over copying to a disk.

With all those options, a lot of people who just needed to put their 50K word document on a disk to take to the computer lab or the print station was a lot more feasable.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2003


gyc: you sure that wasn't an upgrade version? There have been bootable CD windows install CDs for years. That, or maybe the laptop didn't have proper drivers for the CD rom.

Somebody better call taiwan and tell all the motherboard companies they can't require floppies for flashing the bios any more. That's the only reason I've put floppies in the last few boxes I've built.
posted by malphigian at 12:55 PM on February 9, 2003


Floppies should have been dead a long time ago. They're not reliable and many many users who don't want to think about anything get burned when their floppy suddenly goes bad. I haven't used one to store anything of mine since 1992 or so. Even back then I was using ftp to transfer files to places like computer labs.

Any organization that's even remotely homogenous and networked has no need for floppies as a storage or transfer medium

On preview: My only use of floppies in the last ten years is the same as malphigian's.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:58 PM on February 9, 2003


Great, so now dell will sell their computers for the same price without the floppy drive, then charge an extra 50 to 100 dollars for an optional USB floppy drive.
posted by NormieP at 1:00 PM on February 9, 2003


What mal said. Last month, I was cleaning up a new PC, and I removed the cheap little floppy drive that came with it, to clear out room for other stuff inside. Wouldn't you know, two days later, I needed to dig it out and stick it back in to install some drivers for a video capture card.

Floppy drives obviously aren't necessary for your usual day-to-day work, but they come in damn handy when you need them. I still have my old PGP private key from a decade ago on a read-only floppy, and it still works...
posted by majcher at 1:04 PM on February 9, 2003


Even in college, in the days before iMac, I rarely used floppy discs. I found them extremely unreliable, especially given my need to lug them around in a backpack crowded with books.

Instead, I'd e-mail documents to myself across the network and work on them from computer labs all over campus.
posted by aladfar at 1:08 PM on February 9, 2003


As long as I'm forced to use 4 separate, non-networked computers at work I need my floppies.

(Hmm, that sounded kinda dirty...)
posted by JoanArkham at 1:09 PM on February 9, 2003


One of the problems the floppy had was that it was SO slow - and it practically froze the entire system whenever it was in use.

What the floppy needed was to develop a better bus standard. Does these problem persist with USB floppy drives? If not, backwards compatible drives like the 120MB SuperDisk drives tried a few years ago, might appear?
posted by cx at 1:19 PM on February 9, 2003


Why can't we just have a nice little universal media drive which can read/write anything: classic 5.25" and 3.5" floppies, SD and SmartMedia cards, Zip and Jaz disks, CD-R's and DVD-R's, and excised human ganglia? Is that too much to ask?
posted by brownpau at 1:28 PM on February 9, 2003


i still have a mac with a floppy drive...
posted by bhayes82 at 1:32 PM on February 9, 2003


Please. The floppy is that part you voluntarily put in your box because you think some driver might be needed at some time in the future, and it only costs $10. Then it sits there for years not being used, until you put in a new raid controller, then you find out it doesn't work.

USB floppies cost $30. Just don't buy them from Dell.

Besides, there's some cool things you can put in that 3.5" bay instead.
posted by Busithoth at 1:44 PM on February 9, 2003


As long as you can store gigabytes or more of data on a DVD-RW, whereas to download on a fairly clogged corporate ethernet could take an hour or more, sneaker net will be alive and well!
posted by MattD at 1:54 PM on February 9, 2003


"Besides, there's some cool things you can put in that 3.5" bay instead."

Or, if you smoke, in the 5.25" bay.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:54 PM on February 9, 2003


I work as the net admin of an arts high school. Every couple of weeks I have a teacher who wants to know why the floppy he or she has kept the class documents on for 4 years has failed. Or students wanting to know why the disc that worked this morning doesn't work now that they have gotten it to school. I tell everyone to email documents from home to work as well as bringing a disk, burn them to CD if they are master documents, use the server space, backup backup backup. But people still love their floppies. And use them. And mistrust the imacs because they don't.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 1:59 PM on February 9, 2003


> Ever since I upgraded to XP with NTFS format, it doesn't
> even make sense to keep it around for booting purposes.

Obligatory slashdotty response: boot a tiny little Linux system from a floppy and you can still mount filesystems and read 'em and run fsck when the need arises, or even fsdb for the bold. It's only Windows that locks you out of the filesystem when you boot from a DOS FAT-only emergency floppy.
posted by jfuller at 2:05 PM on February 9, 2003


Wow, people still use floppies? I think the last time I even touched a floppy was back in 1999 when I was setting up a little 486 as a Linux router. And even then I had to go buy a brand new box of the things, because I didn't have any laying around.

But people still love their floppies. And use them. And mistrust the imacs because they don't.

Sounds much more like a social engineering problem to solve than a reason to keep floppy disks around to me.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:11 PM on February 9, 2003


With all those options, a lot of people who just needed to put their 50K word document on a disk to take to the computer lab or the print station was a lot more feasible.

Puhleeeeease. Anything that fits on a floppy fits in an email attachment (even on Hotmail). Floppies have been obsolete for the masses since before 1999. My mom (technophobe) has an iMac and has never once called me to say "how do I get my file over to so and so's house?"

Ever since I lost a major paper from my floppy disk at University (then had to drive across town to get it from my HD) I have never used a floppy. Besides, aren't CD-Rs cheaper now anyway?
posted by damclean2 at 2:36 PM on February 9, 2003


You know, not everyone has the cash to blow on the latest wireless hubs/scads of NICs lying around.

At work, we have three old (OS 8) Macs, and an IBM NetVista that's a year or two old. Only two of the computers have Internet access, one a Mac, one the PC. There is no LAN of any sort, and only the PC has a CD burner. Floppies are a pain in the ass, but sometimes they are just about the only way to get things done.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:43 PM on February 9, 2003


I use floppies sometimes to take a file to the computer lab (about 1/3 of a block away) to print. This usually happens when it's about 5 minutes before class, and that extra minute it takes to send/receive the email is critical. Usually it's faster to just open a floppy than it is to launch IE and log in to email, etc. So I pop in a new disk, run to the lab, open it straight from the disk, print, then probably lose the disk as I rush to class...
posted by swank6 at 2:51 PM on February 9, 2003


Are you guys talking about 3.5 or 5.25 floppies? I still use 5.25, but from what you're saying, maybe I'll have to make the switch to 3.5 if 5.25 are phasing out. More money I guess!
posted by crazy finger at 2:56 PM on February 9, 2003


As a techno-geek, I hate floppies. But we still use them at work, because the other office mates aren't computer friendly, don't know how to use a networked drive system, and not every computer in the office has a burner. Non-profit. We use what we can get our hands on.
posted by gramcracker at 3:01 PM on February 9, 2003


So, are you saying that all my programs stored on punch-cards are not going to be able to be used soon either?

It is easy for those with easy access to cash/broadband internet/other people's hardware to say "the floppy disk is dead" because they do not need to use it. The vast majority of PCs (I am including Macs here, too) used by regular, non propellor-headed people have neither access to a LAN nor a CD burner. Sneaker-net is alive and well and will be for a long time to come. Personally, I use a USB drive for carrying files between work and home and among family. My best guess is that these, not CDRW will be the replacement for the floppy drive. Why? Simply because you cannot carry a CD in your pocket.

Every couple of weeks I have a teacher who wants to know why the floppy he or she has kept the class documents on for 4 years has failed.
I feel your pain, spartacusroosevelt. The floppy disk is probably the only copy of the file, as well. And they have to give a class in 5 minutes and the entire lesson plan and all the handouts are on the floppy, right?
posted by dg at 3:18 PM on February 9, 2003


remove the floppy drive and map it to A on every system until they get the hang of network drives - then it's like using the floppy but without handling a disk...
posted by techgnollogic at 3:18 PM on February 9, 2003


Everything I ever used a floppy for I now accomplish using a USB keychain flash drive.

Now if only XP *really truly* understood USB Mass Storage, I'd be happy. Works perfectly in my Mac and Linux machines, though, which is all that matters.
posted by Cerebus at 3:19 PM on February 9, 2003


I don't use floppies - I just e-mail myself my files. Quicker, more efficient, better capacity.
posted by Veritron at 3:25 PM on February 9, 2003


At work, we have three old (OS 8) Macs, and an IBM NetVista that's a year or two old. Only two of the computers have Internet access, one a Mac, one the PC. There is no LAN of any sort, and only the PC has a CD burner. Floppies are a pain in the ass, but sometimes they are just about the only way to get things done

Jesus, where do you work? I would imagine that computers are not a big part of your company, given the setup you describe.
posted by a3matrix at 3:28 PM on February 9, 2003


Oh please. I've seen the future and they are still using sneaker-net... except all of your files are saved on holographic glass slabs.
posted by 4easypayments at 3:29 PM on February 9, 2003


a3matrix - you need to get out in the real world more. There are companies everywhere that do not consider computers important to their operation and allocate funds accordingly.
posted by dg at 3:36 PM on February 9, 2003


I use floppies because my law school requires them in order to take exams by laptop. I've never understood why they couldn't design a program that simply sends the completed exams to the professors via ftp or email. I'm guessing its either because the companies that design exam software are behind the times or because they are worried about some sort of e-cheating.
posted by boltman at 4:10 PM on February 9, 2003


At my university our advice desk (I work in the Computer Centre) have to deal with students who've lost their work by keeping only one copy on floppy disk all the time. I try to be sympathetic but to be honest I want these people to fail. Every single one of them got a guide on using our computer facilities and every single one of them, if they had read it, would have seen the statements advising against using them for anything.

People use them not just as backup but as their primary work area. There must be so many users out there with 40Gb hard disks in new computers who have *all* of their data *only* on floppy disk. I run a weekly clinic on Wednesdays for students to bring their PCs in if they're having trouble and if it's fixable or we can give advice on where to go from where they are we do whichever is appropriate. It happens much less these days, perhaps once a year, but I've seen PhD students close to the end of their thesis lose the whole thing because of their misplaced trust in floppies.

What is getting more frequent are similar thngs happening, though not yet I don't think for anything so grand as a doctoral thesis, through people attempting to use packet written CDs in the same way you might transfer files with floppies.
posted by vbfg at 4:33 PM on February 9, 2003


]CATALOG

DISK VOLUME 254

*A 009 HELLO
 A 017 LEGACY DEVICE NOSTALGIA
 B 039 DOS 3.3 FOREVER
 A 002 WHO NEEDS MORE THAN 140 K ANYWAY?

]_

posted by mcwetboy at 5:01 PM on February 9, 2003


This is a kind of geek response but...

If you are installing windows nt (I think 2000 server as well) on a scsi drive that you need to load the drivers for, then you only have the option to load them from a floppy.

Otherwise I rarely use them.
posted by LouieLoco at 5:08 PM on February 9, 2003


Why is it that people don't mind eliminating a peice of hardware they've spent decades getting accostomed to, but cry foul when web developers don't feel like writing bad code to support archaic browsers?
posted by tomorama at 5:14 PM on February 9, 2003


I'm sitting here looking at my 5 1/4" floppy edition of Civilization and sobbing.

But I've been doing this for several years now, so move along.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:31 PM on February 9, 2003


I wish my damn college instructors would quit asking for assignments turned in on floppies.
posted by alumshubby at 5:34 PM on February 9, 2003


I have an option of turning in a research proposal on 3.5" disk or CDROM.

I really like the "Never underestimate..." slogan; I'm going to apply that to everything now: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a canoe full of shell wealth."
posted by rschram at 6:17 PM on February 9, 2003


> Wow, people still use floppies?

OK, here's your mission. The pimply kid from IS has taken solitaire off your work PC (no games, against company policy.) You can't email it to yourself from home, the mailserver antivirus filters out all executable attachments (yes, it looks inside compressed archives.) Your work PC has no CDROM (everything you're supposed to have gets pushed out to you from the network.) You do, however, have a floppy drive (unless you got a high-end Dell, d0od.) Now then, shall we

1) uuencode sol.exe as a text file and email the text file to ourselves? Then we'll just uudecode it at work... um... uudecode was a standard Windows utility, wasn't it... OK, we'll uuencode uudecode.exe as a text file and mail that to ourselves, then we'll just... um... Wait, I've got it, we'll rewrite uudecode in BASIC and mail ourselves the source and run it in QBASIC. They do have QBASIC in XP Pro, don't they? What, it's been gone since Win95? sumbitch...

2) rename sol.exe hardatwork.exe for the benefit of the network snoops, put hardatwork.exe on floppy, put floppy in pocket, go to work.


mcwetboy:

> ]CATALOG
>
> DISK VOLUME 254
>
>*A 009 HELLO
> A 017 LEGACY DEVICE NOSTALGIA
> B 039 DOS 3.3 FOREVER
> A 002 WHO NEEDS MORE THAN 140 K ANYWAY?

]_

[fuller bursts into tears]
posted by jfuller at 6:38 PM on February 9, 2003


I think one of the reasons floppies have gotten such a bad rap lately is that modern floppies absolutely SUCK. I have ancient 3.5 disks from the 80s with stuff like Starflight on them that still work. They're 20 years old, they've been abused and used and overused to hell, yet they still work. A few don't even have a single bad sector on the entire disk.

On the other hand, leave a box of 40 brand new modern, decent-brand floppies out for a year or so. A bunch of them, if not the majority, will have bad sectors when you pull them out to use them. I've taken a brand new disk, copied files to it, drove across town, and had it be corrupt when I got to where I was going.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:45 PM on February 9, 2003


Floppies = a chisel and stone tablet.

Get with the times! All the hip and innovative types are now using this amazing new media called Papyrus. Y'all should look into it.
posted by dakotadusk at 7:15 PM on February 9, 2003


What jfuller said. I often want to bring from home materials for a classroom presentation (in a lecture hall, not my office). Email is a possibility (for me, involves telnet and then ftp to retrieve attachments: all on a "stranger" machine where I want to leave no tracks). But floppies are faster. I would make my stuff directly accessible online, and I often do, but then I have to use webspace left over from grad school; my employer's webspace requires a secure connection from within the network (my home DSL does not qualify). And, you know, folks, the internet does not always work, and older CD-RW's on older machines can be fussy too. Finally, they didn't see the need to outfit my (generally modern and swell) office computer with a CD-RW, but only a CD-ROM...

P.S. Yes, I realize the above could be solved by not working at home & rushing into the lecture hall at the last minute. But consider: I have high-speed home internet and a place on the web and a crummy old CD-RW; I can certainly sympathize with the mentioned high school teachers who may have to drag their things in without all this. Or will you tell me that H.S. teachers aren't often given some seldom-functioning webmail to use to transport their files in the correct modern way? Because that's what most of my colleagues at a major research university use!

Really, there were real computers (still useful) being sold a couple of years ago with no CD-RW drive!
posted by Zurishaddai at 9:05 PM on February 9, 2003


email, CDs and portable FireWire drives work for me.
And to echo Mitrovarr, I'm also surprised to hear that floppys fail so often these days. I haven't used a new one in years, but recently I copied over a bunch of stuff (docs & apps) from 12-16 year old single sided, 400K & 800K Mac floppies and the great majority copied and worked just fine.
posted by HTuttle at 10:34 PM on February 9, 2003


I'm in the process of installing a 5.25" floppy in my new Windows XP Pro PC. I'm not using a normal floppy controller, I'm specifically trying to setup access to C64 and Atari 8-bit disks.

I must say though for day-to-day file transfer I use a 128MB CF card and for the really big stuff I use a removable hard drive.

When I setup my new PC I didn't have a floppy drive installed, I just booted from a WinXP setup CD and went from there...
posted by krisjohn at 10:45 PM on February 9, 2003


Personally, I find the one time I always need a floppy is when trying to load that darn network driver for a network card that's not supported in the operating system. And generally I find it takes me quite a while to find a blank floppy lying around to use to stick that network driver on. I really need to break down and buy a keychain usb drive, course, it's a shame most computers still seem to not include usb ports in front.
posted by piper28 at 10:50 PM on February 9, 2003


It's a cash grab, plain and simple. The logic for the floppy will still be in chipsets and BIOSes for years to come, and that means it'll still be part of Dell computers for years to come.

The difference is that Dell will save $0.25 on a 34-pin IDC header and $3 on a floppy drive per machine; savings which will, in all likelyhood, never be passed to the buyer.

The only legacy parts which were present in the original PC that will not function with today's PCs, apart from those that simply cheaped out on connectors, are the casette interface, BASIC-A ROMs and XT keyboard connector. The casette interface and keyboard problems are related to last minute keybaord chipset changes in the AT, and the BASIC-A ROMs are copyrighted for the next few hundred years.

That's it. Everything else will still continue to function. If Dell puts ISA slots on these "legacy-free" motherboards, you can still plug in your old winchester HDD, DDSS floppy drive, 8514/A adapter, ROM boot card, AUX/MS/ATI mouse card, token ring card, light pen, 300 baud acoustic adapter, or what-have-you. The BIOS will still support these items or it ceases to be a 100% IBM PC compatible.

Anyways, all in all, I see this as a good move. It just gives me more ammunition against why people shouldn't buy brand name PCs. And it's about time! They were actually a good value for a while once the worst of the proprietary parts were weeded out, and that means it's hard for me to do business. ;-)
posted by shepd at 1:07 AM on February 10, 2003


My advice to everyone: Go buy a brand new, 1.44 FDD and keep it somewhere safe. You never know when you might need it.

About a year ago I discovered a PC emulator for the TRS-80 Color Computer I had as a kid. If I didn't have a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive (and cable) laying around in my spare parts box I never would have been able to hook it up to my P-350 and fire up the BASIC program I submitted to Rainbow Magazine back in 1985 or so.

Nothing is worse than having some old media and no way to play it.

Now if only I could find a 9-track tape drive so I could load those DEC PDP-11 programs I saved from high school.
posted by bondcliff at 5:37 AM on February 10, 2003


Regarding floppy reliability. I learned the hard way to a) use floppy's for temporary storage and back up everything to the hard drive on my Dad's computer ASAP and b) never buy veratron or knock-off cheap disks, fuji all the way.
posted by wobh at 6:16 AM on February 10, 2003


bondcliff- Wow, your TRS-80 CoCo had a disk drive? That must have been the high life! Mine only had an old cassette player hooked up to it...
posted by mkultra at 7:06 AM on February 10, 2003


Two disk drives, baby!

And with a paper punch and a pair of scissors you could use both sides of a single sided disk. Of course, you had to manually flip it in the drive if you wanted to use the other side.

Thems were the days.
posted by bondcliff at 7:17 AM on February 10, 2003


They're probably also looking for a new spokesperson because the "Dude" guy just got busted for weed possession.
posted by vito90 at 8:11 AM on February 10, 2003


Dude, you're gettin' a cell!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:21 AM on February 10, 2003


"Besides, there's some cool things you can put in that 3.5" bay instead."

Or, if you smoke, in the 5.25" bay.


Prescient, crash.
posted by liam at 8:58 AM on February 10, 2003


I still use floppies. No really.

Not everyone has a cd-burner, broadband, a lan, or even net access on every computer. My computer at home has no net access, so if I need to ferry something back and forth, I use diskettes.

I occasionally take files to a remote location to work on them. The computer there has a net connection, but the main user can't deal with attachments to save his life. ("I know I have it, but I can't find it anywhere"). It's easier to bring files with me than to hunt through the morass there. (Although, honestly, I do email things to a web account and grab them from there sometimes instead - but that makes me change his default logins, and he's not always bright enough to change them back).

I have a friend with a laptop that doesn't have a modem. There's only one way to give him files.

It's stupid to keep your only copy of *anything* in any one place. Hard drives die, net connections go down, and floppies get corrupted. Anyone with any sense keeps important stuff in more than one media.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:29 PM on February 10, 2003


Simply because you cannot carry a CD in your pocket.

You can carry 80cm miniCDs in your pocket just fine. Of course I'm not sure slot-loading Macs will take them...
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:54 PM on February 10, 2003


Yeah, but who cares about what Macs can or can't do?
*ducks*
posted by dg at 6:46 PM on February 10, 2003


Umm, by the way, you must have HUGE pockets if you can fit an 80cm disk in them - that is about 31 inches :-)
posted by dg at 6:49 PM on February 10, 2003


[Y]ou must have HUGE pockets if you can fit an 80cm disk in them - that is about 31 inches

Do as the transistor radio inventors do, sell T-shirts with bigger pockets along with your product.
posted by rschram at 7:41 PM on February 10, 2003


Slot-loading drives can't take mini-CDs or CDs of otherwise funky shape or size (e.g. those business-card CDs).
posted by mcwetboy at 1:17 PM on February 11, 2003


ugh... when you are living in a technologically-challenged dormitory (no high-speed/networking capabilities - read: one dial-up line per room), and you have five law students in a study group in the same room who want to swap files quickly and load them on their laptops, the floppy is the way to go. download court cases off the internet... stick in a floppy. pass it around to everyone. it's just common sense.

furthermore, the amount of time it takes to attach a large PDF or Word file through e-mail via dial-up is just ridiculous. and like someone said, you can't fit a CD in your pocket. and i lose flashcards, because they're too small.

here at school the floppy reigns supreme. i'm going to buy another laptop soon, and as much as i am a dell fan, i'm definitely not going to buy that floppyless dell.
posted by notoriousbhc at 11:59 AM on February 12, 2003


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