Feeds

Stick a fork in floppies - they're done

Sony brings a long history to quiet end

High performance access to file storage

Stop us if you've heard this before: the floppy drive is dead. Sony has announced that it will stop selling the long-running storage medium next year.

According to the BBC, the end of floppy sales in Japan coupled with Sony's dropping international floppy sales earlier this year sticks the proverbial fork in the finicky, low-capacity storage medium.

Well, almost. The venerable 3.5-inch floppy is still available from the likes of Verbatim, Imation (3M), and Maxell - although Sony's abandonment of the once-ubiquitous media moves it another giant step towards utter irrelevance.

But the floppy's journey to inconsequentiality has been one long, slow slog.

When Steve Jobs announced his company-saving iMac in May of 1998, its lack of a floppy drive was met with an outcry of outrage - but the handwriting was on the wall. And it said: "Goodbye, floppy."

When the iMac shipped in August of that year, reviews of its floppylessness were mixed. Macworld, for example, wrote: "The most shocking part of the iMac isn't what it offers, but what it lacks. The iMac has no floppy drive, which might be forgivable if there were a Zip drive or other removable-media option, but there isn't."

Others, however, were more understanding. Ars Technica for example, noted: "Apple has gotten a lot of heat for dumping the floppy, but I don't have any problem with the action in principle. It's high time we move ourselves away from this pathetically small kind of storage."

Soon, more rumors of the floppy's demise began to circulate. At its 1999 Developer Forum, devs were told to prepare for a floppy-free future. In 2001, Intel hustled to deny that it was advising the removal of floppy drives from PCs, as had been revealed in internal documents.

Then, in 2003, Dell said it would drop the flop, which hastened the inexorable decline of the sales of the diskettes. In 2007, floppies disappeared from UK retailer PC World's shelves.

Not that there wasn't a gaggle of floppy replacements floated by various and sundry manufacturers. Insite's Floptical drive - which guided the read-write head optically but used standard magnetic storage techniques - increased the little fellow's capacity to 21MB. This hybrid tech resurfaced in Imation's 120MB SuperDisk - but that drive met with only limited success.

Other manufacturers tried putting flexible media into different high-capacity removable-disk technologies even before the floppy's demise - Iomega's 100MB Zip Drive, introduced in May 1995, being arguably the most successful.

In those removable-disk salad days, cartridges based on rigid-disk technologies were also being popped into internal and external drives - most notably SyQuest (bought by Iomega in 1999), followed by Iomega's 1GB and 2GB Jaz and 35GB "Son of Jaz," the Rev. During the waning days of rigid removables, SyQuest founder Syed Iftikar's start-up Castlewood flogged the 2GB Orb drive to little success.

And no trip down removable magnetic-media memory lane would be complete without at least a passing nod to Iomega's two-inch Clik!, introduced in 1999 and rebranded in 2000 as the Pocket Zip. As Iomega admits, "These products met limited market acceptance and were eventually discontinued."

The Zip drive - which was boosted to 250MB in 1998 and to 750MB in 2002 - was a follow-on to Iomega's Bernoulli Box technology. It was the only high-capacity flexible-media removable adopted to any great degree by OEMs. That success was never matched by other attempts such as Sony's 200MB HiFD, Samsung's 123MB Pro-FD, Matsushita-Kotobuki's 32MB FD32MB, or the aforementioned Imation SuperDisk.

Floppies, on the other hand, were everywhere during their heyday. Starting out in the early 1970s in an 8-inch form factor, they became de rigueur in early S-100 CP/M systems, especially after the DSDD (double-sided, double-density), 1.2MB version was released in the late 70s.

Floppies then shrank to 5.25 inches, popularized in the Apple II and IBM Personal Computers. When the 3.5-inch floppy appeared in the early 1980s the magnetic disk itself remained flexible, but it was encased in a hard-plastic case - which undoubtedly led to puzzlement among the younger generation of PC users, who wondered where the term "floppy" came from.

The most popular of those 3.5-inch disks began at 400KB (as in the original 128K Macintosh), then grew to 800KB (as in the Macintosh 512ke) and finally stabilized with 1.44MB FDHD format in the late 80s - which Apple, in its characteristically understated marketing-speak, dubbed the SuperDrive.

But as file sizes grew, floppies were doomed. Their first serious competition were CD-R and CD-RW drives - although the latter never managed to deal the floppy the final death blow.

That coup de grâce came with the introduction of flash-based thumb drives, which soon became the new hotness. Not only did thumb-drive capacities quickly rise and prices quickly fall, but their portability, relative speed, and reliability soon made them sneakernet's go-to media. Faster LANs, simplified PC-to-PC file-sharing, and broadband also made both simple drag-and-drop file-sharing and emailing more-secure methods of transfering files.

To be sure, floppies put up a good fight. Witness, for example, Maplin's combo floppy-drive-cum-card-reader of 2008. But thumb drives were not to be denied - although Memorex did give a nod to nostalgia with its retro FlashDisc offered by Buffalo and Verbatim.

And now with Sony's announcement, Steve Jobs gets to say "I told you so." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.