He's coming for your floppy: Linus Torvalds is killing off support for legacy disk drive tech

Might go limp as Linux orphans controller driver for ancient removable media

Woman with red roses and coffin at funeral in church

Linus Torvalds has articulated what much of the world has known for some time, with a merge marking the Linux floppy driver as "orphaned".

The issue is that while there are plenty of USB floppy drives out there, actual PC hardware is becoming a thing of the past thanks to motherboard makers ditching the relevant chippery and connectors in favour of space and dollars. And because very few people use the things anymore.

Torvalds observed that "actual working physical floppy hardware is getting hard to find" and considered the driver dead, with a few faint use cases still present in emulated environments. But if you really need to read those old disks, USB is going to be the way forward.

Naturally, just being orphaned doesn't mean that the driver is actually disappearing, but it does mean that unless some magnetic media meddler steps up to maintain it, the odds are it will be deprecated and eventually removed.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...

Floppy disks appeared in the 1970s, first as 8-inch whoppers before slimming down to the 5¼-inch variety seen attached to many PCs and home computers of the 1980s. That said, we're pretty sure that Matthew Broderick was still using the larger version while almost ending the world in the 1983 movie Wargames.

We have fond memories of wielding a hole punch to transform a single-sided floppy disk to a flippy or, more likely, simply ruin one of Verbatim's finest in an effort to sate a 1980s TI99/4a's hunger.

The 1980s also marked the beginning of the end for the floppy as we greybeards remember it, with the considerably stiffer 3½-inch version from Sony, which dumped the flexible sleeve protecting the magnetic media with something a good deal more rigid, replete with a metal covering that could be slid by the curious or jammed forever in a drive's mechanism.

It is, of course, this classic design that festoons toolbars around the world to indicate Save, and confound users unfamiliar with legacy removable media.

An even stiffer variant turned up in 3-inch guise, and was used in a variety of Amstrad machines of the era, including the near-ubiquitous PCW word processors. This vulture fondly remembers the guaranteed revenue stream the things generated as they failed, and failed again, and eventually were replaced by their 3½-inch cousins.

Ironically, while Apple was one of the first companies to fit a 3½-inch drive to their computers, it was also the ahead of the game in killing off the technology. 1998's iMac courageously did not feature a floppy drive and within the decade the vast majority of PC makers had followed suit as CD, DVD and USB storage become more prevalent.

The days of attempting to install software from dozens of disks, only to find a corruption on the last one, were at an end.

External USB floppy drives can be picked up for that full-on retro feel, but as for traditional internal drives and their ilk? With the orphaning of the Linux driver the time may finally have come to just move on.

No flowers. ®

Sponsored: Beyond the Data Frontier

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY TECH NEWSLETTER




Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019