It’s easy to spot a computer user of a certain age. Anybody who grew up using PCs in the ’80s or early ’90s will usually have one tell-tale-sign: an over-developed wrist reflex brought on from years of floppy disk swapping!
The news that Sony was finally ceasing production of 3.5” floppy disks has saddened a few nostalgic fans who’ve grown a warm affinity for these small pieces of plastic over the last three decades.
Apple was the first company to do away with floppy drives on their machines. As early as 1998, the iMac system shipped with no drive, a move which provided much abuse from the technology press. Macworld magazine called the decision unforgivable at the time:
…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.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The years that followed proved Apple right, and it’s become increasingly rare to see any PCs or laptops shipping with floppy disk drives in the last decade.
Some news reports claimed that Sony was the final floppy manufacturer. This information is not exactly true though, companies such as Verbatim, Maxell and 3M are still making them. But who is using these low-capacity ’80s relics in the 21st century?
Quite a lot of people apparently! British magnetic media company Verbatim have told the BBC they still sell hundreds of thousands of them in the UK alone, with millions more shipping every year across Europe.
Many modern systems still provide firmware for booting from a floppy disk, and many users keep a USB drive and disk on standby in case of emergencies. Windows XP still requires a floppy to install many third-party RAID and SATA drives if the boot CD has not been slipstreamed to include the drivers.
The increased interest in “retro computing” in recent years could account for steady floppy sales. There are even high-street magazines dedicated to covering classic computers and consoles of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Retro Gamer. Old-school is big business at the moment.
Of course, there are pieces of technology that used floppy drives to store data, outside of the PC realm. Older music productions units are still in use across music studios around the world, samplers and keyboards often used floppy disks to store data, some scientific kit such as oscillators also still use them.
It may just be a lot of average non-tech enthusiasts who are still using older PCs on a daily basis, which still function just fine and they have no cause to upgrade.
Do you still have any uses for floppy disks? Have you bought a new batch of them recently?