Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A floppy what?

The sad remnant of my diskette collection
I was watching the first series of 24 the other day on my mission to use Netflix to catch up with the good stuff I never saw the first time around. At one point someone needs to get information from one computer to another. She puts a black rectangular object into a drive and uses this to pass the information. I swear this is true: for just a moment, I thought 'What's that?' It was, of course, a diskette, something that was central to our computing lives only a few years ago and yet, to all intents and purposes, disappeared off the face of the planet more rapidly and completely than black vinyl records ever have.

I had a sudden wave of nostalgia for floppy disks and diskettes. At one point I ran the PC department of a certain large airline whose initials include B and A. We genuinely did get those old hoary misuse stories of the 5 1/4 inch floppies. People really did occasionally staple them to a report. And one user really did complain that their disk wouldn't read when they shoved it into the gap between two drives.

When the rigid 3 1/2 inch diskettes came along, confusingly still called floppies by many, it was wonderful. They were much harder to damage, you could slip them in your pocket, they held about four times as much data (yes, children, over a MEGABYTE per diskette) - they were great. Unlike floppies they protected the read area of the magnetic disk, where floppies left it open for prying fingers and dirt. I used to have cases on my desk especially made to hold diskettes. I backed up onto diskettes. (And yes, after the hard disk failed twice on my IBM AT, I really did back up with some fervour on the more modern machines that took diskettes.)

And yet now they're gone. We don't have a computer in the house that takes them, though I do have an external diskette drive left over from an old Sony laptop that was too slim and sexy to have a built-in drive. And yes, in the drawer if I dig around, I do have one or two diskettes left. But even so - how the mighty have fallen.

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