Death to Floppy!


Sony's decision to stop making 3.5-inch disks caused me to rethink the need not to stock up but buy a USB-attached floppy drive to transfer files from hundreds of diskettes closeted away. It's been at least two computers since I owned one that could accept them. Even B&H has discontinued sales of a category that once defined removable memory. Remember when picking up a 10-pack was as natural as bringing home a six-pack?

Sandwiched chronologically between 5 1/4-inch floppies in paper sleeves (as in disks without jackets will not be admiitted) and flash memory (as in you say jump drive, I say how high a capacity), the micro floppy advanced the technology by being hard-cased and capacious. At 1.44 Megabytes, they stored four times the data of larger, bendable floppies. The 3.5-inch floppy drive was standard on Macs from the start and soon on most laptops before migrating to desktop PCs. For a few years they were even built into Sony Mavica and Panasonic PalmCam cameras. After all, what could be simpler than writing the disk in your camera and reading it in your computer? That is, if you were willing to lug the added bulk of a vertical floppy drive behind the lens.

I actually have one of those Palmcams, which sat unopened in a box for more than a decade, the result of being given one by Panasonic at its annual holiday party at the Plaza. Clearly, the company had made more than it could sell at a time when the world was already turning to SmartMedia cards. (SD was still a glint in the joint development of Panasonic and Toshiba.) Panasonic thought it could beat Sony by making its cameras not only floppy-compatible but also high-density 120MB SuperDisk compatible. The trouble was that most computers couldn't read SuperDisks, and even if they could, access time for any floppy disk was always painfully slow compared to what people were already accustomed to from using their computer hard drives.

But back to my colorful collection of 3.5-inch disks with their hand-written (and largely unreadable) labels. I transported at least one every day during my commute to the office for nearly two decades. It was the most direct way to back up your work. The result is that when I open an overstuffed closet today, disks tend to spill out. Hence, my desire to acquire the LaCie USB Floppy Disk Drive that I plan to use to copy the lot. I expect to archive stacks to a couple of flash drives or one USB hard drive.

Can I interest anyone in a set of coasters?