The Floppy Disk’s Evolution From Groundbreaking to a Coaster

I came of computing age during the death throes of the floppy disk – just enough time for me to save school projects on one and waste the rest of the pack trying to back up all the data on the family computer (emphasis on ‘trying’). So, for me, the floppy disk was the same as the cassette tape – the thing I had to use until I could get my hands on those hot new CDs.

So, my experience with the venerable floppy disk was a brief one, one that soon devolved into packs of floppy disks collecting dust in a remote corner of a remote shelf on the desk, over with the paper clips and the pens that had run out of ink.

But, it’s important to learn about your roots, or, for those more experienced than me, to remember them. And the floppy disk is worth remembering, largely as a vital piece of technology that helped make the computer personal.

The HP blog has a great retrospective on the floppy disk, leading us from the nascent days of the 8” floppy to the not-so-floppy days of the 3.5” floppy. There’s even a reminder of what was used for storage before floppy disks (back in those days, they used punch cards for data storage, and they liked it). Most importantly, there’s a look back at the 5.25” floppy, and how the Apple II brought the floppy disk into the public sphere, and made the computer personal. It’s said that the 5.25” launched the software industry, and made it possible for people who weren’t computer engineers to use computers, and that doesn’t seem to be too far from the truth.

Of course, today, a tiny USB drive can hold more than stacks of floppies put together. The floppy disks themselves are almost completely out of production now, and most new computers eschew a floppy drive altogether. But, on the bright side for all of us who invested in floppies at one time or another, we have a lifetime’s supply of coasters. For those who no longer have any of those old floppies hanging around, you’re covered, too – you can probably go ahead and start using those CDs as coasters, too.