Farewell to the Floppy

If you’re a geek of a certain age, the chances are you’ve at some point sniggered at the mention of a 3.5″ floppy. Those days are over with Sony effectively announcing the death of the floppy disk drive.

Created in the early 1980s as a smaller, higher-capacity successor to larger formats, the 3.5″ initially had a capacity of around 280 kilobytes. With models available in both single and double-sided versions, along with three different densities, the format could eventually hold 1.44MB. To put that into context, it’s about enough to store a minute or so of audio.

Aside from size and capacity, the major difference between the 3.5″ and its 5.25″ predecessor was that despite the name (which referred to the disk itself), the 3.5″ disk came in a solid plastic casing. This made it both less susceptible to accidental damage, and much more a challenge to deliberately destroy.

The physical design of the 3.5″ disk created a couple of other unofficial characteristics. One was that it was just about the right weight to make it a particular pleasure to use the spring-loaded eject button on the drive: I pity anyone who worked in an office of any kind in the early 90s and didn’t take part in a contest to shoot the disk as far as possible.

The disk casing could also be cracked open when attempting to destroy it for security reasons, with the disk itself then cut to shreds with scissors. This may be a personal quirk, but the metal-on-metal cutting always made me feel downright queasy.

The format is believed to have overtaken its 5.25″ predecessor in 1988 and was the main recordable media format through much of the 1990s. Eventually, though, it was superseded by recordable CDs, which had a drastically higher capacity.

Sony, which was the last major 3.5″ disk manufacturer and had wound up with a dominant market share, has now announced it limited supply to only cover a few markets in March and will cease production in Japan early next year.

PCWorld notes that while 12 million 3.5″ disks were sold in Japan by Sony last year, the total data which could be stored on them wouldn’t fill one side of a Blu-ray disc.

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