Ah, the once ubiquitous 3 1/2 floppy drive, now reduced to being used as a musical instrument...
Linus Torvalds has articulated what much of the world has known for some time, with a merge marking the Linux floppy driver as "orphaned". The issue is that while there are plenty of USB floppy drives out there, actual PC hardware is becoming a thing of the past thanks to motherboard makers ditching the relevant chippery and …
Eight floppy drives, that's nothing! How about, sixty four floppy drives, eight harddrives and two flatbed scanners?
Commodore's disk drives for 8-bit computers were mental, internally were practically a second computer. If you wanted a directory listing you couldn't keep a program in memory as it generated a BASIC program for you that printed it to the screen.
Commodore also took years to fix hardware bugs because marketing wanted to maintain compatibility so the drives were a fraction of the speed they should have been. It was only when the C128 came out that they finally relented because drive performance was ridiculously slow compared to the competition and by that time the 8-bit market was slowing down anyway.
"It was only when the C128 came out that they finally relented."
No, what happened was that the C64's hardware shared aspects with the VIC-20, its less-powerful predecessor. When the C128 came out (I used to own one), they could both fix and upgrade the hardware (thus the double-sided 1571 disk drive that was introduced alongside).
Cassette tapes and turbo loaders (though a bit after the PET) on the C64 was... Interesting
Sitting with a screwdriver to adjust the tape head, so that the lines looked good enough that the load would probably succeed, felt quite sci-fi in the beginning, but after doing it the 50000th time, you couldn't wait until everyone was using disks. What a PITA.
.... And I have a feeling that it wasn't necessary until someone started tinkering (IT'S FASTER THIS WAY. I KNOW IT!) or had a broken head, then when others got tapes from him they needed to adjust, then they lent tapes to others and THEY would adjust their heads, and so on and so forth. A bit like a very manual virus! :)
"or had a broken head"
if you ever had a set of head alignment cassettes (about $300 a set) you'd know that very few cassette recorders were ever properly setup.
That said, they had to be WAY out to cause problems - or more commonly, have stereo heads wired out of phase somewhere along the chain (which most cloth-eared listeners would never pick up, but would make for "fun" times on a mono device playing back anything that had been recorded on it.)
Surprisingly you could get them pretty close by ear with a bit of patience (I found I could get them within 3dB and a pretty good phase alignment before dropping them on a CRO for final tweaking.)
The Datasette of the C64 was much more sensitive than for music. If it was a bit out of whack, your programs weren't loading, especially if you were using turbo compressors/loaders which made it much more important to get right. Which makes sense, turbo compressors used a storing/loading method that stuffed data closer on the tape (later versions also did simple data compression on top, AFAIK), so being more sensitive is no surprise. BUT you could load stuff at amazing speeds; if I remember correctly, we're talking 10-15 times faster. Which is of course still ridiculously slow at today's speeds (and of course the compressing part also meant that there was much more room).
But, most turbo loaders showed the signal as lines, and as the sync signal in the start of a block usually consisted of reasonable straight lines, it wasn't that hard to sync with a bit of experience.
Ah, C64 Turboloaders.... and the lovely flashing horizontal on-screen bars. Bought my first disk drive in 1985, when Debenhams were offering a 1541 and MPS801 printer for £199.99 Only to find the 1541 was slower than a tape turboloader, as the 1541 used a serial bus :(
Until disk turboloaders came out. My personal favourite was The Expert Cartridge. And then there were the parallel interfaces for the 1541, possible because the 1541 was an intelligent drive with its own on-board CPU and 2K RAM, always wanted DolphinDOS or Trilogic's Phantom, but never did get one. Did buy a "DeepScan BurstNibbler" cable, but by that time had replaced my 1541 with a 1541C - and it wasn't compatible :(
The schematics for parallel loaders (Dolphin or DiskDemon) have been available on-line for years, but the sense of nostalgia isn't quite enough to tempt me into buying a C64 and drive...
The same onboard CPU was also at the heart of C64 Fast Hack'em; one of the copiers allowed you to chain two drives together, source disk in one, blank disk in the other, start a copy... and then do something else on the C64. Very novel at the time.
Had a great affecttion for the 1541, a truly great drive let down only by the serial bus. There was an awesome book covering all the different copy protection methods, error 21, 23, 25, 27, fat tracks, long tracks, sync errors etc, beaten only by the Cracker-Jaxx series from Maverick / Hack-U
Personally, I loved the hardware "hacks" for disk drives; Supercard Ami II internal hardware copier for the Amiga, BackupBuddy for the C64, Copy ][ PC for the IBM Still have the Ami II and Copy ][ hardware.... dont ask why, I don't know, cant bear to sell them.
Bought 3 LS Superdisks in 1999, one for me and each of two mates, for copying stuff between each other. They never got fitted, never got used, and I found them in the loft a year ago, complete with a single LS-120 disk. Obsolete because CD-R became affordable in 1996, with the Ricoh CD55 (or was it TEAC?), and then Yamaha's awesome CDR200 and CDR400 drives (superb models, with very moddable firmware).
I know one of my PCs has a disk drive. I have a box of disks somewhere - some old Amiga stuff, some old PC stuff, a Netware licence disk... and thats about tt. Haven't read a disk since, 2012? 2007?
Disk drives. Consigned to nostalgia since 1999.
The 1541 wasn't slow because of the serial bus, the software driving it was deliberately run in a slow cpu intensive mode reputedly because one machine the drive could be used on was bugged and wouldn't run any other way. Drive accelerator cartridges simply loaded new driver code that ran the same serial interface in the faster, uncrippled mode on the C64.
I was a very happy bunny when my accelerator cartridge arrived and the 1541 finally ran faster than my own tape turboloader!
Dad advised me against purchasing a PET, or any of the other toy 8-bit computers ... said they weren't very useful. A couple weeks later, Dad came home from work with a copy of Interface Age which had an advert for a 16-bit Heath H-11 and said "Now THIS is a worthwhile home computer!". We built most of it in my apartment in Mountain View, but for reasons I can't remember (better fume extraction?) we boiled the boards on Mom's stove ... she still hasn't forgiven us.
Apropos of this article, she came with a 256k 8-inch single sided drive. I sprung for a second drive for the low, low price of $500 when purchased with the kit ... and later I had paper tape (PC11), cards (CR11), and later still a removable media hard drive (RK05) and DECtape (TU56). The H11 is probably the single best tool I ever invested in ... at least in the computer world. 40+ years on and she still boots.
DEC kit was, and remains, the single best teaching environment for learning the concepts of computing. Shame the franchise was squandered away.
The amazing "random access" tape device that pretended to be a disk drive. You thought seeking was slow on a floppy disk: imagine a tape cassette doing the same. On the few occasions when I've tried to use a TU56 for something, I've usually devised a better solution before the job was half-finished.
Total agreement about DEC kit, though.
> I remember the PET 2001... Ah, the days of cassette tapes...
Not just *any* cassette tape, mind; or rather player. I recall Commodores required their own special expensive cassette storage technology rather than the more run-of-the-mill Captain Kremen's Spaceship variety, and while the latter may have required some Gitfingering of the recording/playback levels it was a lot cheaper as most households had one anyway.
But I'm just bitter because I had a Dragon 32. Which was in some respects better than some of its contemporaries (and would've been a lot better if I'd been rich enough for the floppy contraptions in question as it turned out my main interest is in operating systems) but worse than most regarding its 6847 graphics and 6-bit D-to-A sound generation. Which was actually capable of quite a lot, as long as the entirety of its 6809 was dedicated to it. Otherwise, "beep".
I just found a box of PCW disks in the attic. I suspected some had important stuff never transferred.
Some used 3.5" floppies. A USB floppy drive won't work. I found one of my Linux PC boxes has a floppy port. Added drive and software to read CP/M formats. I was able to copy disks.
Then I found the box with the PCW8256, upgraded to a franken machine. It wouldn't boot.
The 3" drive needed a new belt, which I ordered from Spain. Drive worked on PCW.
Found the original 2nd 3" drive and it too needs new belt.
I've even been able to recover NewWord documents by writing a script to fix their sort of Wordstar 3 bizarre 8th bit high at end of words thing. Later I'll plug the 3" drives into the tower PC with Linux.
I also have found some PC DOS format 5.25" disks and 3.5" disks I need to check. I found a few 5.25" drives.
Anyway the reason I've abandoned Win7 and Win10 is backward compatibility. I've old 32 bit Windows programs that won't work on win10. I've VB6 stuff that won't work on 64 bit windows.
Maybe next year I might want to put an 8" drive on. I have the wiring for it to regular floppy port.
BTW, I stared at the 3.5" drive in the broken PCW and realised I once knew that the +5 & +12 are inexplicably reversed on the 3" drives. I've made up suitable adaptor cables and found a 2nd PC tower with a floppy port.
Anyway, why the enthusiasm to strip out stuff just because it's old. Like 32bit support and floppy controller?
Linux is good because it's not driven by Apple or MS marketing departments.
As you mention, a USB floppy drive won't work. Nor isone an adequate replacement for a floppy drive on a real floppy controller. The USB floppy protocol doesn't provide access to the raw disk data, making useless for recovering data from anything other than PC format floppies.
That matters to me as I have lots of old music equipment and computers that I've upgraded with HxC floppy emulators. However, once upgraded I still need to get the raw images from the old floppies
Well, the floppy driver does not disappear if there are interested people. I myself still have some old Pentium machines with floppy drives (both 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 kinds) kept just for data retrieval. Maybe should get involved. Main problem is these machines have small memories and not sure if any modern kernel fit even after serious weeding of unused features...
> Main problem is these machines have small memories
Add more RAM or put the floppy drive in a computer that has a newer motherboard. I have a 3 core athlon 64 with 8GB of DDR3 ram sitting around with an on board floppy controller and pci/pcie expansion slots that will take a pci controller if I really need one. Its only 10 years old.
Can be a good idea to upgrade "recovery" machines to the latest stuff thats still compatible. I only stopped using the 3 core athlon 64 (its a 4 core phenon with 1 core disabled) a few months ago when I splashed out on a new Ryzen 5.
Nothing stops those who are interested in arcane and out of date hardware from maintaining drivers that can be modload'd into the kernel.
Or stops them from keeping a PC around with an older version of Linux that still has built in driver support.
Or keep a new 32 bit distribution with drivers. Minix should be 32-bit into the foreseeable future. As should various BSDs ... In the Linux world, I suspect Slackware will have a maintained 32-bit variation with floppy capability for at least another decade ... the bleeding edge kernel might be depreciating floppy support, but the long term support kernels are still going to be in business.
What has the word size got to do with it?
Last time I tried using the latest 64 bit debian install had no issues accessing a floppy.
But I agree, download and maintain an older complete distro for such uses. I'm considering using jigdo to download blu-ray and DVD iso images of the entire debian 7 distro.
I also do this to ensure I can guarantee access to file formats that I'm using that possibly may not be easily accessible in 20 years depending on how things go. I should in 20 years be able to fire up a VM or some kind of emulator used to emulate older machines (like we do today) and install debian 7, move the data into it then see if I can convert it to a format that did survive.
What has word size got to do with it?
Old hardware is predominantly 32-bit and distros are phasing out 32-bit support. This, coupled with drivers for non-USB floppy drives which are now being orphaned means that one day you'll only be able to use an out-of-date distro on older hardware.
VMs won't help with reading a real floppy drive on real hardware.
*Very* interesting: I have a dozen 3" Amstrad PCW floppies I'd like to transfer to PC, but my PCW's drive belts have turned to dust...
Where can I get a PCW 3" drive belt in 2019? Someone suggested to use a simple rubber band, but that sounds too simple to be true. I definitely don't want to damage my old PCW even more...
You can go on ebay or amazon and buy bags of assorted rubber replacement cassette deck belts. Many youtubers into reviewing old cassette decks etc frequently use such assortments to replace worn out belts.
Make sue the new belt fits and is not too tight and certainly not too lose. Everything should freely rotate.
I remember an episode of Ghost In the Shell 2nd gig that had the team raid a hacker. The hacker was unique/clever in how he stored his data on many many daisy chained floppy discs.
Basically he was almost untouchable because his storage system was unsupported by the hacking techniques the team used, so they had to raid him physically. He got wind of it and ran.
How the hell a I going to set up such a system now??
Well this was set in 2030 in a world where the internet literally was in you brain.
The hacker was clever in that nobody would find it easy to hack his chosen storage method, it was old and simply the last thing anyone would think of using.
You realise I'm talking about an episode of an Anime?
"This vulture fondly remembers the guaranteed revenue stream the things generated as they failed, and failed again, and eventually were replaced (by Amstrad) by their 3½-inch cousins."
I missed this episode. So at the end, they reverted this retarded move to 3 inches, while world+dog was on 3.5 ???
3" and 3."5 were pretty much competitors in the early days. Everybody knew that a more solid and dust-proof sleeve was needed, but not how much more. The 3.5" was little more than fibrous cardboard with an open hole replaced by barely-stiffer plastic and a metal cover plate. Some latecomers thought that would be insufficient and went for a more expensive rigid shell, allowing greater precision and a 3" form factor. In the event, cheapness and internal dust traps proved adequate. Amstrad were pretty much last man standing when it came to 3" use and as production levels drew further behind, the cost equation drove the 3" to extinction.
I still have an early PCW which was supplied with twin 3" drives and I later replaced one with a 3.5" for better/cheaper storage and compatibility with newer software. It came as a conversion kit but could not avoid some careful sawing-away of the computer's plastic enclosure to add the extra 0.5".
"but could not avoid some careful sawing-away of the computer's plastic enclosure"
Thus the term hacker, meaning roughly "someone who modifies a system to make it do something the original builder never intended". It wasn't until later that the term included code modification. Later still, ignorant journalists decided that skiddies were hackers ... See also 1993s RFC-1392.
I heard somewhere that Amstrad apparently had a really good deal on the 3" format and the contract required Matsushita (or whoever) to keep manufacturing the drives long after they'd have done otherwise.
(Previously I'd also heard that Amstrad got a job lot of them cheap when the format failed, but had *that* been the case, surely they'd have run into availability problems once the existing stock was exhausted?)
"the contract required Matsushita (or whoever) to keep manufacturing the drives long after they'd have done otherwise."
Matshita was making all kinds of formats, but the 3" one was unique to them/sony and pretty much to Japan+Amstrad. My Sanyo MBC-550 had an option for them that I'm glad I never took (a WHOLE 256 KILObytes of ram!)
Dunno about "retarded". The 3" drive was Hitachi's offering as the new standard, but 3.5" (Toshiba???) won.
Suralan was delighted to pay peanuts to keep Hitachi's lame duck business ticking over and as the PCWs were never intended to be compatible with anything else, it didn't matter that the disks wouldn't fit in other machines.
All about cost. The only reason for the success of the PCW series was price, Amstrad knew this better than anyone and did everything to keep costs down.
I had a CPC6128 and I didn't have a single disk fail on me.
The Tatung Einstein also used 3" drives, ISTR.
My Memotech MTX500 had the option of 5.25", 3.5", Winchester or SSD! I think the SSD was only 256KB, about the same as the 5.25" drive. But still, 1983 and an SSD option, the kids today think they are new and hip, amateurs! :-D
Was an absolute godsend, especially when coupled with a Romantic Robot Multiface 3 - load a game from cassette, pass any copy protection (read word from manual etc), press the little red button on the multiface and dump the memory image to floppy.
Game then loaded in a fraction of the time.
Of course the disks were more expensive than the 3.5" version, and much harder to come by, but loved it none the less. Was way better than the microdrive.
So much this, I remember upgrading my +2a with an external floppy interface from Datel Electronics once I couldn't believe the difference over the MicroDrive...
Also meant I could use 3.5" floppies as well rather than the 3" ones on the +3 - much to my dad's annoyance when he discovered the floppy drive randomly missing out of his PC one day!
Single sided, double sided
Single density, double density, high density
35 track, 40 track, 80 track.
5.25 inches, 3.5 inches, 3 inches. Saw on the Tandy Model 2, monster 8 inch drives
Full height, half height, third height
I remember paying 25 quid for 10 verbatim 5.25 inch discs - a bargain!
I remember paying over £100 retail for my first 5.25 drive and getting my last one for a fiver - from PCWorld.
I remember flippy floppies and turnkey discs.
I have a half height 5.25 drive with a 3.5 set in. So useful I still can't throw it away even though I've had no use for it in about 20 years.
I remember installing Windows 3.11 from a pile of 3.5 floppies.
I've kept a few boxes of discs 5.25 and 3.5 as backups. All the data on them backed up elsewhere, but you never know.
Feeling old now
First thing I would do when setting up a new PC with Win3.11 is to create a Win311 directory, xcopy all the disks in there, and then run setup.exe.
Great when you had to reinstall Windows, or when you changed graphics drivers and have to insert half the disks to copy a single file. Then discover that there are "two" versions, 3.5" and 5.25", so when it's asking for (say) disk 3, it may mean disk 4, or disk 2....
Did Win NT 4 from floppy ... once.
Beneath a Steel Sky on the Amiga came on fifteen (yes, 15!) floppy disks (double-sided, double density, 880K on each).
If you were just playing the game from floppy the swapping was limited to moving between areas, but once I got a harddrive (a whole 800MB!) I wanted to install it, which required me sitting there, patiently swapping in each disk for about 45 mins in total.
Great game though.
Monkey Island 2 came in at 12 floppies. I had to wait until I got an A1200 with an internal 2.5" before I had the joy of loading games from an HDD. I didn't want to hack up the RF shield for a 3.5" even though I had done minor soldering in my A500 previously so I could get 1Mb chip ram for the A570 CD ROM.
Can't believe you had 800Mb, that would have been huge for an Amiga at the time.
My first HDD (in the A1200) was 85Mb but it was actually a proper 85Mb - 1024 x 1024 not this 1000 x 1000 malarky we have now.
Must have cost you a fortune if it was a 500. A590 interfaces were a few hundred quid and only came with a 20MB HDD. I always coveted GVPs A530 interface which upgraded the CPU to a 68030 along with the HDD interface but they were megabucks.
I had an A500 + A590, with the memory also installed. I used to "borrow" SCSI drives from the Macs at work, just to see how quick they would make things. I kept one at home, until someone new came along and the old Mac Plus was assigned to them and I had to take the drive back.
I then got an A1200 - I wanted a 4000, but just couldn't afford it/justify the price.
I didn't have much money then, so it must have been cheap, and I'm sure it was on the low end of capacity at the time. It was a 3.5" drive, jammed into the A1200, and causing a distinct bulge in the side. Maybe a couple of hundred quid? Probably less though. Many hours of washing up at my local pub anyway.
Dragon's Lair came on half a dozen or so floppies on the Amiga. At my local computer store, in Southampton, the dealer set up an A500 with 5 external drives daisy-chained together, so you could play "uninterrupted", if you call waiting 10 seconds+ for the next scene to load uninterrupted - but at least you weren't constantly swapping floppies.
it would have been 3 external drives; the Amiga could "only" take 4 drives, df0: through df3: so on an A500, one internal drive and three external chained from the rear external drive port.
We'll chalk that up to memory.
What I remember was going to a copy party in Doncaster, and seeing the a HUGE disk copy session; Amiga 1 - 2 over serlink, 2- 3 via parnet 3 - 4 over serlink, 4 -5 over parnet Each Amiga with 2 or more drives, and a copy going from df0: Amiga 1 to df2 or 3 on the end Amiga, and being copied to every drive on the intermediate machines.
Obviously it was a DOS disk (not NDOS), and was being copied to a file and then the file copied from machine to machine. The demo in question was the first a1200 demo, "Red Alert".
NDOS disks, well, XCopy and 4 drives was the limti.
I remember taking on a random IT job for someone who wanted SCO Unix installed. It was a fairly simple job, apart from the fact that they'd gone out of the office for the day and left me with a mountain (approximately 30) of floppies....
...and had forgotten to give me the licence key sheet.
Guess what SCO Unix does if you don't have the licence key to hand and want to complete the installation at another time?
Yes, it deletes the entire bloody install.Really didn't want to have to go through the pain of all that floppy-swapping again. :/
Today it's less hassle to play Beneath; https://www.scummvm.org/games/#sky -- the OG devs made it freeware and gave the scummvm devs the code to fit it perfectly to scummvm. If anyone hasn't played this gem, it's a humour-filled dystopian cyberpunk adventure game, go grab it and play it immediately!
"Did Win NT 4 from floppy ... once."
OS/2 was fun, too. AutoCAD got REALLY unwieldy on floppy.
Feeping creaturism begat the CD-ROM. More feeping creaturism begat the DVD.
Funny how I can create documents and spreadsheets and databases to run a business using Wordstar and Lotus and dBase on DOS 3.3 easier (and quite a bit faster!) than on more modern Office 355. Bigger isn't necessarily better ...
Oh lord, OS/2 from floppy was painful in the extreme. For some reason OS/2 was really, really picky about the quality of the disks. It wasn't wrong to be picky, but back in 1994 at the peak of the cheap-is-fine era in Windows it was painful. I still have nightmares about the summer I had to install OS/2 on thirty Viglens in a library.
I'd did OS/2 from floppy for v2 and probably v2.1. Think did v2.11 as well ... and for one of those when the beta came out I mentioned on comp.oss2 that being in the UK without free local calls etc I coukdn;t download the beta over modem at a sensible cost and someone at IBM Hursley emailed be to say if I posted him 20 floppies he'd copy the the disks and send them back to me!
Think I decided that CD drive was essential when v3.0 came out. Also, along the way was amazed when IBM introduced the first "service pack" that was able to be downloaded and installed over the net with no need to copy images to floopies first .... the sign that floppies were on their way out!
Ah, Viglens! I remember them, we had some that were great, especially the early 386 models, then we had the 486 models and Pentiums and they were just shoddy.
I had a Compaq Deskpro 386 at the time and my colleague received a new Viglen 486 tower and was going on about how good it was... So I ran some benchmarks on it (I was in the middle of benchmarking around a dozen different laptops for our sales fleet). It turned out the processing speed was a bit quicker than my Compaq, but the Compaq ran rings around it, when it came to disk performance!
Then we had a bunch of 386DX machines in, where the jig used to align the motherboard and case was out of alignment, which meant we couldn't add the network cards, because the expansion slots didn't line up with the openings in the case!
"Ah, Viglens! I remember them,"
We had a few in the days of the 80286 range and eventually got ONE 80386 box which was much faster. Being the biggest and fastest we had, I just HAD to try Elite on it. Unfortunately, the box we had was built with the Hercules monochrome GFX card. I found an emulator tool on a BBS called Herc2CGA which emulated CGA GFX on the mono hi-res Herc card. It was playable, but the long persistence of the green screen monitor made it a bit more challenging :-)
Viglen are still going, albeit bought out a few years ago by XMA. One of the local Councils uses their kit. Apparently it's reasonably priced for the build quality and 5 year on-site warranty according to a friend who works in the IT department.
I remember the original floppy disk driver code in Minix. There was a large comment in the initialisation code something like:
Reset the floppy disk unit. If it is busy it will not be listening to the bus, so will ignore the reset (or any other) command. There is no indication in the status register whether it has reset. Therefore we send 20 reset commands waiting 25 ms between commands.
Let me preface this to say that modern Minix is actually quite usable. If you have older hardware that you don't know what to do with, try putting Minix on it. You might be surprised ... On new hardware, it is even better ...
From Minix 1.1's floppy.c:
/* Control of the floppy disk motors is a big pain. If a motor is off, you
* have to turn it on first, which takes 1/2 second. You can't leave it on
* all the time, since that would wear out the diskette. However, if you turn
* the motor off after each operation, the system performance will be awful.
* The compromise used here is to leave it on for a few seconds after each
* operation. If a new operation is started in that interval, it need not be
* turned on again. If no new operation is started, a timer goes off and the
* motor is turned off. I/O port DOR has bits to control each of 4 drives.
* Interrupts must be disabled temporarily to prevent clock interrupt from
* turning off motors while we are testing the bits.
/* Controller is not listening. Hit it over the head with a hammer. */
Lots of Minix stuff at tuhs.org ...
The Apple DOS 3.3 approach to the drive motor is one of the smarter ones, in my opinion: turn motor on, inspect the disk shift register. If it is still shifting, the disk is obviously still spinning fast enough from whenever the last time the motor was on, so continue. Otherwise wait for spin up. When done reading a sector, switch the motor off again (subject to a hardware 1-second delay).
"I remember paying over £100 retail for my first 5.25 drive and getting my last one for a fiver - from PCWorld."
I remember getting a floppy drive for my BBC micro in last year at University. I drove down to North London to a company that were advertising "cheap" drives in PCW ... it was called "Viglen" (but several years before the LordSirAlan era) and when I got to their addrees in an industrial unit realized that they were a company whose business was making plastic boxes ... but they'd just discovered that if they took one of their plastic boxes and stuck a floppy drive in it then the profit margin was probably multiplied by 10x! Difference from casettes was stunning!
"Feeling old now"
I'm probably feeling older ... I remember paper tape!
I remember installing the Windows 95 beta from a pile of 3.5" floppies!
The combo 5.25"/3.5" drives were useful for their time.
I have to say, I threw away my last couple of floppy disks a few weeks ago, when cleaning out the cupboards. I don't think I've actually used a floppy disk for nearly 20 years.
Many years ago a developer called Mark was working on a project and was hopelessly behind and going to miss his deadline. His project was on a single 5 1/4 inch floppy.
A staple appeared through the disk and he complained somebody else had done it. An announcement was made declaring that the person responsible was in a lot of trouble and should own up.
The disk was sent out to a recovery specialist and the truth was discovered, Mark had done very little work. Mark was shown the door.
Those LS120 SuperDisk things were a complete joke. A disk that worked in one drive often wouldn't work in another. It meant countless trips back and forward to the university computer room (do such things exist anymore?) to re-download whatever it was I was trying to transfer. The overall time taken meant I was probably better off just using a big pile of normal 3.5" disks.
"I still remember getting a Zip drive and being impressed at the storage size."
I remember getting a Zip drive (complete with high speed SCSI interface) ... one of several palns to get a backup strategy sorted out .... which I never really implemented - disk sizes always grew too big for the backup drive first 100MB zips then CD writers and USB HDDs .... eventually did it properly with daily snapshots onto an external network drive and now a microserver plus more recently addition of cloud backup
I was working on one project, doing OLAP with Essbase in the late 90s. I had just bought a new PC at home a Pentium II/400 with 16MB RAM.
At work we had an HP ProLiant server with dual Pentium Pro processors. Recalculating the OLAP cube on that took over 4 hours. In the end, it was quicker to export the bottom row data, save it to a ZIP disk, drive an hour home, load it up on my machine, re-calculate the data, export everything, drive back to the office and re-load the cube!
The Zip disk proved very useful, and I luckily never suffered from the click-of-death with my drives (external parallel and internal IDE)
I still have a 3.5 inch floppy drive in my a linux box as I have been meaning to go through a box of old floppies to see if there is any data worth saving on them.
And I have around 300 floppies from Amiga magazine cover disk and from PD from the 1980s and 1990s but will need to dig out my Amiga to be able to check those since the standard PC floppy drive can't read them.
The Amiga used a custom chip as a disc controller, so a disc drive plugged into a standard IBM PC won't be able to read them.
(Kryoflux is more capable, and still available, but the company behind them has some weird licensing issues)
That's not entirely true; Disk2FDI can do it on a standard PC with two floppy drives.
The magic trick? Drive selection is external to the FDC and data is transferred prior to checking for CRC errors, so reformat the floppy in one drive to have really long sectors, start reading one of those really long sectors, change the selected drive behind the controller's back, drink in the Amiga data. Subject to possibly having to try a few times to get a serendipitously-timed switch re: clock versus data bits.
"I would suggest, respectfully, listening to some 78s on a well set up acoustic gramophone."
Alternatively, using the right stylus on a high end turntable running at 33 or 45, transcribing to reel-to-reel tape and then replaying the tape at a (tweaked) higher speed, to equalise and transcribe to another open reel tape.
Which sounds longwinded (and was), but allowed us to prepare the things for broadcast on college radio without having a midrange screech that was like fingernails on a blackboard
Of course the grooves are so wide that you could probably scan them at 2800dpi and derive the audio from that, bypassing the whole snap-crackle-pop and inevitable high end loss caused by the ice skate effect of the stylus (Stylii exert pressures of several hundred tons per square inch, the vinyl or other media momentarily melts as it passes over, which means that high frequencies are lost with each pass AND dust gets pressed into the media. A scanner can pickup and integrate the entire groove)
Forget USB drives. They have very very limited compatibility. Besides I think only 3.5".
Actually some copy protected games need real IDE port CD-ROMs that are ONLY CD-ROMs. Though my USB DVD writer works with most stuff, even XP on a VM on Linux.
You need a floppy controller port and then anything except something using a custom controller will work. Apple 5.25" 100K and possibly Apple 3.5" will not work?
Certainly any CP/M, M/PM, DOS, Windows and related formats will.
Note some 5.25" drives of same capacity are not compatible even if work with same controller.
"The 3.5" floppy isn't reversible."
Because it's not meant to be. The drive was designed from the outset to be double-sided. And the disk design was keyed so it could really only go in one way. Any other way and it either didn't fit or the drive sensed it and wouldn't operate.
"The drive was designed from the outset to be double-sided."
No it wasn't. The double sided version came out a year or so after the original single sided version was released to the public. This was a year or so before the consortium was formed to standardise the 3.5" floppy disk, and that standard itself was initially for a single sided disk. The first Apple Mac used single sided 3.5" drives.
I remember the program I used to use to turn a 1.2MB floppy into a 1.8MB floppy (the 5.25" ones). The 1.44MB could be turned into 2.8MB. It worked, but they ended up corrupting a lot more than normal (duh).
Or the programs I used to copy 3.5" games. Those programs seemed pretty sophisticated (uh, did I say that out loud ?).
Right, mine's the one with the genuine, non-USB 3.5" drive that I still have the cable for (but no port, obviously).
"i just had to walk round the room checking computers and servers to see if i still had any floppies"
I had to have a standup argument with manglement to stop speccing floppy drives on systems.
Users hadn't touched the things for YEARS and whenever we tried use them they'd be so full of dust they'd fail immediately (which is where USB floppies have a distinct advantage), so i didn't see any point.
The tipping point was when motherboards stopped having FDD port connectors.
Haven't used a floppy drive in years. I had a PC ages ago where opening Windows Explorer took ~10 seconds and I eventually tracked it down to the floppy drive (no idea if it was a hardware fault or crap driver) so I unplugged it "temporarily" to make things work better. A year later I realised i hadn't needed to plug it back in and my next PC didn't get built with one (those were the days I used to order parts for my PC and self-build).
I think I still have a floppy drive in a drawer - buried under all the spare IDE cables and SCART leads I also can't quite bear to part with...
I suspect some legacy pieces of kit (15 year old software which still works) will still need a floppy now and again, but I rather suspect they won't run on any modern version of Linux anyway.
version 0.61 i believe. and then 9 or so more floppies to install the first x-windows port so i could run 'calculator' and 'eyes'.
I wish i could go back to the days the whole OS fit on a single floppy. Now the bootloader is too large to fit . bloody bloatware.
I remember both Damned Small Linux and Tom's Root Boot - they were damn useful for all sorts of stuff.
The first Linux I installed with my own hands (on my first home PC - before that there were a few years at universities that had BOFHs to install unices and linuxes) was SlackWare - I believe it was v3 with kernel 1.2.13 that had just come out - on 13 3.5in floppies... Full circle, eh?
Hmm... Looked up Wikipedia: Slack 2.1 apparently took 73 floppies... I had no idea how hard those uni BOFHs had it in those days...
Yeah, I could use a USB floppy translator, if I wanted to only read DOS or MAC format floppies.
USB floppy drives are actually little "translators" that emulate a USB mass storage device. If order for the floppy to be usable
it must be in a format recognised by the emulation chip. Forget about reading anything other than DOS or MAC floppies.
Chances are your floppy is in one of those formats, so you should be fine.
But it also means that you will be unable to read 2MB floppies, or perform advanced techniques to recover data from them. Much like with HDD's you need low level access to the floppy drive to recover data. YMMV when using a HDD behind a USB interface that supports USB mass storage but not ATAPI.
This will only likely be an issue for a very low number of peeps that know they have floppies or will need to recover data from floppies. Chances are they already have a PC with a floppy controller, just remember to be careful when upgrading the kernel.
This will be annoying in VM's too. I usually set VM's up using bootable iso images, that emulate floppy discs. I wonder if that will affect these?
Can it be put into userspace somehow?
Sometimes a physical connected floppy is a good thing. You can fudge all the parameters and get a bit more storage (1.7Mb) to play with. Also some other devices (I have an EPROM programmer) use them for programs/data transfer. Yes, 1.44 MB IS limiting, but very useful. To be sure, the driver hasn't changed (I suspect), so there isn't any real reason to NOT keep it around.
Of course, the driver might be larger than the drive it is to support, which is normal these days.
Now about that printer port.........
"Sometimes a physical connected floppy is a good thing. You can fudge all the parameters and get a bit more storage (1.7Mb) to play with."
There was a pair of programmes around back in the days of DOS, FDREAD2 and FDFORMAT that let you mess with the parameters. One of the least "dangerous" was using dirt cheap DD 40trk disks in HD 80trk drives and formatting them to 80 traks DD giving 720KB of space. Adding more sectors per track and a couple or three extra tracks could get 800KB pretty reliably too. So long as you ran FDREAD2 in the autoexec (or was it a config.sys device driver?) then DOS would read all the weird formats you created.
But at least you don't have to deal with a lot of wonky optical disc formats, as their standards are more rigid. That makes a USB optical drive a more-palatable prospect. Indeed, if one drive won't read it, it makes it simple to switch it out for another and try that one.
Yes, Matthew Broderick's character David Lightman was using 8" floppies in his IMSAI 8080 drives. According to the director's commentary on the DVD I have, the whole setup - even though it was fairly ancient when the film was made - was chosen because the interactions with it, especially the use of an acoustic coupler instead of a plug-in modem, made it far more obvious what was going on than those with a newer computer would. This was also why they came up with the idea for the online interaction with WOPR to be read out by John Wood/Dr. Stephen Falken - text to speech was nowhere near that good in those days, but it significantly increased the dramatic tension.
"It had a peel off sticky square that you could stick over a notch in the external part to make it read only."
Was that before they standardised the physical 8" format? IIRC, the 8" disks I used defaulted to read only UNLESS you applied the sticky tape over the notch to make it read/write. The opposite was used later on 5.25" floppies.
It's not hard to maintain. It's hard to test because you need the physical working hardware. And quite a lot of time.
It's not deprecated. It's just marked "Nobody is looking after this, it probably still works but nobody has checked."
If you have the hardware and the time, then step up and maintain it!
"1998's iMac courageously did not feature a floppy drive and within the decade the vast majority of PC makers had followed suit as CD, DVD and USB storage become more prevalent."
I've always said that Apple got way too much credit for their supposed forward thinking, or for killing off the floppy drive.
You know what you saw attached to virtually every first generation, floppy-less iMac? A bloody external USB floppy disk drive in matching translucent plastic.
You know why? Because, despite the fact the 1.44MB 3.5" format was already badly dated by the late 90s, there was still no alternative that was quite cheap *and* universally-accepted enough to replace it. (#). The impetus was there to replace it, but there was no candidate yet.
That wasn't Apple's fault- what *was* their fault was the choice to leave the floppy out- and to trumpet it as a plus point!- while providing no adequate alternative.
The original iMac only included a CD reader. (Writers were falling rapidly in price towards the end of the 90s, but clearly still weren't cheap enough to be included as standard in the 1998 iMac). The modem was far from a sufficient replacement when it came to file sharing- this wasn't the broadband/Dropbox era, it was the days of dial-up 56kbps access when the other person/computer having Internet access couldn't be assumed.
Pen drives didn't even exist until couple of years later, and took a few more to be widely adopted. (If anything finally killed off the floppy it was those).
So, external floppy hanging off the side it was then.
If the original iMac deserves credit, it's with it helping give impetus to USB adoption (which I already had on my PC, but didn't have much support at first). But killing off the floppy? Nope.
(#) No, not even the Zip drive, which was hugely successful by most standards, but still not something you'd find in the majority of PCs.
MS: But killing off the floppy? Nope.
The iMac was the first public statement that the floppy's time had come. It was the first time (that I know of) that a popular selling computer *didn't* have a floppy drive. It was the beginning of the end.
And having had to install Office 98 from 45 floppies at the same time, I was glad that about this signal. CD-ROMs & CD-Burners were the way forward.
> And having had to install Office 98 from 45 floppies
You could get HP-UX on floppy at one time, I remember an internal discussion with a field engineer asking if it was still available and one of the lab guys replying that the next release was the last one "thank ****" as he'd just had to format 68 floppies ready to take the programming environment.
@deadlockvictim; Huh? Software distribution on CD-ROM wasn't merely the "way forward" or even commonplace by the time the iMac came out in mid-1998. It was *already* effectively standard by that point- at least on the PC- with floppies an obsolescent "legacy" option for software distribution by that stage.
The floppy was primarily there for the remaining use case that wasn't yet covered- non-read-only data transfer.
Crediting Apple for making a "statement" smacks of rationalisation of their wanting to have their cake and eat it. If they'd wanted to prove that CD *writers* or anything else were a sufficient replacement for the floppy, they'd have included it. The fact that they didn't- and the fact their users were all forced to buy floppy drives anyway- proves the exact opposite of the point they were trying to make.
Yeah, everyone knew that the floppy was due for replacement and that it could be dropped as soon as something better came along. But that "something better" wasn't cheap or universal enough at that point, and that's the only reason the floppy was still A Thing.
We didn't need Apple to figure that out.
On the contrary. The first thing I do when installing a fresh OS on a computer is hang a serial terminal on it, and send it a login prompt. Handy to have a nice friendly $ (or #) prompt when the GUI goes TITSUP. I also hang a fan-fold printer off a parallel port fairly regularly because it's one of the best debugging tools I know of.
I "fondly" remember my first linux install. The year was 1993, I had just purchased a new laptop with Windows, and re-partitioned the HD, and used the excellent OS/2 boot manager. I selected Slackware Linux, kernel 0.97, patch level 13. It came in a cardboard box of fifty (50) floppy disks that had to be inserted sequentially as part of the install process that took several hours. Several hours later, I discovered my Linux partition was too small, and had to start all over. :-o
Life is easier these days, but there's just something awesome about a box of 50 floppies to install the OS..
I have a PC build that has a 3.5 floppy mount, but the motherboard doesn't have floppy hardware support, and there's nothing USB that even remotely could be adapted to fit the 3.5" slot. I want to say how sad this is but I'm hard pressed to find anything remotely approximating working floppy hardware.
hehe "floppy hardware"
I remember starting out with a 5 1/4" floppy.
I got a bit older and it shrunk to 3 1/2". Perhaps it just seemed bigger before because I was smaller?
Everyone started trying to encourage me to start using zips. "they're convenient" they said, "they're practical" they said. I asked what happens when a floppy gets jammed in a zip and was told there was a risk of needing surgery, decided to pass on that one.
I attached a friggin laser and burned everything for a while, but the novelty wore off when my friend bought one that could outperform me by 4x.
Someone told me about this new way to flash. I wasn't exactly enthusiastic, but nobody seemed to mind so I thought i'd give it a try. wow! this was great! At first, the zip people laughed at how little I was but I soon out-grew them.
Then our porn line was upgraded to an asynchronous digital subscription, we were the first subscribers in the city. It was unlimited, so teenage me used it all the time.
We had a project for our ICT class at school. Create a "HTML page". On submission day, the teacher asked me where my floppy was. When I said I didn't have one she said I needed to get to grips with the modern way of doing things. I asked for her email address, she said she didn't have one. So, I wrote one of my domain names on a piece of paper. As I handed it to her, I asked if her computer was able to access the latest storage format.
I have a 5.25 in the back of my laundry cupboard in a cardboard box with a bunch of other nostalgic tech. I can't quite bear to part with.
One day, if I get really really bored (and probably quite insane as well) I might Arduino-fy it.
I'm not even sure if I have any disks for the thing!
Hmmm. Just went and did a WebSearch:
Raw 3.5" FD reader: https://hackaday.io/project/20185-arduino-raw-data-35-floppy-reader
Amiga FD reader: https://www.hackster.io/robsmithdev/arduino-amiga-floppy-disk-reader-v1-485582
Maybe not 'quite insane'. Just 'insane', after all!
The interface is largely stable and you can build out-of-tree modules and modprobe them. You can even have modules at (well, very shortly after) startup with initrd (and support for doing that is automatic on recent distros). The "problem" here is that the people who maintain the driver will not be keeping it up to date, they happen to be the same group that looks after the rest of the kernel. Linux is not really monolithic any more. The box I'm writing on is a relatively ancient RHEL6, and lsmod shows a stack of modules (including a lot of filesystem related ones and peripheral drivers).
I had to rebuilt a special VM driver from source. Basically with every big step (2 to 3, 3 to 4 and so on) I got new errors when compiling, which forced me to modify the source (often quite a few lines;-). Some structures always changed; sometimes even more often than that.
This means that you need a maintainer for drivers, which then means that you have to drop drivers when there are no maintainers to be found (as can be seen).
That's really got nothing to do with whether the kernel is monolithic or not and much more to do with driver interfaces changing across major kernel versions. An unsupported driver will eventually become incompatible under either model. Linux is not truly monolithic; I've built and loaded modules on a machine without rebooting.
What's difficult is finding hardware that accepts actual disks. Check out https://hxc2001.com/ or if you want to do it on the cheap, the Gotek products off ebay/Amazon (plus ideally the HxC firmware for Gotek from hxc2001.com). Of course that does need a floppy interface; the latest system I have that supports that is a server motherboard from 2008.
I still have a PCW, the 3" disks were pretty robust, but I did replace the double density drive with a 3.5" for data exchange and cheaper media.
I have to admit that despite having all the hardware I've not needed to use a floppy disk in years. It's increasingly rare to need to use a CD/DVD, other than the legacy games I have lying around. I do have external drives, but the more modern systems support virtual media mounting over the network anyway as I'm using workstation motherboards.
I cant say I'll miss it, the early days of going on-site to run an install with thirty floppy disks wasn't the most thrilling of experiences.
There is a lot of old test equipment (oscilloscopes and data loggers to name but two) that save data (images for scopes) to a floppy drive (both 5.25 and 3.5 inch formats are still quite common).
As the test kit is still going strong (and in some cases the specific old test kit is required to be used such as in fully qualified, very old but still flight capable avionics) it is not replaced and still perfectly capable for a lot of tasks (some new devices still have GPIB ports as well)
There are some pieces of (still functional) kit where the test equipment is on old versions of MS-DOS booted up from floppies.
I also remember (early to mid 80s) using a Wang Labs word processor that had dual 8 inch floppies.
Icon as a toast to ancient kit.
that in the case of these disks, they actually get smaller as they get harder... down from a good floppy 8 inches down to a good firm 3.5 inches. The irony...
I kept the 5.25 version of "Elite" from my old BBC master just to show people of the future how your could store about 0.001% of their thumb drive...
I remember Apple's 800Kb 3.5" floppies that couldn't be read on PCs as they actually changed the spindle speed depending on where the data was on the disk to pack a massive 80Kb of extra data on a disk. They didn't bother when 1.44Mb HD floppies became the norm.
Apple's motorised floppy drives that sucked your diskette in and then spat it out again much like the cassette in a car stereo or video cassette in a VCR were great but when they failed (thanks to idiots forcing an extra diskette into the apparently empty slot) they were expensive to replace or repair.
This would be a good time to regale the audience with My Most Embarrassing Moment (at least in public.)
Long ago I worked in a mainframe software group in a Fortune 500 company. I was tasked with analyzing the customer utilization of the available software distribution formats - various tape formats, mostly.
I was giving my slide presentation in front of two corporate VPs and thirty other managers, and on one slide as I described and showed the data the audience suddenly laughed. I had no idea why, and continued on.
Only after the presentation a friend showed me what was so funny. My slide showed that "15% of users had floppy diks"!
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