Farewell, then, to the humble floppy disk – the storage medium of choice throughout my formative years.
It seems such a primitive thing now, but in the early days of my computing adventures I would have killed for a floppy disk drive. Loading games and BASIC programs onto my Commodore 16 from audio cassette tapes was a frustrating experience to say the least.
I never did get a machine that used those thin 5.25″ disks, although I had the dubious pleasure of using them in school. I remember that they came with a sheet of little stickers to cover the “write enable notch” in the side of the disk, and that teachers always warned us to write on the disk labels before affixing the labels to the disk (very important that – floppy disks apparently disliked being carved up by biros).
By the time I reached comprehensive, most of the geeky kids had some kind of home computer that used the 3.5″ floppies with which we’re all familiar – not just PCs (which were in the minority amongst my schoolfriends), but also the Amiga, Atari ST, and Acorn Archimedes. This universality made it possible to use floppy disks as a form of currency, a fact which was of particular benefit to my friend Chris Aubrey, who had a paper round and managed to avail himself of many cover-mounted disks from unsold magazines. I spent many happy hours formatting such second-hand disks, and applying new multi-coloured labels, which I bought in bulk from a store in Sheffield. Ah, memories. I also recall that practically every plastic disk storage box in the world had an identical lock – a most useful fact to know when your friend jealously refuses to lend you his copy of Lemmings.
One of the best hardware reviews I’ve ever read in a computer magazine was when the launch preview issue of Amiga Shopper reviewed 3.5″ floppy drives. They performed some insane tests, dishing out all manner of physical abuses to a range of drives – I think coffee, acid and a vice were involved somewhere along the way. I duly saved up my pocket money and bought one of the winning drives – the “Roclite” – giving me that all-important second drive and making it much easier to copy games (if blank floppies were a primitive playground currency, their value was greatly increased by containing a copy of Stunt Car Racer!).
Will I miss the humble floppy? Probably not – their time has undoubtedly passed. In fact, until I checked just a moment ago, I couldn’t have told you whether the PC I’m using right now even had a floppy drive (it doesn’t). But floppies served a very important role for many years, enabling portability of data long before the web was born. Indeed, back in the early nineties I was even jointly responsible for the creation of an Amiga “Disk Mag”, distributed via the Royal Mail on two floppy disks (it was a fun endeavour, but didn’t exactly make my first million!).
If you still have a pile of floppies around, then apart from saving one or two to amuse future generations, you might like to try your hand at turning them into models of the USS Enterprise…