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Definition: floppy disk


An earlier, reusable magnetic storage medium and drive introduced by IBM in 1971. Officially a "diskette," it was nicknamed "floppy" because the first varieties were housed in bendable jackets. In the late 1970s, the floppy was the first personal computer storage medium. Although computers with hard disks emerged in the 1980s, they had at least one floppy drive for distributing applications, backup and data transfer between machines. By the mid-1990s, the floppy gave way to the CD-ROM for software distribution, while local networks and the Internet became popular for backup and data exchange.

Like Magnetic Tape
The floppy's recording surface was a circular platter of magnetically coated plastic similar to magnetic tape, except that both sides were recordable. The drive grabbed and spun the platter inside its jacket, while the read/write head contacted the surface through an opening. At 300 RPM, floppies rotated considerably slower than a hard disk, and they came to a complete stop when there was no read/write activity.

Format Before Writing
Every new floppy had to be "formatted," which divided the disk into sectors (see format program). However, by looking at the external jacket, one could not always discern the recording format. See magnetic disk.
 FLOPPY TYPES
                   Storage Capacity
                    Highest/Lowest
 Year  Jacket Type       MB/KB   Creator
 1986  3.5" rigid      1.44/400  Sony
 1976  5.25" flexible   1.2/100  Shugart
 1971  8" flexible      1.2/100  IBM




The Common Floppy Versions
Although ubiquitous in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the bendable 5.25" floppy was surpassed by the rigid 3.5" floppy in the late 1980s.






Anatomy of a 3.5" Floppy
The magnetic disk rotated between two liners inside the plastic jacket.






A Floppy-Based Computer
Floppy-based computers such as this Kaypro portable were the rage in the early 1980s. The computer was booted with the operating system floppy in the first drive, and the second drive was used for applications.






Handwriting on the Wall
This 1999 headline foretold the floppy's future obsolescence. (Article headline courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.)






No Wonder
The arrow points to a microSD card resting on one 3.5" floppy. MicroSD capacities have reached 512GB, the equivalent of 365,000 floppies. See microSD.