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May 22, 2017

The Days of Floppy

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

Over the past week, I had a chance to use an older PC. The only way to get data off the system was to use a floppy disk. It was maddening.

The system is my old Dell 320LT, shown in Figure 1. It still works!

Figure 1. The Dell 320LT. That’s a full-size keyboard. Compare it with the size of the batteries and the power brick.

I purchased the system back in 1993. From what I gather, I used this laptop as a test bed for my book, the MS-DOS 6.22 Upgrade For Dummies. I might have reformatted the hard drive because the 400MB whopper had little on it other than the OS.

By the way, that book was stressful for me because I had to work with Microsoft to customize DOS For Dummies to their liking.

They did not like DOS For Dummies.

Specifically, they hated the humor. They hated that Microsoft was the butt of jokes throughout the text. They hated that the book featured an attitude that made them look silly. And I hated working on the damn thing and having to respond to the fools who kept telling me, “The book is great, but . . .”


I was disappointed that I had reformatted the laptop’s hard drive, but I probably did so because it was the only system I was willing to sacrifice it for an OS upgrade. Beyond DOS, the hard drive was empty. My only clue that it was used for the MS-DOS 6.22 upgrade book was a few screenshots I’d taken. I wanted to transfer them to my archives. That’s when I had to use the floppy drive. Immediately, I was flush with memories of how terrible floppies could be.

I still have a stack of 3½-inch floppies, so I jammed one in the laptop’s floppy drive. Immediately I was informated that the diskette was unreadable. So I formatted it. And, yes, I had to look up the formatting command because if you type FORMAT A:, DOS uses the original 180K disk format even though the drive is capable of formatting a 1.44MB floppy.

Oh, those were the days!

The formatting process took several minutes as the drive head was probably dirty and had trouble verifying the sectors. Then I had to copy the files, which took even more time.

It was unsettling was that you just pop the disk out of the drive. You don’t un-mount it or otherwise release the storage. DOS was weird, which is why DOS For Dummies sold so well.

What’s also unsettling is how to quit some DOS programs: You just restart the system. Because DOS doesn’t multitask, that process is okay, but it still felt wrong.

Back in the day, using a floppy was common and users tolerated it as a viable, removable form of storage. Today, with networks for file transfer, and massive thumb drives as removable storage, the floppy disk is an odd curiosity. I can easily see why the technology was abandoned years ago.

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