About Floppy Disk
A floppy disk is a data storage medium that is composed of a disk of thin, flexible ("floppy") magnetic storage medium encased in a square or rectangular plastic shell. Floppy disks are read and written by a floppy disk drive or FDD, the initials of which should not be confused with "fixed disk drive," which is another term for a (nonremovable) type of hard disk drive. Invented by IBM, floppy disks in 8-inch (200 mm), 5¼-inch (133.35 mm), and 3½-inch (90 mm) formats enjoyed many years as a popular and ubiquitous form of data storage and exchange, from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. While floppy disk drives still have some limited uses, especially with legacy industrial computer equipment, they have now been largely superseded by USB flash drives, external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and memory cards.
The flexible magnetic disk, or diskette revolutionized computer disk storage in the 1970s. Diskettes, which were often called floppy disks or floppies, became ubiquitous in the 1980s and 1990s in their use with personal computers and home computers to distribute software, transfer data, and create backups.
Before hard disks became affordable, floppy disks were often also used to store a computer's operating system (OS), in addition to application software and data. Most home computers had a primary OS (and often BASIC) stored permanently in on-board ROM, with the option of loading a more advanced disk operating system from a floppy, whether it be a proprietary system, CP/M, or later, DOS.
By the early 1990s, the increasing size of software meant that many programs demanded multiple diskettes; a large package like Windows or Adobe Photoshop could use a dozen disks or more. Toward the end of the 1990s, distribution of larger packages therefore gradually switched to CD-ROM (or online distribution for smaller programs).
Mechanically incompatible higher-density formats were introduced (e.g. the Iomega Zip disk) and were briefly popular, but adoption was limited by the competition between proprietary formats, and the need to buy expensive drives for computers where the media would be used. In some cases, such as with the Zip drive, the failure in market penetration was exacerbated by the release of newer higher-capacity versions of the drive and media that were not forward-compatible with the original drives, thus fragmenting the user base between new users and early adopters who were unwilling to pay for an upgrade so soon. A chicken or the egg scenario ensued, with consumers wary of making costly investments into unproven and rapidly changing technologies, with the result that none of the technologies were able to prove themselves and stabilize their market presence. Soon, inexpensive recordable CDs with even greater capacity, which were also compatible with an existing infrastructure of CD-ROM drives, made the new floppy technologies redundant. The last advantage of floppy disks, reusability, was countered by re-writable CDs. Later, advancements in flash-based devices and widespread adoption of the USB interface provided another alternative that, in turn, made even optical storage obsolete for some purposes.
An attempt to continue the traditional diskette was the SuperDisk (LS-120) in the late 1990s, with a capacity of 120 MB which was backward compatible with standard 3½-inch floppies. For some time, PC manufacturers were reluctant to remove the floppy drive because many IT departments appreciated a built-in file transfer mechanism that always worked and required no device driver to operate properly. However, manufacturers and retailers have progressively reduced the availability of computers fitted with floppy drives and of the disks themselves. Widespread built-in operating system support for USB flash drives, and even BIOS boot support for such devices on most modern systems, has helped this process along.
External USB-based floppy disk drives are available for computers without floppy drives, and they work on any machine that supports USB Mass Storage Devices. Many modern systems even provide firmware support for booting to a USB-mounted floppy drive.
Windows XP still requires the use of floppy drives to install third-party RAID, SATA, and AHCI hard drives, unless the install CD is modified to include these drivers. Customized Windows XP install CDs can be made with programs such as nLite. This requirement was only dropped with the introduction of Windows Vista in 2007. Most PC motherboards will still attempt to boot from a floppy drive, depending on CMOS settings.
Floppy sizes are almost universally referred to in imperial measurements, even in countries where metric is the standard, and even when the size is in fact defined in metric (for instance the 3½-inch floppy, which is actually 90 mm). Formatted capacities are generally set in terms of binary kilobytes (as 1 sector is generally 512 bytes).