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Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 12/7/2002

Floppy disks are old news

Some changes in technology happen quietly. Few people even realize that an old technology is getting the boot, and a replacement taking over, until it's a done deal and they start to reminisce about old times.

Whatever happened to carbon paper and mimeograph machines? Remember when you made popcorn in a pan of hot oil on the stove? Once, all telephones had dials, handsets, and cords.

The 3.5-inch computer floppy diskette drive is taking that same tranquil stroll toward memory lane.

A fixture on home and office computers since the 1970s, floppy drives have been stranded in a technological backwater for years. Improvements in floppy drive performance have fallen way behind the pace of other computer innovations.

Have you ever seen a computer advertisement boasting about the floppy's blistering speed or massive capacity?

Floppies used to be the standard way of loading new programs on a computer. Programs, however, grew in complexity and size, while floppy diskettes remained stuck in the 1.44-megabyte-capacity groove.

Programs now are sold on compact discs (CDs) and digital versatile discs (DVDs). One CD can hold 650 megabytes (MB), as much as 450 floppies. The most popular DVD format can hold 7 times more than a CD.

Floppies also were the most convenient way to make backup copies of files. But they can't conveniently hold the big digital photo and music files so popular today.

And the darn things are slow. In an era where computer users are used to instant responses to commands, copying one file to a diskette can take more than a minute.

Is it any wonder manufacturers have concluded that floppy drives are a waste of space and weight?

Weight-conscious laptop manufacturers long have offered units sans diskette drive. Desktop manufacturers now are doing the same. Some have even offered small cash discounts to encourage consumers onto the “no-more-floppy” bandwagon.

CD “burners” - CD-R and CD-RW drives - are replacing the floppy drive. A CD-Recordable drive can put data onto a disc in just one session, and then is “closed” to further writing. A CD re-writable drive can write onto it in multiple sessions, just like a floppy drive or hard disc drive.

Writing data to a CD is fast, and CDs are reliable, if stored and used properly. Blank discs are now inexpensive enough to make several backups to use if scratches or other damage make copies unusable.

The computer industry took the final step needed to eliminate the floppy drive last year by agreeing on the so-called Mount Rainier format (www.mt-rainier.org) for CD burning. It makes the technology for CD burning easier to use.

CD burners once were optional items for people buying a new computer. They now are becoming “musts,” and are standard items on many new computers.

A burner will allow you to walk away from the technology that time forgot, and ditch those floppy diskettes right now.



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