Someone has to break it to you, and that person is me.
It’s over. You waited too long. You procrastinated or made excuses or otherwise didn’t think about it or care. You didn’t do anything and it’s too late now.
I’m talking about Floppy Disks. And I mean the five-and-a-quarter (5 1/4″) floppy disks that actually are somewhat floppy and which are long and flat and which were the mainstay of home computing for well up and over a decade, back then. A decade, I hope I’ve made clear, that means quite a bit to me. And the history, the thoughts and dreams and knowledge and information that people put onto those floppy disks with a grinding noise and a large LED lighting up and flickering? It’s gone. Three-and-a-half-inch floppy disks, which are not really floppy at all and which got a real hayday in the waning years of the 1980s and the 1990s? Not as gone as the fives but definitely in bed in the ward that things go into but don’ t really come out of, but which you can still visit, if you remember to.
If you still have boxes of floppies sitting in your attic or basement or grandparents’ place or wherever else, I’m telling you the days of it being a semi-dependable storehouse are over. It’s been too long, too much, and you’ve asked too much of what the floppies were ever designed to do. If you or someone helping you gets data off of it, then it’s luck and chance, not engineering and proper expectation. A lot of promises were made back then, very big promises about the dependability, and by most standards, those promises came out pretty darn good – it has often been the case of extracting data from floppies long after the company that wrote the software, that made the computer, that manufactured the disk drive parts, and manufactured the disk have gone into the Great Not Here. You could be a totally different person, with people who you helped create running around your feet and many years younger than these floppies, and you could pull data off them to show the little people what their parent was up to so long ago. Maybe even get them excited about their turn at the screen and keyboard when the time came. It was like getting two sodas for one buck out of the soda machine. Cool!
No longer. Edge cases exist, and will always exist, but the ship is sinking; it’s not seaworthy. With some perseverance and faced against all the odds stacked against you, something might get out of these poor black squares, but I would not count on it.
Why am I telling you this?
I am telling you this because I am grabbing you by the fucking collar and shaking very hard because it is obvious you need to be shaken very hard and told that this is it. This is the endgame for floppies. We went over the hump, and the chances of rescue are slim to none now, but there are still chances. It’s a chance that needs to be taken now.
If you have an archive or cache or hoard of floppies, you need to get in touch with me. I will help get the data off of them for you, whatever piecemeal amount is still thriving on there. We’ll get errors up the wazoo, and some of them will be simply unreasonable, but it has to be done, I have to try.
Archiving history is now my full time job. Let me tell you how much I love that. I love it THIS MUCH.
So I’m throwing myself into the fire. I have people who have said they’ll step forward and help this happen. We can transfer the data off the floppies, get a hold of history before it goes into the zero device. Get in touch with me.
And please, one other group.
There are libraries, archives and collections out there with floppies. They probably never got funding or time to take the data off – there’s a great chance the floppies are considered plain old acquisition items and objects, like books or a brooch or a duvet cover. They’re not. They’re temporary storage spaces for precious data that has faded beyond retrieval. If nobody got around to pulling that information off, then a fundamental goal of many of these places dissolved under their noses and they’ve failed. I’m willing to forgive and forget, myself, if we can just ferret out these caches and help the items get into a more stable state. (As an aside, the conclusions of this study are wrong, although I appreciate the effort.)
Help me with this, before it’s too late. Because it is too late.
Help me now.
Update: There’s now a page on the Archive Team Wiki that I have created to give people options and information about the transfer of floppy disks into a more modern storage location. Please read or contribute.
Categorised as: computer history
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