September 12th, 2014

Macbeth the Usurper

5.25-inch Floppy Disks

The 5 1/4 inch floppy disk was once the mainstay of compterdom. These thin things kept all our data safe and secure, or as safe and secure as you could get, in the days before hard drives, and even well into the days of hard drive. All software came on these disks. All the games that you copied from your friends sat on these disks. You had boxes and boxes of these disks sitting about. And when the time came to die, they stubbornly refused to die, sticking around for years afterwards, put into combo drives with the 3.25" disk drives.

You bought these things in boxes of ten, with the boxes doubling as storage boxes. The nicer disks came in plastic storage boxes. If that wasn't enough, there were any number of desktop disk holders which let you organize boxes and boxes with of disks. Once ubiqutious, they are now inexplicable artifacts of our society. Meanwhile, some folks got plastic sheets and filed their software into binders. Those were the organization freakshows and a true embarassment to all cool geekdom. In the image below, I had some of those cases, such as the clear one on the left and the beige one on the right.

Disks came unlabled along with a sheet of disk labels. You wrote on the labels, preferably, then stuck them on your disk so that you would know what was on it. Usually you had disks and disks of software, one application per disk, so you didn't have much to write on them. "Turbo Pascal," for instance, took up a single disk. Often, programs were far smaller than their disks, so you assembled many onto a single floppy. Yes, software was that small at one point. You only had 256k-640k to run everything. Even high/extended memory didn't solve that problem.

Floppy drives were audibly noisy. I still reflexively count the bumps as a floppy format, counting the tracks. You have no double about whether a floppy drive is working or isn't. There's a viceral pleasure to that. You hear the tracks go buzz-buzz, while the turning disk goes wish-wish. Happiness with an iron-oxide coating.

Eventually the 5.25's were displaced by the 3.25" hard floppy drives. They held more and were smaller. They stored better in vinyl sheets. I first saw them on Apples, but I don't know where they actually first appeared. They took a while to displace the 5.25's.

I dumped all my disks a long time ago. Although having them might seem cool, nostalgic even, I only have so much room in my house. Although I enjoy collecting, I don't care at all about having. The fun of collecting is in the search. Once something hangs around enough, I get annoyed at it and shove it out the door. I leave it to the collectors to collect.