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Sun, Jun. 5th, 2016, 03:05 pm
Did the floppy disk, & diskette drives, die before their time?

I almost never saw 2.8MB floppy drives.

I know they were out there. The later IBM PS/2 machines used them, and so did some Unix workstations, but the 2.8MB format -- quad or extended density -- never really took off.

It did seem to me that if the floppy companies & PC makers had actually adopted them wholesale, the floppy disk as a medium might have survived for considerably longer.

The 2.8MB drives never really took off widely, so the media remained expensive, ISTM -- and thus little software was distributed on the format, because few machines could read it.

By 1990 there was an obscure and short-lived 20MB floptical diskette format:


Then in 1994 came 100MB Zip disks, which for a while were a significant format -- I had Macs with built-in-as-standard Zip drives.

Then the 3½" super floptical drives, the Imation SuperDisk in 1997, 144MB Caleb UHD144 in early 1998 and then 150MB Sony HiFD in late 1998.

(None of these later drives could read 2.8MB diskettes, AFAIK.)

After that, writable CDs got cheap enough to catch on, and USB Flash media mostly has killed them off now.

If the 2.8 had taken off, and maybe even intermediate ~6MB and ~12MB formats -- was that feasible? -- before the 20MB ones, well, with widespread adoption, there wouldn't have been an opening for the Zip drive, and the floppy drive might have remained a significant and important medium for another decade.

I didn't realise that the Zip drive eventually got a 750MB version, presumably competing with Iomega's own 1GB Jaz drive. If floppy drives had got into that territory, could they have even fended off CDs? Rewritable CDs always were a pain. They were a one-shot medium and thus inconvenient and expensive -- write on one machine, use a few times at best, then throw away.

I liked floppies. I enjoy playing with my ancient Sinclair computers, but loading from tape cassette is just a step too far. I remember the speed and convenience when I got my first Spectrum disk drive, and I miss it. Instant loading from an SD drive just isn't the same. I don't use them on PCs any more -- I don't have a machine with a floppy drive in this country -- but for 8-bits, two drives with a meg or so of storage was plenty. I used them long after most people, if only for updating BIOSes and so on.

Mon, Jun. 6th, 2016 02:45 pm (UTC)

A comment from Chuck Guzis on ClassicCmp points out that:

> When ED floppies were released to the
> general unwashed public, integrated FDCs largely could not handle the
> 1Mbps data rate, so adopting the format meant changing the FDC (fraught
> with problems if said FDC was integrated into the motherboard) and
> buying a new drive and expensive media.

The HD 3.5" (1.4MB under MS-DOS) floppy itself was a big leap from the DD (720kB) one. Most of the 16-bitters never made it: the disk controllers of the Atari ST, Amiga, etc. couldn't handle it. AFAIK there's only one ZX Spectrum interface that did -- the Czech MB02:


I must confess I rather fancy one. :-)

So, yes, ED was a big step, but so was HD in its time. I think the IBM PS/2 (1987) was the origin, right?

And there was never a 720kB IBM standard, only on things like Apricots.

According to Wikipedia...


... the 3.5" timeline was:

* 1983 -- SS/DD
* 1984 -- DS/DD, probably the most widespread
* 1986 -- HD, the PC standard
* 1987 -- ED, the 2.8MB ones that didn't catch on
* 1991 -- 21MB floptical
* 1994 -- 100MB Zip
* 1996 -- 120MB floptical
* 1997 -- 240MB floptical

That gap from '87 to the equally unsuccessful 21MB format, was the killer, IMHO. If everyone had adopted the ~3MB disks, it might have lived, but that probably wasn't enough on its own. Thus my speculation as to whether pure magnetic ~6MB diskettes might have been viable around 1988-1989 and ~12MB ones around 1990.

Wed, Jun. 8th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)

Several improved floppy drives inspired by the ED were announced. Toshiba proposed but never shipped a design that would have taken capacity to about 10 MB. Brier Technology had a design that stored about 20 MB and could read earlier floppy disks with a mechanism that needed two connectors (IDE and floppy). US Patent # 5,434,722 suggests that Brier was planning to read 2.88 MB disks but I don't think the shipping version could.