Game Changer: Was it the Right Decision to Discontinue Floppy Disk?

The question of whether it was the right decision to discontinue the Floppy Disk in favor of the CD, DVD, USB and cloud computing is akin to asking whether it was the right decision to kill the typewriter in favor of the PC? The floppy rose and fell in the same way that technologies before it did. It rose because it had certain distinct advantages and fell in 2010 with Sony halting all production because the floppy couldn’t keep up with the qualitatively better offerings of its competitors.


Humble Origins


The floppy disk drive was developed by Alan Shugart of the IBM in 1967. Its miniscule but still useful 360 kilobytes of space on the 5.25-inch disk peaked at 1.44 MB for the more compact 3.5-inch disk.

Reliable Data Storage in The Pre-Internet and Early-Internet Eras


Floppy disks became popular because they were the first relatively reliable data storage and exchange option that made it possible to move data between computers in the un-networked, largely pre-internet era. The 8 inch, 5¼-inch and 3½-inch avatars of the floppy enjoyed somewhat of a golden age in the nineties. Thousands of industrial machines with long life-spans including US nuclear weapons launch systems were designed to read data in the miniscule 1.44 MB offered by the floppy.


Crippling Space Constraints and Competitors Who Could Do Better?


But this crippling space constraint of the floppy was on borrowed time right from the outset. Visionaries like the late great Steve Jobs were imagining a world where users could seamlessly save and transfer vast amounts of data across personal computers. And in 1998, Apple released the iMacG3 without a floppy drive, a scandal at the time, and with a USB. The recently invented USB sticks could store enormous amounts of data with the lowest 16MB stick storing as much as 10 floppy disks. The USB sticks were also long lasting (upto 10 years), extremely


The widespread circulation of the CD and burning software enabled a faster transfer of larger amounts of data and long-term retention as against the floppy’s greater vulnerability to scratches, falls and dust particles.


The Floppy- A Dinosaur That Went Extinct


The floppy became a severely limiting and sometimes unreliable technology in the eyes of the public. It eventually became a dinosaur of the pre-internet and early-internet ages and is today only used by legacy machines built around it that are too big to scrap.


Merciless Dynamism of Technology


The floppy’s endangered status and road to extinction are part of the ebb and flow of technology. One day memory sticks and cloud computing will also be history as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly sophisticated at understanding us and our data. So Sony’s discontinuing of the floppy appears to have been the right decision.