Storage

Members weigh in on the usefulness of floppy drives

The floppy disk drive has been a computing staple since before PCs joined the scene. But is it time to let them die? Read on to see what your peers are saying.


You know you're picking a fight when you suggest eliminating a venerable computing icon like the floppy disk drive. But that's exactly what I did in my previous Member Debate column, "Drive a stake through floppy drives and be done with them." My arguments were simple: (1) Floppy disk drives are no longer needed for transferring files or for modern OS installations, and (2) removing floppy drives from corporate PCs would increase security and cut down on support. To drive the point home, I noted that my iMac didn't even come with a floppy disk drive, and I haven't once missed having one in the two years since I bought it.

TechRepublic members were quick to respond, and it turns out that many also believe the floppy should be put out to pasture, mainly because CD-Rs are cheap and floppy drives are just one more piece of equipment that could fail. There were however, other members who came to the floppy's defense. "What about tradition? What about the little files? What about size and backward compatibility? Are you nuts?" cried floppy-disk fans.

Trade in floppies for Zip disks, CDs, DVDs, and USB devices
Looking to the future, Darawork suggested that tiny USB storage devices that fit on a key ring may soon be the preferred way to transfer small files. However, these little gadgets are still a bit pricey.

JMTek offers several portable USB drives ranging from $40 for 16 MB of space to $900 for 1 GB. Check out USBdrive for more information. M-systems offers similar products at comparable prices that hold up to 128 MB. Go to DiskOnKey more information on these devices.

Other members, like Buildguy, suggested replacing the floppy drive with an ATAPI Zip drive. This approach offers a bootable alternative with a quicker data transfer rate than a floppy drive.

Because of their low cost and high capacity, CD-ROM drives have become a required peripheral on most PCs. Some members even suggested a CD-ROM burner drive can be used to replace the floppy disk drive.

"I pay over $.40 cents for floppies, but around $.20 for CD-Rs. That, for me, is another argument in favor of getting rid of the floppy," wrote Starwarsdad. Obviously, he's as frugal as I am.

"For all intents and purposes, they are giving away CD-Rs," wrote William Nichols. "Unless you need to archive with floppies, say good-bye!"

Even archiving to a floppy disk is no longer practical, some would say. Many modern files are just too large for a 1.44-MB floppy disk. "You really can't store anything on them [floppies]," Philospher wrote, adding that Zip disks, CDs, and DVDs are the future.

Floppies still serve a purpose
While many members were ready to dump the floppy, others passionately defended the floppy drive's usefulness. These IT pros hailed the floppy drive as a tried and true friend of computer users everywhere and considered me crazy for thinking of eliminating this near-sacred device. Docotis asked, "Does Mr. Walton have a similar distain for paper and pencil?"

Ouch!

"As cheap and ubiquitous as the floppy drive is, it's going to be around for a long time," another member wrote. "There is no substitute when you want to quickly just hand someone a file who's on their way out the door or to move a given .dll from one PC to another that's not yet networked."

Member tAz666 offered a whole list of reasons the floppy still has value. These included:
  • A floppy is the only thing that will plug into the floppy disk drive slot on a motherboard and it uses very few resources on the computer.
  • You need a floppy for backwards compatibility issues.
  • "Try slipping an essential CD in your shirt pocket."
  • Floppy disks are quick and easy, and nearly everyone has one.
  • Floppies are a piece of PC history that deserves to live on.

Several people mentioned that drivers often come on floppy disks and that disaster recovery or virus protection software nearly always uses a floppy disk for a clean system start. Comparing a floppy drive's cost to that of a rather extravagant trip to McDonalds, Mmcarthur believed the floppy drive is a cheap insurance policy.

Maybe it's just tradition
As with many technology devices, the floppy drive is headed toward obsolescence. But for many techs, the floppy drive remains a functional and beloved PC component. With such dedicated support, it's unlikely that floppy drives and disks will disappear anytime soon. Perhaps Dk.brown came closest to what most people think about the issue when he wrote, "I just feel too weird about not keeping the floppy drive myself. Although I almost never use it, I do on occasion."

You can still join the debate!
Are there reasons that you didn't see mentioned here for or against including a floppy drive in a new computer? You can still join the debate and share your thoughts on the subject.

 

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox