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Also called a diskette, a floppy disk is the magnetic storage medium used to store and transfer data, usually between personal computers that are not networked.
Floppy disks were large, rectangular storage mediums. The earliest variety were 8 inches, with flat, soft plastic sides. These were eventually reduced in size to the 5 ¼ inch disks most popular in the early days of personal computing. Though smaller, they were still flexible and easily damaged. By the late 1980s, the 3 ½ inch floppy became the dominant storage medium, featuring a hard plastic case over the still-floppy magnetic recording surface. These were much easier to handle and more resilient.
Modern computers no longer use floppy disks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I still use a floppy disk?
Some older computers still support floppy disks, but new computers will not come with this option. It may still be possible to read older floppies using a USB external floppy drive, though these will only support 3 ½ inch floppies, and the information must be readable by a modern operating system.
Why are floppy disks no longer used?
Floppy disks had very limited storage capacity and were easily damaged. The highest capacity floppy disk only stored 2.88 MB. By comparison, flash drives can store several hundred gigabytes of data. Floppy disks were also highly sensitive to heat and could easily be damaged if not properly handled. Even the 3 ½ inch disks enclosed in hard plastic were easily ruined if the metal slide door was damaged. Modern external storage devices, such as flash drives, are considerably smaller and more durable. In addition, the rise of cloud storage has made all but the largest-capacity external storage devices obsolete.
How did floppy disks store large files or programs?
At the time floppy disks were popular, most files were well under their 1.44 or 2.88 MB capacity. Even high-resolution digital photos rarely exceeded this limit. Program files, which on occasion were larger, could be spread out over several floppy disks, often requiring the user to replace one disk for another either during the installation process or while operating the disk’s application. This was particularly common in games, which sometimes made users switch disks once they reached a certain level. As applications became larger, many of them moved to higher-capacity CD-ROMs, leaving floppy disks primarily for storage. But as technology has changed, screen sizes have increased, and users have demanded higher quality, even the sizes of our storage files have grown far beyond the limits of floppy disks.