Before there were portable USB drives and DVD-Rs that could hold mountains of data, there was the floppy disk. Today, they are a relic of a simpler era, when the only computer files you’d need to transport from one computer to another were word documents and maybe, once in a blue moon, the occasional image file. By comparison, we now transfer music and movies and everything in between.
So, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that floppy disks are a dying breed, though it may surprise some that they still exist at all. Sony recently announced that it would stop producing floppy disks once and for all by March 2011. The electronics company is responsible for 70% of the floppy disk market and, according to The Telegraph, they actually sold a remarkable 12 million floppy disks in Japan last year. But now Sony is calling it quits over a lack of demand.
Floppy disks were created in the 1970s and heavily marketed through the 1980s and 90s. For those too young to remember, they came in two varieties – the 5 1/4 inch disk, which was floppy and easy to break, and the 3 1/2 inch disk, which was sturdier and maxed out at 1.44 megabytes of space, which one tech blog notes could barely hold a minute of audio. A CD-R typically holds more than 700 megabytes and a DVD-R holds more than 4,300 megabytes of data in comparison. By 1996, there were about 5 billion floppy disks in circulation.
In a way, floppies were essentially cassette tapes for computers: They were portable, easy to use and they featured a small label which people could use as a label. But, unlike cassette tapes, the nostalgia for these items has seemingly worn thin, and now that the price of recordable CDs and DVDs is so cheap, there seems to be no incentive to buy them. In fact, PC World notes that if you added up the space on the 12 million disks sold in Japan last year, it would hold just 17 gigabytes of data, which is still less than a single Blu-Ray disk.
So the obvious question here is who still uses floppy disks, and why? PC World reports that much of the lingering demand for the technology comes from the “education and research sectors.” It’s a pretty safe bet that these are places that have been slow to upgrade to better computers, because the vast majority of machines no longer have floppy drives.