Floppy drives reach old age
Very few new laptops come with a floppy drive.
ATLANTA (AP) -- When Michael McCreary bought three new computers for his company, he had no need for one of the oldest and most common computer technologies, the floppy drive.
But like many computer customers, he ended up buying floppies anyway. After all, they're cheap and he still has a few of the 3.5-inch disks lying around.
"As long as I need those files, I need a floppy drive around. Then I can toss them," said McCreary, the president of an eight-employee Atlanta-area real estate management company. "The next computers I buy probably won't even have a floppy."
Long the most common way to store letters, homework and other computer files, the floppy is going the way of the horse upon the arrival of the car: it'll hang around but never hold the same relevance in everyday life.
And good riddance, say some home computer users. The march of technology must go on.
Like the penny, the floppy drive is hardly worth the trouble, computer makers say.
Dell Computer Corp. stopped including a floppy drive in new computers in spring 2003, and Gateway Inc. has followed suit on some models. Floppies are available on request for $10 to $20 extra.
"To some customers out there, it's like a security blanket," said Dell spokesman Lionel Menchaca. "Every computer they've ever had has had a floppy, so they still feel the need to order a floppy drive."
A few customers have complained when they found their new computers don't have floppy drives, but it's becoming uncommon as they realize the benefits of newer technologies, Menchaca said. Almost all new laptops don't come with a floppy.
More and more people are willing to say goodbye to the venerable floppy, said Gateway spokeswoman Lisa Emard.
"As long as we see customers request it, we'll continue to offer it," she said. "We'll be happy to move off the floppy once our customers are ready to make that move."
Some people may hesitate to abandon the floppy just because they're so comfortable with it, said Tarun Bhakta, president of Vision Computers outside Atlanta, one of the largest computer retailers in the South.
At his store, the basic computer model comes with all necessary equipment, but no floppy.
"People say they want a floppy drive, and then I ask them, 'When was the last time you used it?' A lot of the time, they say, 'Never,"' Bhakta said.
But plenty of regular, everyday computer users don't want to let their floppies go.
"For my children, they can work at school and at home. I think they're a pretty good idea," said shopper Mark Ordway.
"I just want something simple for me and my husband to use," said Pat Blaisdell.
The floppy disk has several replacements, including writeable compact discs and keychain flash memory devices. Both can hold much more data and are less likely to break.
Even so, floppies have been around since the late 1970s. People are used to them. They were the oldest form of removable storage still around.
"There's always some nostalgia," said Scott Wills, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Georgia Tech who has held on to an old 8-inch floppy disk. "It's a technology I'm glad to be rid of. I'd never label them, and I never knew what any of them were until I put them in and looked."
In a sense, it's amazing floppy disks have hung around for this long.
They only hold 1.44 megabytes of space -- still enough for word processing documents but little else. By comparison, CDs store upward of 700 megabytes, and the flash memory drives typically carry between 64 and 256 megabytes.
And it's been a long time since floppy disks were even floppy. They used to come in a bendable plastic casing and were 5.25 inches wide, but Apple Computer Inc. pioneered the smaller, higher density disks with its Macintosh computers in the mid-1980s.
Then Apple become the first mass-market computer manufacturer to stop including floppy drives altogether with the release of their iMac model in 1998.
"It's not officially dead, but there's no question it's a slow demise," said Tim Bajarin, principle analyst for Creative Strategies, a technology consulting firm near San Jose, Calif. "You had a few people ... who were screaming, but in a short time, they adjusted."
It may not be too many years before floppy disks are joined by DVDs. Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently predicted the DVD would be obsolete within a decade.