Floppy disks: headed for the museum, or treasured home for your data? When Sony said this week it was halting the production of floppy disks, the Magazine set out to discover who still buys and uses this anachronistic computer storage medium.
Would you believe floppies keep many of these in the air?
More than 1,000 readers e-mailed in response to
the Magazine's request
to explain their attachment to the once universally popular 3.5" diskettes. Many pointed out floppies are needed to access even newer computers' deepest innards - their Bios. (A surprising number also enjoyed pointing out the South African term for floppies - stiffies - though let's not dwell too long on that.)
Here are 40 explanations for why floppy disks are still needed.
1. I regularly buy floppy disks. I own a pub with a retro theme and I use them as beer mats.
Shaun Garrod, Ashby de la Soul
2. I am an artist from London and I use floppy disks to produce my paintings. I tile them up as canvases. The personal information on each disk is forever locked under the paint, but the labels are left as a clue. I use the circular hubs on the reverse for eyes!
Nick Gentry, London
3. In the aviation industry they are still used to update firmware on ticket printers.
4. Not as much a user as an owner of a great many floppies, I was planning to tile the roof of my shed with them (using the two existing corner holes to take the nails) until my wife forbade it.
Erik Ga Bean, Stevenage, England
5. I work for a national high-street based business. We still use floppies in many sites for back-ups. Believe it or not we are still running MS-DOS on most of our till systems. We get through hundreds if not into the thousands each year.
Matt Sparks, Birmingham
6. Have you seen the cost of clays for skeet shooting? Pull!
Paul Taylor, St.Helens England
7. A huge number of CNC [computer numerical control] machines for metalworking and manufacture use floppies because their instruction sets are small enough to fit on the disks. In these areas a floppy is far hardier than a CD or even a USB pen-drive.
Peter M, Wirral, UK
8. Drilling holes on four sides and interlocking them with industrial clips, I have created a retro futurist sliding curtain for a client's loft. Monochromatic colour floppies with occasional accents of bright red and yellow give different moods on sunny days or ambient lighting by night. On them are stored formulas and theories of leading edge scientists...
9. Believe it or not, most if not all ATM (cashpoint) programming is installed direct to the machine from a floppy disk. With all of the ATMs available in just the UK with many additional copies made to support each machine in a region... this could amount to a huge stockpile of disks hanging around for each bank and/or private ATM manufacturer.
10. My band released our first single on a floppy as a gimmick last year. It took us quite a while to find somewhere that actually sold them anymore.
Chris Bennigsen, Manchester
11. I buy these little beauties for a quite different reason. The floppy disk costs an average of £3.66 for 200, however they have a resale value of £5.50 at any good computer recycling centre, so I buy them in bulk and simply sell them directly at a profit. Take that, Bill Gates.
12. I still buy and use floppies for my electronic organ and some older synthesizers. Many professional keyboardists still own older synthesizers for their unique design and sheer power.
Nick Chan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
13. I put handles on them and sell them as spatulas. I sell thousands of them a year.
Stan Russell, Squatney, Delaware - USA
14. I work with a lot of printing companies here in the place that invented the "floppy," and despite communicating with them via e-mail, they insist on having final document copies posted to them on a floppy. Why? Floppies are easy to mail, cheap and easily replaceable, and somehow give the impression of document security that e-mail attachments don't.
Matt Apple, Nara, Japan
15. I buy about 100,000 floppies per year as I have a business that makes them into drinks mats, fridge magnets and toast racks.
Ken Pork, London
16. In the automotive industry in the US many plastic parts are made in machines that are 20-30 years old. I go through floppies fairly regularly because we'll need to access a robot or punch press or milling machine or something else that has no other form of external media access.
17. I have a stack of old 3.5" floppies I keep in a box. They work perfectly for adjusting a bookshelf or the like set up on carpet. If the bookshelf tilts, I just slide floppies under the appropriate corners until it's upright.
Greg Goebel, Loveland CO USA
18. I've always used an old floppy disk as an ice scraper for the car, just the right combination of rigidity and flexibility. Just don't use the side with the metal sleeve on. They last about a year before they need replacing from my endless pile from the 1990s.
Chris, Swindon, UK
19. The government here still uses floppies to process employee and employer data every month. Just imagine you have to do this every month in a year for every company in my country and there you go: a million or so floppies.
20. As a blind computer technician and computer enthusiast I find floppy disks essential. I have developed a lot of small batch utilities and use floppy disks as I can more easily tell if the disk is loading up, for instance the click and hum of the drive is something I can hear and by its sounds, I know what is happening.
Ibrahim Gucukoglu, Peterborough UK
21. As a telecoms engineer, I have to add that there is still some test equipment out there that logs data only to floppy disks. The disks are such a pain to work with, but it's not like you can throw out a $330,000 piece of test equipment because you don't like the way it outputs its data.
22. There are thousands of DOS-based computers running machinery in the print industry and all the software updates are on floppy disks.
Alan Head, Canvey Island ,UK
23. I'll tell you who still uses them: schools in the US. I've needed one - just one - each year for my (now) third grader.
Valarie, Dallas, Texas
24. The social security administration of Panama requires that the "mechanised" version of their declarations, submitted by all contributors to the health care/retirement system every month, be written on a floppy.
Anita Bonita, Palma Real, Rep of Panama
25. An unusual use is sewing machines - there are top-end models that accept embroidery designs stored either on a special cartridge on floppy disk.
26. I use a multitude of coloured floppies as a fashion statement, as part of outfits I make. The pieces I create are for cyberpunk/goth outfits.
Alexandra "Chii", Yorktown, Virginia, USA
27. Romania's fiscal agency still requests documents on floppy to process taxes. Mystery solved.
28. Floppy disks are ideal "floppy table" stabilisers, whether in the dining room or on the patio. They are also good for wedges filling in gaps where wood has to be cut. I have also embossed them in a cement pathway in a splendid "talked about feature" as they are of no use whatsoever for storage.
Gerry Roberts, Breaston/Derby, UK
29. People like my father are the ones who buy floppies. No matter how hard you try you cannot get him to use CD or USB technology. He is "old school" and likes the idea that you can still label and catalogue floppies like paper based files.
Darien, Marlborough MA, USA
30. I know for a fact National Milk Records (NMR) still use floppy disks for dairy recordings and many farmers use the plug-in USB disk drives to still use the floppy format with their system, including my old man.
31. I run a business that deals a lot with local and central government departments, and a lot of them still require documents on floppy, and won't even take documents by e-mail. Quaint, but typically British - 20 years behind the times.
Paul, Milton Keynes, UK
32. In Peru we have to declare our taxes through a special software; if you are an employer, you should pay the income tax and the employees' taxes on separate "forms", and this software only allows to save one form per disk (you take the disk to the bank and there you present it in the same way you present the telephone bill, for example, and pay). Floppies must be sold in the tens of thousands in my country for that sole reason.
Ariel, Callao, Peru
33. The Ministry of Defence and all three armed services use them for HR purposes on each individual's annual appraisal report.
Captain Birdseye, London
34. These are still used within the rail industry for backing up data systems. Very handy for the job that they do.
35. Sad to say but there are a lot of ancient computers in church and school offices, and the old lady at the church or the school runs it the same as she did 20 years ago, so the floppy is her tool of choice. I donated a couple of newer used PCs to the church and had to take the floppy drives out of the old systems and put them in the new systems for her. Simply amazing.
Barry, Dayton Ohio, USA
36. Many aircraft use the floppy medium to transfer the monthly navigation database updates to the aircraft's navigation systems. Also to update software on non-critical aircraft systems. There's lots of aircraft out there and the floppy has to be a new one for each data transfer. So still a lot of demand.
Peter Whittingham, Sharjah UAE
37. Recently I decided to lay down some new concrete walkways at my home, and came upon the idea to grind up floppies (along with some other plastics) to mix in with the concrete. The addition of the fibres makes for a stronger concrete, and looks interesting as well.
New Orleans, LA, USA
38. Here in Mexico, IMSS (social security hospitals) requires every employer to send the files of new employees via floppy.
Jorge Escobar, Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico
39. In the film industry, many telecine machines (for scanning film to tape) output meta-data onto a floppy disk. These machines are very expensive so they're not something that's upgraded on a frequent basis.
Jon, Los Angeles, CA, USA
40. My company still uses floppy disks by the tonne load. We transfer the drawings files from PC onto them, and this is turn is loaded onto our K2 cutting machine that creates the wooden structures for houses. One floppy per customer adds up to a lot of disks.
Rob Wheeler, Heathfield