The disks were created by IBM in 1971. Other companies, notably BASF began making their own versions. The original could store only 90 K to 110 K. While the original were almost 8 inches, the 5 ¼ diskettes became more popular. The time came when the 8 inch disk became obsolete and the 5 ¼ became the standard for IBM computers.
Limitations of the 5 ¼ Disk
During the late 1970s to early 1980s the 5 ¼ became the standard. However, technological innovations would change the history of floppy disks.
The disks were used for running programs. However the software grew in complexity and size. The 360 K storage was no longer enough. The appearance of hard disks also made them unnecessary for running programs.
They became used for backing up files and distributing software. But even then they had limitations. Even when the size was increased to 1.2 M there were several problems. One of them was that it was easily damaged. It was very thin and the slightest pressure could break it. Accidentally touching the surface could result in data loss.
The 3 ½ Disk
To solve the problem computer companies developed a 3 ½ inch diskette. This would alter the history of floppy disks forever. The new disk offered several advantages over the old 5 1/4. It could store more data (up to 1.44 MB). In addition it was much smaller making it easy to carry around. It was encased in plastic. This meant touching the surface wouldn’t damage it. The plastic also ensured that it was protected from dust and scratching.
Introduced in the late 1980s, they would eventually replace the 5 ¼ disk. By the mid 1990s, the 5 ¼ had disappeared from almost all computers sold.
While the 3 ½ diskette held sway for several years, it would suffer the same fate as the 5 ¼ disk. Hard disks were getting larger, leading to bigger programs and applications. The 1.44 MB space used to be enough to store programs. Now it wasn’t enough to store documents, pictures and other files.
Zip Drives and CD R / RW Discs
The final chapter of the history of floppy disks came with the introduction of Zip Drives, CD R and CD RW discs. The Zip drives could store over 100 MB of data. These appeared in 1994. They were popular initially but were superseded by the CD R and CD RWs. These discs could store over 650 MB of data. The new discs became perfect for storing files and making music CDs.
Even now the CD R / RW are becoming obsolete with the emergence of DVD discs that can store over 4 GB of data. As music videos and films become available for download, these disks are expected to become standards.
The history of floppy disks is an example of how quickly technology continues to change. While it may be obsolete it can make for a fascinating study.