Why the floppy disk still is valid

Aah, the floppy disk. It’s square, it’s bendable – it’s undoubtedly floppy. It’s fanning capabilities has cooled down even the most basement bound nerd on a hot summer’s day and it’s orchestral noise has given hope to many of the same computer geeks attempting to rescue their mother-in-law’s virus ridden Windows 98 computer using the very utilitarian boot disk. Wait, who am I kidding? They don’t have a mother-in-law, but maybe their non-geeky friend does have one – a mother I mean… you get my drift.

I want to make the case that this magnetic square disk hidden away in a sturdy plastic cover isn’t as antiquated as manufacturers and USB flash drive manufacturers want to suggest. I mean – they have a point that there are USB drives soon almost reaching the 1TB threshold and there is the cloud, CDs, DVDs, blurays, or why not just having a portable hard drive with up to two or even three terabytes of data capability goodness?  Or why not just store it in your web based email system? After all Google offers you gigabytes of storage nowadays. It’s easy to just email something to yourself and keep doing that back and forth between home, school, and work. You must think I’ve gone nuts suggesting there is room for this obsolete piece of square frees bee matter in today’s hyper modern society. But hear me out here.

First there is the element of trust. Do we trust cloud computing companies like dropbox to without a shadow of a doubt hold our files forever? What happens if they have a server leak and ten years of your tax returns you’ve painstakingly saved as a *.pdf file suddenly just disappears. Will the cloud computing company be held accountable for their actions? Do they have backup? Is there any way if the unthinkable happens you’d think you have any chance of getting what’s yours back to you intact or getting any reimbursement or settlement if you can’t? The end user agreement is long – have you really read it? No you most certainly have not, and now you’re going to be turned into a Human Cent-iPad (obscure South Park TV reference) – I’ve already called the team and they’re on their way.

Okay, so cloud based storage maybe isn’t the most secure. What about CDs, DVDs, or bluray? It is a more modern media and all bluray players can read CDs – they will most likely be around for a while longer so why not? Given that most of these storage media is not re-writable and most of it works funky even when it is labelled RW maybe this isn’t the best way to store the same ten years of your tax returns? I mean, you’d like to add next year’s return as well? And what about that W2 from 1999 you recently found and want to add to your file system? This is an issue of inflexibility that most other storage methods do not suffer from. Actually before the CD came along there were very few mass storage methods – portable or otherwise – that were not re-writable. To add to that – burning a CD is not really something you do in just two seconds before you run off to school or work. This takes a little time as it has to both write and verify the information it just wrote. For being a more modern method it sure has many inconvenient factors. Never mention that RW deal that usually requires some type of 3rd party software to make it run smoothly – no thanks smartypants. Besides – these things scratch – but since you’re a very structured person this is not an issue you’ll face.

What about the USB flash drive then? It is small, it’s portable, re-writable, and it can hold way more information than the floppy? It’s a slam dunk deal and the case should close here. Wait, before you send the men in the white coats after me I’d like you to consider two things that’s becoming increasingly important for the modern information archive – conformity and ability to archive many of them. The main issue here is that there is no uniform standard for how a USB flash drive should look. There is nothing that governs the form factor, which means that it is very difficult to store many of them in an orderly fashion in any place. After all, you may not have the luxury of finding the same manufacturer or model every time you buy a flash drive. This means that there are no storage boxes produced meant to carry several drives. This means you throw them in a drawer, which means that you will lose them – because you’re clumsy and your office is a mess. Good luck! Another issue with these flash devices is that most of them have no space for labeling. This means that if you have more of them you have to guess which one contains your tax returns and which one contains your Great American Novel masterpiece. This just isn’t a secure solution for archival storage.

Aha, you say, I’ll just save it all on my portable USB hard drive. This surely must make him shut up about these ridiculous square pieces! The problem with these is that they’re just too big and you’ll be tempted to use it for more than just your important documents. This makes it an unreliable storage solution as you’re constantly tampering with the file structure of the drive. It’s an easy storage medium to discredit as reliable. These type of storage devices are better for storing your home movies or digital photographs and not your tax returns from 1996-1999.

This is not without saying that floppy disks are not without their faults. However, they are a self contained small file storage medium – and for storing documents like Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, notepad text documents, text scanned *.pdf files, and other small file types they are perfect. The one big drawback with a storage medium utilizing a magnetic disc such as the floppy is just that – magnetic interference. But since you’re a very methodical tax filer you’ve labelled your floppy disk as “TAX RETURNS 1996,” put it in your designed floppy disk cabinet where you keep your other similarly labelled floppies in a very structured manner so that you can easily flip back and forth between them, and put the box in a safe dark and cool spot where they’ll outlast even the most persistent CD. Your tax return disks are safe from scratches, dust, and general mishandling and abuse. If you bought one from a good manufacturer these things will also last for decades. If the country suffers an EMP blast, however, you’re out of luck but will likely face larger problems than finding your tax returns from 1984.

So if anything these things still have a good place in society. It’s a lack of structured thinking that has marked them as obsolete. There are storage devices that are larger, theoretically more secure, and fit into an archive just perfectly. They all, however, have major drawbacks that make them inappropriate in one way or another. The floppy disk offers a self-contained small storage environment that nothing else offers. The floppy disk still has a place to fill and therefore it is most VALID as a modern time storage medium. In all honesty they also do look rather sharp. So if we could just all sing in peace and harmony and just all agree that floppy disks in fact are awesome, then that would be great!

Besides – the drives make wonderful music instruments!

Advertisements