The history of the floppy disk is quite straightforward. It was invented by a team of IBM researchers led by Alan Shugart. The chief designer of Shugart’s team was David Noble. The first floppy disks became available in 1971.
Development of the Floppy Disk
The goal of IBM was to create a storage device where users could store information. Even as hard disks emerged, it became clear that users would need to backup their files and software programs. The first floppy disks were called memory disks. The ones that came out in 1971 were 8 inches in diameter and made of plastic. It also had magnetic iron oxide.
The early history of the floppy disk shows that it was a success. Aside from IBM, other companies would improve upon the IBM device. Among the pioneers were Memorex and Shugart Associates.
The 5 ¼ Inch Disk
Although the 8 inch disk was widely used it had its limitations. It was very big and was not very reliable in the long run. In 1976, Shugart Associates started producing the 5 ¼ disks. Within two years, nine other companies started making these disks.
Its popularity would render the 8 inch floppies obsolete. The early 5 ¼ inch disks came in two formats: the hard sectored (90 kb) and soft sectored (110 kb). Over time the hard sector would disappear.
The 3 ½ Inch Disk
The history of the floppy disk shows that the 5 ¼ disk would share the same fate as the 8 inch drive. During the early to mid 1980s, the disk was sufficient for storing programs and backing up files.
But eventually the programs got larger and so did the files. In response companies began making other devices like the 2 inch disk. But it was Sony’s 3 ½ inch disks that would prove the most successful.
The 5 ¼ disk still had a large market share, but it was steadily eroded by the 3 ½. By the late 1980s, most computers sold had both 5 ¼ and 3 ½ inch disk drives. But as the 1990s came the 5 ¼ disapperaed. The 3 ½ inch was small enough to put in your pocket.
A look at the history of the floppy disk points to its sturdiness as another advantage. Its casing was strong enough to withstand a few bumps. It was also less susceptible to dust and dirt. The old 5 ¼ was easily damaged by some scratches and even too much light.
Demise of the Floppy Disk
The mid 1990s would signal the end of the floppy disk drive. By this time a lot of new software came in CD ROMs, the contents of which could never fit in a floppy. File sizes would reach several thousand kilobytes and eventually megabytes.
Several companies tried to introduce new floppy disk drives. But these never really took off. Instead the CD R and CD RW drives became popular.
The history of the floppy disk lets you see just how quickly technology evolved. The rapid development of the disks speaks much of the way that files and computer usage changed over the years.