Floppies: The Disks that Changed the World March 10, 2020

from Command Line Heroes· ·

The floppy disk was one of the greatest breakthroughs in computing. It helped spin up the software industry with a format that endured for decades. And in some cases, it’s conserved treasures once thought to be lost forever. Before floppy disks came along, computing was weighed down by punch cards and magnetic tapes. Steven Vaughan-Nichols describes the magnitude of the changes brought by the floppy disk. Dave Bennet explains how the need for permanent storage, which was also easily mailable, led to the first 8-inch drives. George Sollman recalls how he was tasked with creating a smaller floppy, and what …



The floppy disk was one of the greatest breakthroughs in computing. It helped spin up the software industry with a format that endured for decades. And in some cases, it’s conserved treasures once thought to be lost forever.

Before floppy disks came along, computing was weighed down by punch cards and magnetic tapes. Steven Vaughan-Nichols describes the magnitude of the changes brought by the floppy disk. Dave Bennet explains how the need for permanent storage, which was also easily mailable, led to the first 8-inch drives. George Sollman recalls how he was tasked with creating a smaller floppy, and what unexpected sources inspired the next design. And when Sollman showed it to the Homebrew Computer Club, a couple of this season’s usual suspects asked him to see more. And the rest is history.

Or is it? Matthew G. Kirschenbaum points out that floppy disks are still in use in some unexpected places. And Jason Scott and Tony Diaz tell us how they brought some source code from the sneakernet to the cloud.

If you want to read up on some of our research on floppy disks, you can check out all our bonus material over at redhat.com/commandlineheroes. You’ll find extra content for every episode. Follow along with the episode transcript.