Floppy disks are read and written by a floppy disk drive. Floppy disks, initially as 8-inch media and later in 5¼-inch and 3½-inch sizes, were a form of data storage and exchange from the mid-1970s into the mid-2000s. These formats are usually handled by older equipment and these disks and associated drives were produced and improved upon by IBM and other companies such as Memorex, Shugart Associates, and Burroughs Corporation. The term floppy disk appeared in print as early as 1970, in 1976, Shugart Associates introduced the first 5¼-inch FDD. By 1978 there were more than 10 manufacturers producing such FDDs, there were competing floppy disk formats, with hard- and soft-sector versions and encoding schemes such as FM, MFM and GCR. The 5¼-inch format displaced the 8-inch one for most applications, the most common capacity of the 5¼-inch format in DOS-based PCs was 360 kB and in 1984 IBM introduced the 1.2 MB dual-sided floppy disk along with its PC-AT model. IBM started using the 720 kB double-density 3½-inch microfloppy disk on its Convertible laptop computer in 1986 and these disk drives could be added to older PC models. In 1988 IBM introduced a drive for 2.88 MB DSED diskettes in its top-of-the-line PS/2 models, throughout the early 1980s, limitations of the 5¼-inch format became clear. Originally designed to be practical than the 8-inch format, it was itself too large, as the quality of recording media grew. A number of solutions were developed, with drives at 2-, 2½-, 3-, 3½-, the large market share of the 5¼-inch format made it difficult for these new formats to gain significant market share. A variant on the Sony design, introduced in 1982 by a number of manufacturers, was then rapidly adopted. By the end of the 1980s, 5¼-inch disks had been superseded by 3½-inch disks, by the mid-1990s, 5¼-inch drives had virtually disappeared, as the 3½-inch disk became the predominant floppy disk. Floppy disks became ubiquitous during the 1980s and 1990s in their use with computers to distribute software, transfer data. Before hard disks became affordable to the population, floppy disks were often used to store a computers operating system. Most home computers from that period have a primary OS and BASIC stored as ROM, by the early 1990s, the increasing software size meant large packages like Windows or Adobe Photoshop required a dozen disks or more. In 1996, there were a five billion standard floppy disks in use. Then, distribution of packages was gradually replaced by CD-ROMs, DVDs. External USB-based floppy disk drives are available, many modern systems provide firmware support for booting from such drives
Image: Floppy disk 2009 G1
Imation USB floppy drive, model 01946: an external drive that accepts high-density disks
Front and rear of a retail 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch floppy disk cleaning kit, as sold in Australia at retailer Big W, circa early 1990s.