When was the last time you formatted a floppy disk?


For some reason, I was reminded of the people who pooh-poohed Windows 95 because it didn't format floppy disks smoothly. Who spends all day formatting floppy disks? Even in 1995, when you bought a box of floppy disks, they came pre-formatted!

Comments (55)
  1. Roy says:

    Actually, I had to precisely this yesterday. I wanted to install Windows XP 64-bit on a PC that contained a RAID array. Windows didn’t detect the RAID so I had to use a third-party RAID driver.

    I had one on CD, but apparently Setup only wants to read these drivers from a floppy disk, so first I had to phyiscally install a floppy drive, find a floppy disk somewhere in the building, and format it, because it somehow wasn’t formatted properly.

    So yeah, yesterday. :)

  2. I remember those complaints as being examples of Windows 95’s crappy multitasking relative to, say, Unix, not as indicaitons that someone wanted to spend all day formatting floppies.

  3. Howie says:

    I don’t remember any issues with formatting floppies in Win95. Nostalgia perhaps? Who knows…

  4. Scott says:

    Back in the day as a poor college student, I couldn’t afford those fancy pre-formatted disks. It’s true though, formatting them sucked.

    (I also remember buying boxes of disks at computer shows that had been from commercial software. They just stuck new blank labels stuck on them. They usually didn’t even erase them, and sometimes you had to tape over the write-protect yourself since they didn’t have the plastic slider.)

  5. Al Kharee says:

    I seem to recall a few instances of boot-sector viruses accidentally entering production runs of pre-formatted floppy disks. Formatting was a sensible precaution, especially if you were buying the cheap stuff.

  6. Will Sullivan says:

    Why, it was yesterday for me, as well. I spent the last two days attempting to get an imbedded box to boot from a USB flash drive. I had to use that HP utility to format the drive and copy the boot sectors/system files from a floppy. And since the HP proggy doesn’t recognize the PC DOS disk created by default by Norton Ghost, I had to go digging around for a 98 boot disk and all the network support files that go with it. What a cluster! MS needs to release an easy and reliable way to format flash media for boot. I mean, TWO DAYS to get it functioning! I about beat a head-shaped hole in my desk.

  7. The last time I had to format a floppy disk was several months ago to install MS Windows. Hope the installer will accept drivers on CDs in the future.

  8. Jeff Spitzer says:

    Heh. Nostalgia. I remember the <0.95 versions of Linux where the system would grind to a halt when even reading/writing a floppy, much less formatting one. I think they’ve learned a bit more about realtime interrupt driven I/O since then :-)

    Will: "MS needs to release an easy and reliable way to format flash media for boot"

    Actually that’s not MS’ fault, it’s the motherboard’s BIOS that’s responsible for that. I’ve had systems that claimed to boot from USB and didn’t, and even vice versa where I could USB-boot boards that explicitly said they couldn’t. You need to beat up on the mfgr of your embedded box.

    It would be nice though if there was more of a standard. MS & Intel can help there.

  9. Morten S. says:

    In high-school, a friend and I was hired to set up ~250 PCs for exams and provide floppies for everybody (including those 50-100 persons who brought their own PCs). And the exams lasted around three weeks. We did this for two years. Alas I must have formatted around 5000 – 6000 floppies in Windows 95…

    As an added bonus all of the disks had to contain template documents for the exam, and as we had no way of printing lables, we had to write all of them by hand. Unfortunately, I had the prettier handwriting by far…

  10. herd says:

    A few weeks ago I tried to format a floppy disk on XP Prof. (SP2)

    Admittedly the floppy was old and bad and XP hung several minutes. I removed the floppy and XP bluscreened.

    It is still 1995, isn’t it? ;)

  11. James Bray says:

    I think the main complaint was due to overhyping of the pre-emptive multitasking capabilities of Windows 95.

    I remember myself purchasing 95 and being disappointed that formatting floppies wasnt completely smooth (although it was miles better than 3.1).

    I suspect, like myself, other people used formatting a floppy as a test of pre-emptive multitasking.

  12. Thomas says:

    Last time I actually formatted a floppy disk was a good while back. I did use one a couple of days ago, or should I say three. Disk #1 appeared to work fine with a CD booter, disk #2 was horribly corrupt and got dissected as an example to the rest, which probably explains why disk #3 suddenly started working. The reason for doing all this was to install Win2k on a 4GB hard disk in an old Win95-era box, and then to run the Maxtor disk utility because something managed to eat the boot sector of the hard disk between parts 1 and 2 of the install.

  13. Pierre says:

    Formatting a floppy is still a very practical method to slow down a computer and see what happens in some application you’re debugging, for instance.

  14. Adrian says:

    Last year I bought a 386 on Ebay that had a unique board from a defunct company. The board lets you control multiple slide projectors in sync with a sound track. I’m reverse engineering the signal in order to decode and preserve several of these 1980s-era slide shows.

    Of course, the first step was finding some 5.25" floppies (Ebay to the rescue again). Fortunately, they were preformatted.

  15. ToddM says:

    Did the format format mambo about 5 weeks ago, when assembling a new Media Center. Only had SATA drives, and I didn’t have a copy of MCE slip-streamed with drivers.

    For the life of me, couldn’t find a way to make a thumbdrive appear as an A: drive. Ultimately, I had to rip apart some old hardware and pull out some old floppy drives. 1st one was dead. 2nd one I destroyed when I attached the power connector upside down. 3rd (and last one) worked like a charm.

    Slightly OT: how well does Vista handle F6/driver loading at set-up time. Does it have the same A: drive limitation, or does setup filly understand USB storage devices?

  16. alois says:

    yeah, i just installed winxp sp2 on a system with an unknown chipset.

    As the setup-routine does not know how to get a driver from CDROM/DVD i had to create a floppy with the drivers on it…

  17. Xavier says:

    I almost never use floppies anymore, to the point that if I need to, I have to think for a minute about which of my computers has one.

    However, when I did use floppies extensively, I remember having no end of trouble with preformatted disks. I don’t know what could have been the difference, but many times my computers would insist that a new, preformatted disk was unformatted or had a bad format. Once I developed a habit of formatting new disks myself, they worked perfectly.

  18. Anders says:

    everytime i had to format more than two i would create a .bat with something like format /q a: (+whatever sets the label) and a goto loop (and yeas, /q doesnt work on a unformated disk, it just ignores it and does a full format in that case)

  19. Mike Dimmick says:

    For probably the last ten years or so, floppy drives have been so cheap that they slip out of alignment very quickly, or possibly were never aligned properly to begin with. So you generally find that a floppy that works in one machine doesn’t in another. And you have to format the disk on the machine you intend to use it with – even the preformatted disks tend not to work.

    There are some areas of Windows and the PC experience as a whole which still need floppy disks. People have mentioned the third-party driver in setup problem; there’s also the Emergency Recovery Disk, the Password Reset Disk and the fact that a lot of BIOS reflashing routines still require a reboot into MS-DOS.

  20. strik says:

    I always format disks before I use them, regardless if they are preformatted or not. Very often, I find that the preformatted disks do not have any bad sectors, but after the "format", some sectors were defective. I am sure the disks would have failed with data if I had not formatted them myself.

    And: Yes, I always throw away disks which show bad sectors.

    And: Yes, I did not use the cheap disks.

  21. John C. Kirk says:

    I did one a couple of weeks ago; specifically, I needed to boot off a floppy disk so that I could do a memory test.

    Speaking of which, I’m very glad that XP will let you create boot floppies; it was a problem when 2000 wouldn’t, so we used to hoard bootable disks at my last job for when we needed to flash a BIOS. ("Can I borrow that 50p disk?" "Um, maybe, but you absolutely have to bring it back tomorrow.")

  22. cjacks says:

    Actually, I format floppy disks all of the time. This began with Money 2005, I believe. I re-use my floppy backups that it prompts for every 14 days. (Why would I want an old one?) Starting with 2005, it would no longer re-use the floppy, saying that it was full. It has so far been easier for me to just quick format the floppy and then continue. I haven’t gotten around to the alternative of researching whether this behavior can be modified.

  23. James Schend says:

    > there’s also the Emergency Recovery Disk, the Password Reset Disk and the fact that a lot of BIOS reflashing routines still require a reboot into MS-DOS.

    Unless your motherboard is from the dark ages, you can do all of that from CD now. I hate goddamned floppy disks, hate, hate hate! Hate! I’ve supported so many people over the years who stored their ONLY copy of some hugely important document on the floppy disk and, naturally, the disk went bad. Hate, hate, hate. I celebrated when Apple finally got rid of those damned little hellbeasts.

  24. mschaef says:

    "I remember those complaints as being examples of Windows 95’s crappy multitasking relative to, say, Unix, not as indicaitons that someone wanted to spend all day formatting floppies. "

    Me too. I remember OS/2 doing a much better job of not bogging down while formatting. I don’t think people were actually that concerned about the act of formatting a floppy disk.

    These days, I’m not even sure my desktop PC’s have a floppy: haven’t used it in 3-4 years at least.

  25. James Risto says:

    I WISH we could get rid of floppies, but creating your own bootable CDROM is non-trivial.

  26. Ben Cooke says:

    Jaga-jaga-jaga-jaga-jaga-jaga clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, GRIIIIND, GRIIIIND, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, GRIIIIND, GRIIIIND, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, GRIIIIND, GRIIIIND. GRIIIIND, GRIIIIND.

    I was going to pull out a floppy disk and format it for old time’s sake, but I don’t seem to have any. Oh well.

  27. mikeb says:

    I’m embarrased to admit that I just installed a 5.25" floppy drive into a machine a couple days ago.

    I won’t go into the reasons why, but my wife thinks I’m insane; I’m sure she’s at least partly right. It’s a good thing I don’t have any of thos 8" floppies lying around from my CP/M days. Does anyone else remember when you had to know if you needed hard-sectored or soft-sectored disks?

    Gah… it’s getting depressing talking about this old, old stuff. Or should I be blissfully nostalgic?

  28. Puckdropper says:

    Don’t give up on my small capacity friends so soon. It’s MUCH easier to copy a file to PC to floppy to PC if the file is small (say 200k). If I had to mess with thumb drives, I’d have to climb around the back of the system to plug it in, and then once the data’s on there climb around to the back of another system to plug that in.

    I last formatted a floppy disk about two months ago. Did so in Linux… I usually format disks from the command line…

  29. David Totzke says:

    James: Don’t sugar coat it man. Tell us how you really feel.

    Thomas: "disk #2 was horribly corrupt and got dissected as an example to the rest, which probably explains why disk #3 suddenly started working"

    ROTFL!

    Less than two years ago I was dealing with the combination of Windows 95, An IBM 4614/A03 point of sale terminal, and a DOS based POS application called Retail Pro.

    "The A03 model has a 266 MHz processor and its 32 MB memory can be expanded to 128 MB. The hard drive is 3.2 GB."

    A floppy formatted on a modern system in XP would absolutely not work on these and sometimes they would fail from one machine to the next.

    This vintage of SureOne had no CD-ROM drive so an external parallel interface unit needed to be used. Installing the POS software took almost an hour. At least they were better than the external Zip drives we had before those.

    The stores would phone home every night with sales data which meant dealing with Windows 95 DUN. Hands up everyone who loves that abomination.

    I had over 100 of these in my care.

    Only for the truly masochistic…

  30. BlackTigerX says:

    it was yesterday for me too!… because… er… I just felt like formatting one, Nostalgia I guess… =o)

  31. Last April (yeah I’m lame but just continue on…), we were at a demo-party with some friends and had just downloaded a very cool amiga demo from internet, but the amiga machine had no network card so the only solution was to find a pc machine with floppy drive some floppies, format them to 720k pc format (since this amiga machine had no high density drive) and split the 16meg file into 700k parts, and then make a chain of people writing and reading the floppies from pc to amiga. I think we had no luck with the floppies and they failed miserably with write errors :(((

  32. John Winger says:

    "…we were at a demo-party with some friends and had just downloaded a very cool amiga demo from internet…"

    I want to party with you, cowboy.

  33. floppi says:

    The system should not grind to a halt when having disk i/o. That’s still a problem in windows. Why are usb mice laggy when formatting disks btw? ps2 were not.

  34. Maurits says:

    I was reminded of the people who pooh-poohed Windows 95 because it didn’t format floppy disks smoothly. Who spends all day formatting floppy disks?

    ?? If I want to spend all day formatting floppy disks, that’s my choice. Why doesn’t Windows 95 format floppy disks smoothly?

  35. Nick Lamb says:

    This "who does that anyway?" argument applies to almost anything. You’ll find BeOS fans who defended the abysmal networking stack (with its poor throughput and tendency to crash for no reason) by saying that they don’t really use the network much anyway.

    Similarly in the early days of Direct3D many proponents would respond to criticisms by claiming that Direct3D did all the things /they/ wanted, and so it was perfect. No need for OpenGL. Q.E.D.

    I’m sure if we ask Joel or someone who has worked on Excel there were those who felt that all the arbitrary limits (now increased or repealed altogether, see recent Excel blog posts) weren’t important because, hey, who would be stupid enough to want more than 256 columns in a spreadsheet? Yet while Microsoft shipped Excel with 256 columns, Free Software spreadsheets stole customers who wanted more columns (or more simultaneous sorts, or…) and could live without 3D pie charts…

  36. zzz says:

    I can’t remember. But here’s some steps to get rid of them.

    step 1: if you must, go through them with a software that can make floppy images, preferably in format that can be mounted later if you need.

    step 2: throw away the floppy drives and get usb sticks from few manufacturers

    step 3: make all of the sticks bootable, some laptops for example may have issues with some sticks. (in my case a wait of a minute will get you through the POST when the stick is attached)

    Unfortunately I still have one, disconnected, drive left for the case where someone comes over with a floppy… I’ll sell em some sticks ;-)

  37. asdf says:

    When AOL started sending out coasters instead.

  38. Brent says:

    Hmmm… All the time.(blush), I use an old digital camera for work which uses floppy disks for storage. Just deleting the images isn’t enough as the disks get corrupted pretty fast. I use full format to fix them. If that doesn’t do the job I run a free program I found on the ‘net which repairs bad sectors. I have another free program which can recover corrupted images.

    The old style pre-formatted disks weren’t pre-formatted, they were pre imaged which (mostly) was almost the same thing.

    I was selling a program on floppy some time ago which had some pretty basic protection on it and I found I had to reformat every disk before I installed the software or they would all claim to be pirated disks. The first run of the disk on install changed some parts of the boot sector and fat files which were used for the protection.

    Disk images are not formats.

  39. Glaurung says:

    I use a floppy disk several times a year, usually to do emergency brain surgery (memory tests, disk partition tests) on a sick computer. I’ve gotten into the habit of formatting a floppy before putting data on it because blessed things develop bad sectors at the drop of a hat.

    Bootable CD-ROMs are well and good in theory, but as someone above said they are non-trivial to make. I would add that in addition, getting an older machine to boot directly from CD is not always an easy task.

  40. Jonathan Wilson says:

    My current PC doesnt even have a floppy drive.

  41. Mark says:

    I had to format a bootable floppy last night so I could run Spinrite.

  42. Len says:

    Oh I do it once and awhile. If there are a bunch of files on the disk; it is faster to format the thing than to delete each file…

  43. Cheong says:

    Yes, I believe the (almost) only reason for floppy disks to exist today is "you have to use floppy to install SCSI/RAID drivers".(Even Norton Ghost can be run on CD now…)

    Can’t the setup program load standard IDE CDROM drivers first, so we can install the drivers directly from CDs? I think not many people owns SCSI CDROMs.

  44. Bryan says:

    James Risto:

    > I WISH we could get rid of floppies, but

    > creating your own bootable CDROM is

    > non-trivial.

    Well, that’s at least true in Windows, where you don’t have the option of loopback-mounting anything.

    It’s *much* easier when you can loopback-mount a floppy image file to create the image on the CD. (It sometimes helps to have a floppy around to test that bootdisk, but it’s not always necessary. You don’t need to format anything, either, you can just "dd if=/wherever/file.img of=/dev/fd0" to write the bootable image to the disk.)

  45. Norman Diamond says:

    If you bought a new floppies in 1995, they would be preformatted for NEC, DOS/V, or Mac. None for Linux (but Linux wasn’t common then).

    Today we still need to reformat when switching its use for emergency boot of Windows 9x, the NT series, or Linux. There are still some NEC architecture machines that run Windows 2000 so actually I think 5 varieties of formatting are needed.

    When booting a machine that doesn’t have an internal CD drive, often it’s convenient to try to get either PCMCIA socket services and card services, or else a point enabler, working with a SCSI driver and external drive. While experimenting, it’s usually faster to just copy a few drivers and edit CONFIG.SYS, but sometimes formatting is faster.

    Plus there’s the F6 to install RAID drivers etc. as a bunch of people mentioned.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005 10:39 AM by herd

    > A few weeks ago I tried to format a floppy

    > disk on XP Prof. (SP2) Admittedly the floppy

    > was old and bad and XP hung several minutes.

    > I removed the floppy and XP bluscreened.

    Ooh, so there’s still one variation on Windows plus disks which I haven’t experienced yet.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005 11:07 AM by ToddM

    > how well does Vista handle F6/driver loading

    > at set-up time.

    I have a vague recollection of seeing the same prompt, but it’s been a while so I might not be remembering correctly. My most recent install of Vista beta 1 started on Sept. 24, 2005. The first two reboots, including when we expect that prompt for F6, would have occured that day. I’m still waiting to see how long it’s going to take to finish installing. This is the checked build of Vista beta 1 so of course it’s a bit slow, but how slow, no one seems to know. It’s on a Pentium III 600 MHz with 320 MB of RAM and originally an empty 17 GB hard disk partition (now around 13 GB free). Sure 320 MB of RAM is small but it’s not a problem, mscorsvw.exe is using 90% of the CPU time so it’s not idly waiting for paging operations.

    The other installs were of the retail build but in guest machines under Virtual PC, where an emulated floppy is always present whether or not the physical machine has a floppy. Again I think the F6 prompt was the same as usual, but those were even before Sept. 24 so my memory is fuzzy.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005 1:31 PM by Bryan

    James Risto:

    > You don’t need to format anything, either,

    > you can just

    > "dd if=/wherever/file.img of=/dev/fd0"

    > to write the bootable image to the disk.)

    Not in my experience. Format does (or can) check for bad blocks, mark them, and cause other blocks to be used as replacements. In my experience, doing a raw dd that way wrote to the physical block numbers in sequence, using the bad blocks and disabling the use of replacements. Then of course the result was unbootable (and unreadable) because of the bad blocks.

  46. Mitheral says:

    We format 100’s of recycled floppies every semester to hand out to students, it seems like every monitor, motherboard, usb flassh or floppy drive comes with a floppy driver disk.

    However we use IDE LS120 drives instead of regular floppy drives so formats only take about a 1/10th of the time to complete.

  47. Surge says:

    does anyone know why moving the mouse in Win95 seemed to speed up the formatting?

  48. ChrisJ says:

    Like mikeb, I installed a 5 1/4" drive in one of my machines a couple of months ago – mostly to go through all the old disks I’ve got and see if there’s anything I wanted to keep.

    I’ve also got a large pile of 3.5s to go through as well. The sheer number of them is putting me off the job though :-)

    We still use floppies though to transfer data between computers that aren’t on the same physical network, so disks will get formatted every now and then – oh the joys of secure networks. ISTR that this form of data transfer though is called "SneakerNet" :-)

  49. On the subject of formatting, I got a 80GB IDE disk. I wanted to share it between a bunch of OS’s. Windows won’t format FAT32 drives bigger than 32GB.

    I found this excellent utility here

    http://www.ridgecrop.demon.co.uk/fat32format.htm

    It’s small and free it works quickly, a few seconds per terabyte to quickformat a disk.

  50. Neil says:

    I always used format my floppy disks on a Windows 95 machine because I found it much smoother than NT4.

  51. microbe says:

    I had to do it a couple of months ago when I had to remove some infamous spyware who installs itself as a device driver.

    Also when I had to install Windows on a PC which refused to recognize my CD..

  52. uniware says:

    I am still using Windows 98, but have not formatted a floppy disk for almost a year. But several days before, I got a PC server with a floppy disk for RAID card driver.

    Almost a year ago, I ported a piece of software from Windows 2000 to Windows 98, and formatted several floppy disks.

  53. Gabe says:

    "When was the last time you formatted a floppy disk?"

    11/11/2005

    Needed to use CheckIt Professional 7.x which is floppy based.

  54. Rune Moberg says:

    I for one finally got rid of floppy drives. When I built a new computer for home in May I simply didn’t install it. Tyan’s lack of a Windows utility for BIOS upgrades have made that decision somewhat challenging, but not impossible.

    And for my machine at work… Well, during an attempt to replace its PSU, the darn thing caught fire, so there’s a hole where the drive used to be. :) And since my need for the silly things is very limited, I opted to not install another one.

    Oh, speaking of formatting… Where did NT’s support for large cluster FAT16 partitions go? I have a 4GB Compact Flash device I’d love to format with 128KB cluster size, but it seems XP removed this capability, atleast from the command line format utility. It is still listed as a valid option, but it complains at the end…! (worked just fine in Windows 2000!)

  55. Travis Owens says:

    When I rebuilt my home PC in 2001 I never plugged the floppy drive back in and I never have needed it since.

    The drive is still in my PC and I still haven’t plugged it in nor plan to.

    I can’t recall using a floppy disk since then, as I’ve found email, cdr or a thumbdrive to always fulfill my need for sneaker networking files.

    Actually on second thought I have used a floppy, about 2 years ago Dell bios firmware still required a floppy to install (they would create a bootable floppy to apply the firmware). Dell has of course changed this. Outside of this 1 issue, I’ve never had to use a floppy since 2000.

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