Practical Technology

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The History of the Floppy Disk

In the fall of 1977, I experimented with a newfangled PC, a Radio Shack TRS-80. For data storage it used—I kid you not—a cassette tape player. Tape had a long history with computing; I had used the IBM 2420 9-track tape system on IBM 360/370 mainframes to load software and to back-up data. Magnetic tape was common for storage in pre-personal computing days, but it had two main annoyances: it held tiny amounts of data, and it was slower than a slug on a cold spring morning. There had to be something better, for those of us excited about technology. And there was: the floppy disk.

In the mid-70s I had heard about floppy drives, but they were expensive, exotic equipment. I didn’t know that IBM had decided as early as 1967 that tape-drives, while fine for back-ups, simply weren’t good enough to load software on mainframes. So it was that Alan Shugart assigned David L. Noble to lead the development of “a reliable and inexpensive system for loading microcode into the IBM System/370 mainframes using a process called Initial Control Program Load (ICPL).” From this project came the first 8-inch floppy disk.

The History of the Floppy Disk. More >

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