Floppy disks still have their place in today’s world

Quick notes:

  • Floppy disks were commonly used in the 1980s and into the 1990s

  • The technology is used in unexpected ways today

  • Floppy disks even helped catch the BTK killer

It is hard to believe that floppy disks, the archaic technology that was widely used in personal computers from the 1980s and early 1990s, are still used today. Sure, there was a fair share of articles in the early 2000s that declared the death of floppy disks when Sony ceased to make them. However, despite the rumors of their demise, this technology has beaten the odds and is still with us today.

About floppy disks

Before we see how floppy disks are currently used, it helps to understand exactly what they are. They’re a magnetic mode of storage that was, at first, highly flexible and encased in a thin plastic covering. Over the years, they became smaller and firmer. They were used to move data from one personal computer to another and had a hole in the plastic where a computer could read the data contained on the disk.

Unfortunately, floppy disks weren’t perfect. It was fairly easy to damage them or to degrade the quality of the data stored on it. As other storage devices became available, and as file attachments made it easier to transfer documents between computers, floppy disks fell out of use.

How floppy disks are often used today

So, how are floppy disks still in use today? For starters, there are some tech geeks who remain attached to the disks or continue to use them out of simple force of habit. As you might expect, they experiment with it too–one person even used it to read a different piece of storage technology.

On a larger scale, some of the enormous industrial machines that were installed in the 1990s are still in use today and require floppy disks. With these machines, it is easier and more efficient to continue to work with the legacy pieces of technology than to make sweeping changes to a system that’s currently working well.

They help to run America’s nuclear missile silos

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Here’s one use for floppy disks that you wouldn’t expect — regulating the processes of U.S. nuclear missile silos. The Department of Defense continues to use disk storage for the types of larger machines that were installed when the silos were built.

As it turns out, the kind of security that is present with the machines that used floppy disks were nearly impossible to replicate. Additionally, disks don’t require the internet and can’t be compromised by a cyberattack that would affect WiFi or broadband communications.

Uses in older technology

Nuclear missile silos aren’t the only pieces of technology to use floppy disks. They’re used in other, relatively commonplace legacy systems too. ATM and legacy cash transaction systems are likely to be running with floppy disks. Many plastic parts used in the automotive industry are made with decades-old machines that run with floppy disks, too. Very high-end, expensive film industry machines that aren’t easy to replace are also likely to use the technology.

Floppy disk trivia: One disk helped catch the BTK killer

That’s right. One of the most infamous serial murder cases in the U.S. was solved because of data from a floppy disk.

In addition to their other uses, floppy disks also came in handy during the investigation of the BTK killer. Thirty years of hunting the killer ended when he offered to provide more details to the police if they used floppy disk technology, which could not be traced to a specific computer. Ultimately, he sent a floppy disk to a television station and police used data from it to identify Dennis Raderas as their suspect. He ultimately pled guilty.

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