It's not a disease, nor is it a bizarre sex aid. No, it is a portmanteau of floppy and optical and a method of data storage and backup. It is fairly unique among data archive solutions in that it is completely backwards-compatible. Floptical drives are designed to write to standard sized floppies as well as special, higher-capacity disks of the same dimensions. To explore more deeply this technology we must first understand why conventional floppies have stayed conventional for so long. The problem with floppy media has always been its "floppiness", that is, it has a tendency to wobble when spun. To circumvent this problem, the designers of floppy drives made it so that only 135 tracks per inch were written to the floppy. This reduced the wobble problem but at the same time put a limit on how much one could conceivably store on a floppy using conventional drives. This is where the optical bit comes in. In order to solve the wobbly disk problem, the designers {Insite Peripherals, whose founder, Jim Shugart was one of the original engineers of the 5 1/4" floppy) of floptical drives added an infrared eye and a laser to their hardware to increase the accuracy of the magnetic heads, thereby increasing the possible capacity of the disks. The laser etches up to 15,000 tracks per inch, the LED reads them, and the magnet writes as it always has. In this way, up to 240 MB of data can be stored on media the same size as the 3 1/2" disks that we've bought in such unnecessary quantities for school for how many years.

This technology is known to the public as SuperDisk and is one of the only competitors to iomega's Zip disk. The advantage of SuperDisk was its backwards-compatibility, but is this feature now inconsequential, now that the floppy is very nearly dead? The most recent drives to employ this technology have a feature that may well stave the floppy's demise. It is a technology called FD32MB and it allows for 32 MB of data to be written to a conventional 3 1/2" floppy. However, this technology may have come too late. CDR and CDRW media is cheaper to produce, has more capacity, and can be used in almost any system since there is scarcely a computer without a CDROM drive.

It may be time to say farewell to the floppy, but as it leaves, it takes with it an age in which software had to be small and efficient to be accessible. Windows 3.1 fit on 6 floppies, DOS fit on 2, Linux fits on one...still (heh), perhaps monster hard drives and mountains of storage invariably lead to behemoths of bloatware, free to roam and expand like fat mesopotamian kings.


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