Lately several people I know have been working on floppy disks. A lot of the time these people then ask me why they can't read from them a short time later. Well, this is because a surprisingly large number of people don't seem to realise what floppy disks are for, and how to use them. Hopefully this will turn out to be a helpful guide, especially for beginners who can't figure out why their important Microsoft Excel document has suddenly vanished. Floppies are gonna be around for a long while yet, so you might as well learn what to do and what not to do with them.
DrT's guide on how to use floppy disks
Warning, contains the word "floppy" a whole lot.
1. Floppy disks are not floppy.
This means that they are not flexible, so don't put them or store them somewhere where they might get bent. This means that you shouldn't keep it in a hip pocket, handbag, or anything that has other objects in it. Or where it might get sat upon. But shelves and tables are OK, and so are little floppy disk holders.
2. The electromagnetic force is not your friend.
It's fun to learn about in physics, and it is fun to play with magnets, but floppy disks hate them. Why? They also use electromagnetism to read and write data. So what happens if you keep your precious floppy near magnets? It fscks up the data, that's what! Do not let any kind of magnet near your disks.
A flowing electric current generates a magnetic field, so don't let your disks near anything that guzzles lots of electricity either. Your computer doesn't count.
3. When they say store in a cool dry place on a box, they mean it.
As you may have noticed, disks are fussy things. They can't stand temperature extremes (in addition to the aforementioned items). It's best to keep them at room temperature. Don't get them wet, either. It seems obvious, but sometimes it happens when you least expect it. Never take an important floppy disk outside holding it in your hand, or you will drop it in a puddle. Or dog crap. Or both.
4. They are unpredictable.
Not totally random and unpredictable, but still, you won't be able to tell when they'll work and when they won't. Trust me. A couple of times I've copied a file successfully to a floppy. Nice and dandy, right? Take said floppy to computer B and stick it in the slot. Hm. Can't seem to read the files. Try again. And again. And again. Not working. Damn.
The moral of the story is simple; just because you can write to it, doesn't mean you can read from it.
Now, this means that when moving a file from A to B on a floppy, don't cut and paste the file to the floppy, or you might just lose the only copy if the floppy can't actually be read from. Copy and paste, and keep the old file on the hard disk. However, if you forget and the floppy can't be read, there is a ray of hope in this situation. Refer to #5.
5. Get Norton Utilities.
Well, you don't need to get the whole thing. Really you just want Norton Disk Doctor. This can be handy if you've got just one copy of a file on a floppy but it refuses to budge. Run it through Norton Disk Doctor (don't tell it to fix automatically) and go through every error with a fine toothcomb. I've used this method successfully, and quite often it can recover apparently irretrievable files.
6. What if you're a Unix user?
Never fear! Just use the trusty cat command to save the day. Just cat /dev/fd0 (or whichever floppy disk drive you're trying to retrieve from) and go through the bits and bytes with a fine tooth comb to see if you can pick out and rescue your data from oblivion.
7. Don't fiddle with it.
"Slider goes back, slider goes spring. Slider goes back, slider goes spring. Slider goes back..."
Don't play around with the disk. Don't ping the metal cover back and forth, don't spin the little metal wheel around, and don't faff about with the copy protection slider. If you play with the metal slider, dust can, and will get onto the disk itself. You should know by now that playing with just about anything is asking for trouble. The bits may even break off. Which may mean that your disks start getting mysterious dents in the magnetic coating.
8. Don't backup to floppies.
In the past it may have been a Good Idea. In the old days, floppies were just about the only thing you could back up to (well, other than an old tape drive). As a result, manufacturers built them to last. These days, floppy disks aren't built to be as durable. This means that they are more susceptible to damage. This means that there are more duds before you even get the things out of the package.
It also means that you shouldn't back things up to a floppy, because floppies break easily at the slightest provocation, and you won't be able to get your data back.
The important point I'm trying to make here is don't store files on floppies, only use floppies to transfer files.
Such is the unreliability of them these days.
So what have we learned? If you take all of these suggestions to their illogical conclusion, it would appear that the best strategy would be to seal your floppy disks into individual vacuum packed lead boxes with walls six feet thick, and then shoot them into space for future civilizations to ponder over when they come across them. However, this does have some disadvantages. You won't be able to use the floppy disks, or get at them. So, we've got to come up with a more practical solution. Basically, if you've read this far, you should be able to figure out what to do and what not to do with your floppies. Just be sensible with them and they'll last you for a week or so. It's the best you can hope for.
Or you could just use email.
The contents of this writeup are in the public domain.