Over the holidays, I saw a picture of a pile of 3.5” floppy disks. Some of you will never have used them, or even seen them for that matter. But there was a time when computers ran on nothing but floppies. You’d have to constantly swap these godawful coasters in a disk swapping dance of despair just to open a single file. And heaven forbid that you wanted to make a change to a file. Yes, they were dark times, and this is one of those “you never had it so good” or “OMG how prehistoric” pieces, depending on your viewpoint.
The really not at all good old days
Allow me to explain how things were back in the 80s. Floppies came in three sizes — 400K, 800K, and 1.4Mb sizes. No, that’s not a typo — you couldn’t even fit a single poorly encoded MP3 in a single disk. That in itself is quite an eye opener as to how far things have come. But my mind has switched to reminiscing mode, and remembering just how much “fun” it was to install and run apps and OSes from floppy alone. So I did some very unscientific research with current DJ software to see how many floppies it would take to install today’s popular apps.
I downloaded some key players to get the installer sizes:
That last pile of floppies, at 3.3mm thick each would stand 3062.4mm tall. Good luck balancing that. Imagine getting towards the end of the hours (possible days) of installation and finding out that the last disk was corrupt. That happened. A lot. Floppies may have been in a rigid case, but they were far from a reliable media.
But there’s a further problem — hard drives were minuscule and outrageously expensive. The first external Apple hard drive was a meagre 20Mb and cost $1500. That’s quite a lot of cash to store 3-4 average MP3s. And it was only in the late 80s that larger drives were affordable to install even a few decent apps and an evening full of music. I remember gasping at my first 1Gb Mac and wondering how the hell would I ever fill such a vast drive, and then went on to do just that with some complex Photoshop files.
Finally, you must remember that to buy this mountain of floppies, you’d have to go to a bricks and mortar shop, or order from a magazine and wait “up to 28 days for delivery”, and find space to store all these floppy disks for several bits of software.
This article almost fills a floppy
Obviously this scenario is entirely unrealistic, and merely illustrates for fun value the relative sizes, technologies, and the speed with which technology has rampaged forwards. From filling a car full of analogue gear and vinyl, to having all the music in the world in your pocket and easily DJed on your phone anywhere — in a single generation.
While there’s a definite look back to the analogue days in the industry, I cannot help but wonder where we’ll end up in another 25 years. For me, that’ll mean hopefully retired, spinning vinyl on my TTXs, while reading articles about how we struggled with just 2Tb drives and a mere 50Mb download speed back in the day. And we were grateful.