In the 21st Century everything is smaller and absolutely powerful in technology: RAM, CPU, Graphic card and all the components that make possible to do what we do with a computer. I have a computer gaming at home myself and a played often with it and i am so impressed of the power you can put in a computer right now. However i have also played and used compuer since the end of the 90s. Today if we want a software or a file, we download it and save it either on our huge hard disks or on a USB-Key. but how was the saving process in the late 90s?
Thinking about that right now, i would say that it was fun, nostalgic and somehow romantic. If you had asked me the same question back in the days, my answer would have been “absolutely exhausting!”. No, if you are wondering, it was not as it is right now. Computer were way much bigger, softwares were way much smaller than they are used to be today. You man now thing that, just because computer were big and software were smaller, we were able to get everthing easier. Absolutely not! Computer were big in physical dimension, but they were not even remotely as powerful as they are right now.
We didn’t have USB-Key, CD ROMs were in the beginning and internet was expencive and very slow. So how do we get our programs on our computer? Simple answers: with the floppy disks.
What was a floppy disk? It was our very first versin of what would have become the USB-Key few years later…only one million times smaller in capacity, much slower and way much bigger. If i think about it, this is the perfect description of technology of the 90s: slower, bigger and smaller in capacity. A floppy disk looked like a thin square with a magnetic disk inside it, where the data where written. Nothing complicated or fancy. They have had diffent sizes (back in the 80s were huge and in the 90s wehre much smaller), but the looked exactly the same all the time.
The use of this “things” was pretty easy as well: put it on the floppy disk reader, transfer what you needed on it, take it out and give it to who you had to or put it where you had to. Actually it sounds pretty easy, there was only one problem: those thing have a very small memory in it! We are talking about Kilobyte…not Mega, Gygabity or Terabyte, but Kilobite. If you needed to give someone just few pictures or audio files, that were big in order of Megabyte, you needed already few of those black (or coloured) floppy to get the job done.
It was even trickier the way you saved the programm in it. As i said, Floppy disk had a certain amount of space and it always was too small to save the entire software on just one of it. So, this is how it went: you had to put the first floppy disk in the reader, then you had to start the transfer; once the floppy was full, you had to put it out and stick into the reader the new one and so on until the end. 50% of the time i had to re-start the entire process, because during the installation of the software on my computer, the data in one of the floppy disks (almsot always the last one) were damaged or missed, which meant that all the time invested in copying the programm in the floppies was a huge waste of time. Now you get why was so frustrating?
When i was 6/7-years-old in my room i had a closet full of floppy disk’s stack and every stack was something we wanted to keep: maybe it was a software or the Back-Up of my Windows (in case it decided not to work anymore), or a collection of pictures. It might be everything and all the time we had to find space for the new stack of floppy when we had something new. It wasn’t an easy task because the space both at home and in the offices was not unlimited. You may say that we could save those files on our computers, but as i sad, computers in the past were big in dimension, not in capacity and performances. If you try to install latest version of Photoshop in a computer of the 90s, the computer will probably explode or it will not allow you to install the entire programm, because the hard disk will be completely full already with only the 5% of the installation process done. We needed Floppy disk: it was the only way for us to keep all we need it safe or available, because the computer were not our ally.
Do i miss them? Absolutely not! They are very cute to see them again, but now they belong in the right place: a museum or in a collection of some “vintage addicted” person. I’m so glad that CD-ROM, external Hard-Disk and USB-Keys have replaced the floppy. Life now is so much easier when you need a software or to save songs and movies you have bought in digital form! I know that without the floppy, we would not have the tools we have right now, but i am happy that i don’t have to waste hours of my time just to hope to have copied what i needed correctly! If i only think of the size of some games today (tenths of Gygabytes) and the size of just one small Floppy Disk (just a little bit more than one Megabyte), i can have a little heart attack, knowing how many floppy disk i would need!