"floppy disk"--why "floppy"?

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu May 10 16:04:28 UTC 2001

I have in front of me a computer glossary that a colleague and I wrote in
1982 for the use of our office.

Disk Drive - An external storage unit containing rotating disks or flat
record shaped surfaces upon which data are magnetically stored.  Disk dirves
generally come in two categories, hard and floppy.  In a floppy disk drive
the storage medium is removable.  In a hard disk drive the storage medium is
fixed and has a much greater capacity.

Diskette - A mylar disk coated with a magnetized oxide enclosed in a
protective envelope for storing data.  Diskettes generally come in 8 inch or
5 1/4 inch sizes; however smaller sizes are beginning to appear on the
market.  It is a removable storage medium used in a disk drive.  Synonymous
with flexible disk and floppy disk.
<end quote>

     Actually, there are three kinds of disk drives.  The third kind is
sometimes known as "rigid disk" but has no formal name because it antedated
both the floppy and hard drive.  In a rigid disk system the disks are
non-flexible,  are removable, and are exposed to the open air.  In I believe
the very early 1970's IBM came up with the idea that a rigid disk could be
made much more reliable if it were a sealed, airtight unit so that dust and
smoke from the outside would not get on the recording surfaces.
     A hard drive therefore was and is a disk drive in which the "platters"
are rigid and the platters, motors, and read-write arms are sealed into an
airtight package.

    IBM originally referred to the hard drive as a "Winchester" and the name
"Winchester" was used well into the 1980's before being replaced by "hard
drive".  Why "Winchester"?  According to the story I read somewhere, the
original unit held 30 megabytes of data and had an access time of 30
milliseconds, hence "30-30" like the popular Winchester rifle.

    One more item:  for quite some time it was unsettled whether the proper
spelling was "disk drive" or "disc drive".  "Disk" won out, perhaps because
"discette" is not a plausible spelling.

           - James A. Landau
             Systems Engineer
             FAA Technical Center (ACT-350/BCI)
             Atlantic City Airport NJ 08405 USA

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