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For what are the Windows A:\ and B:\ drives used? (superuser.com)
415 points by fakelvis on Jan 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 270 comments

My first computer didn't have disk drives at all - it used standard audio cassette tapes in standard audio cassette machines. I remember feeding the audio into an oscilliscope and reverse engineering the format used on the tape, then writing Z80 machine code (I didn't have an assember - I wrote actual hex opcodes and fed them into a program I wrote that read hex and poked the values into memory) to create tapes that then overwrote the stack and booted me into a machine code monitor.

Then I wrote a Forth operating system.

This was on a 16KB machine (I had the expansion pack) with a 1.7MHz Z80.

Fun days. I still have the machine and its complete circuit diagram. I should get it out again, but then again, I don't have time:


A few years ago I went back to school for a bit. One day I was sitting with my classmates, average age about 18, discussing our first computers. I mentioned I got started on a Vic 20 with a tape drive. Suggested someone, "Was that so you could listen to music while you coded?". Took some effort to convince them I wasn't pulling their leg when I told them that it was used to save programmes to

Ahh the Vic 20. Warms my heart just hearing about it :) My parents bribed me to do some stuff when I was younger with the reward of a floppy disk drive. I was living like a boss when I got that drive!

Still got mine, and a box of cartridges. Hacked the paddles into an some electronics experiment years ago, and the RF modulator's given up the ghost, but other than that still all good. Even still got the book, minus the back cover

Does that mean you still have a Commodore 64? (Seems like everyone upgraded -- I mean, 64 freaking K!!!). Course you only got to use 49K of it, but still!

Still got mine too. Still worked as of a few years ago when I dragged it out of the attic. Even got all the books, games I had copied from the BBSes, and a few cartridges. I should pull it out to see how well my 300 baud modem works on today's Internet.

I also have a VIC-20, although I bought mine from a thrift store maybe 4 years ago or so.

The Commodore RF modulator that came with it was no good either, but I replaced the electrolytic capacitor inside with a new one and it seems to work pretty well now...

Vic20 here too. I think back like it was the golden years, but I vaguely recall some hanging during LOADING.

Ahh yes... did you have it to close to the TV, or were you too loud? I remember yelling at friends, "Man, you were talking too loud! That's why it didn't load. We gotta reload... 30 more minutes!!! Sheesh!"

We had a TI-99 with a tape drive-a standard tape player that you would set next to the Mic input on the computer, get the volume just right, and hit Play.

My dad and his friend used to send programs to each other late at night via HAM radio. One would hold the mic keyed next to the tape player playing back the ASCII and the other one would hold the speaker up to the computer's input and load the data.

This was in the early 80's. I think maybe they invented PACKET or something.

Ah yes, saving data onto a cassette tape. My parents purchased an Atari 1200XL in the early 80s and when I was about five years old, I quickly hijacked it to play games and eventually learn how to write code. For the longest time I wondered what the cassette drive was for; why would you play music on your Atari? Then I realized, "Wait a minute! I can store data and turn the computer off?!"

My life was complete.

I had something similar (a later model, if I'm guessing right). The problem with mine was that the 3.5mm jack socket on the machine had a loose contact, so I had to apply pressure for the whole time things were loading off tape. If I let it slip even slightly, I wouldn't necessarily know about it until 5 or 10 minutes later when the damn thing finished loading and just didn't work.

Sounds a bit like you had a Sinclair ZX80.

Been there, done that ;)

I loved the TRS-80. We had some in my Jr High. We had an assignment to create some large ASCII art via hundreds of print statements and then print it out on the dot matrix printer.

I also had a home computer featuring a Z80 CPU, compatible with the Sinclair.

But this one also featured a 3.5" floppy drive: http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=...

Sadly I sold it to a friend at some point.

At around 1993 we used cassette tapes to save progress in the game "The Castle"[0] on MSX[1]

Actually I was too young to know what was going on; my dad setup the tape thing.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Castle_%28game%29

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSX

My first computer (an ABC80, with impressive 78 x 72 pixel b/w graphics!) didn't even have cassette tapes. I'd spend a few days writing a program, and then I'd have fun with it until I shut the computer off, at which point it was gone forever. Although for the best games I created, I used to transcribe the code by hand into booklets.

Why the oscilliscope? No SAVE command? Why did you need to overwrite the stack?

Analog oscilloscopes have a save feature, it's called a camera hooked up to the trigger output.

Floppies!? Kids these days. My High School had an actual, physical computer, a Data General minicomputer. We used teletypes that printed on a continuous roll of cheap paper.

The computer used removable media: 12" removable "Diablo" 5MB hard drive platters. One had four user basic on it, one had single user basic, and one was locked away with the software for grading students.

Memory management was primitive: BASIC ran in RAM, and if you used single user basic, you had 4x the RAM and therefore room for 4x the program. When swapping drives, you had to boot the computer by toggling the CPU's three instructions into the front panel.

I wrote a massive Star Trek adventure game in single user basic. Friends would actually creep into the lab overnight so they could play by themselves.

I worked for a company in 2005 that was still maintaining Data General minicomputers for test-range radar tracking systems. The original "radar program" in Data General assembly has since been ported to C for new development, but those old systems are still ticking just fine.

I'm guessing they didn't have you sign a NDA?

Everything I stated is public information. Here is a brochure that specifically states that a Data General machine is being replaced with a new system using the radar program written in C.


Luxury! I used to have to snip endless chads out of punched cards to represent the very zeroes and ones of the program i was writing! Thanks to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1a1wHxTyo

Go for the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eDaSvRO9xA

1948's finest.

You were lucky. When I was a lad there were only 3 Yorkshiremen in that sketch.

3! Paradise! We never had 3 Yorkshiremen, we had to make do with a pair of pythons, a goodie and Doctor Frankensteins' henchman. And we didn't even have an abacus to program on, we had to make do with fingers and toes and pretend they were turing compliant. And some of us didn't even have toes or fingers!

You had cards? We had to use a hammer and awl to punch the holes into vellum that we tanned ourselves.

I'll just leave this here :) http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1992-09-08/

One more :) xkcd Real programmers :http://xkcd.com/378/

That is a rip-off of an even older User Friendly strip.

LOOLL! such a laugh!! Tnx

You think you're joking. I remember having to use a $5000 box of real fan fold vellum to print a short document as specified by some govt contract or other.

You had zeros and ones? We only had ones, until one day someone discovered a zero when he accidentally subtracted two ones.

Before going to school, and thereafter in the summer, I do remember writing WATFIV and SNOBOL programs on punch cards, but I used a card punch machine to create them.

one thing about coding by punchcard is permanence compared to floppy, hd, online ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/247968267/

Back in my elementary school days we had to compute with an abacus!

We had a PDP-11/34a running RSTS/E v7.0-07. About 50/50 split between VT100s and printing terminals, plus one Tektronix and later on a few GiGis; storage was two washing machine-size RK07 drives (swappable 28Mb dual-platter cartridges the size of a small trashcan lid) and two RX02 8" floppy drives. We found some undocumented escape codes for the VT100s that let you play "music" on the keyboard by turning on keyclick and cranking up the autorepeat on insane levels. Someone bought DUNGEO (the original version of Zork) from DECUS too. Man that was fun.

I still have all my 8" floppies -- loads of BASIC programs, and a lot of content from the message-board system we wrote for it. You could enter posts using VT100 escape sequences to create animations. I figure there's a 50/50 chance the disks are still readable, since the bits are the size of small cats -- someday I'll find someone who can dump them for me.

I was really surprised to see this question asked. I had always assume it was a given that people knew that A: and B: were for floppies.

Just brings back memories of the days when I had one floppy drive. I had to load MS-DOS disk, then swap to my game disk.

Then when I had two floppy drives, I was jumping for joy. Now I don't need to swap disk.

The pain of installing MS Office 4.3 with a dozen floppy.

Ah ... the memories

I also wrote a Star Trek adventure game in BASIC. Must have been a rite of passage for kid programmers. :)

> "Please Insert Disk 13" OH GOD WHERE IS DISK 13, I CAN'T FIND DISK 13. - Jeff 16 hours ago

I have exactly this memory as well.

My first computer was a Compaq Deskpro Portable. It had a 5.25" floppy drive and a 40 MB hard disk. It was an embarrassment of riches - how could you ever fill up 40 whole megabytes? Between that and my custom AUTOEXEC.BAT file, I was set.

As it happens, I still have most of the files I created on that original computer, and can even run my old BASIC programs using DOSBox on Ubuntu. I had to copy the files via 5.25" floppies to another computer that had a 5.25" and a 3.5" floppy drive; and from there on 3.5" floppies to yet another computer that had a 3.5" floppy drive and a CD drive.

When I was a kid, we used to go dumpster diving; looking for software, discarded hardware, information, whatever.

Once, I found a few 3.5" Microsoft Office disks (I think it was Office 4.0), and decided to try and complete the set.

I think it took me like three months of digging through garbage to get the full set of disks (it was something ridiculous like 30 disks).

I found a set of Windows 3.1 disks at home back in high school once and actually managed to get them installed on my brand new gaming rig that I bought. I was unreasonably proud of that feat.

I still remember my dad installing windows 3.1 from a set of windows 3.1 disks. My job was to change the disks when it asks :)

Goes to show how much we've come to embrace change in the last couple of decades. Software was coming on ~50 floppies before we ditched them for CDs. Nowadays, things never get that bad before a replacement is phased in.

Unreal Tournament 2004 got up to 5 CDs and Half Life 2 I'm sure had seven. Apart from that, I've never seen anything even approaching what you guys are saying about old windows OS installs.

A couple of months ago, my siblings and I were cleaning out our parents' house. In the attic, I came across my original Compaq sewing-machine luggable. I'd given it to my dad when I upgraded to something newer. If memory serves, the Compaq came with two 5.25" floppy drives and 256K RAM. When I was using it myself, I upgraded to 640K RAM, swapped the B: drive for a 10-MB hard disk, and eventually swapped the A: drive for a 3.5" drive. I thought I was pretty cutting-edge (for a non-techie, that is).

I hauled the luggable down from the attic and plugged it in. The only things that worked were the fan and the power indicator light. I guess 25-plus years of San Antonio summers weren't exactly the best thing for the electronics. Off to Goodwill it went.

What the heck is Goodwill going to do with it? They'll have to pay a disposal fee to get rid of the thing.

Last time I fired mine up (a couple of years ago), it still booted. However, an alarming amount of smoke came out of the fan vent so I didn't keep it running for long.

Science compels you!

And in case of installing Windows 3.11, this was even more hilarious because of the fact that installer did not want all the disks in order, but only first five or so and then proceeded to demand disks in essentially random order, and in some cases the numbering on disks themselves did not match installers idea. I vaguely remember that printer drivers that installer expected on disk 7 or 8 (depending on whenever you used "Standard install" or "Expert install") were actually on disk 9.

Well windows 1.0 were only [1] 5 5.25" floppies and [2] 2 for MS-DOS and another one for write (the grandfather of word). I think i need a drive to try them again ;-) .

[1] http://twitpic.com/39kbjz [2] http://twitpic.com/39kaxd

I recall Slackware Linux requiring 13 disks

My younger brother typed format c: instead of format a: once on my Dad’s laptop that he was borrowing to do homework - he was up all night reinstalling Windows 95 from 26 floppys.

My older brother, when learning assembly, needed a memory address to write to on the hard disk of my Dad's business computer. Sadly he chose the first one as he hadn't discovered the File Allocation Table at that point. My Dad wasn't best pleased, even though technically the data was still on the disk!

Well, that was for a full install. A trimmed-down system required only a few.

This question makes me feel old. And I'm in my early twenties.

One of my friends who teaches 11-16 year-olds recently had to explain to one of her classes what camera film was, and how it was used.

The movement from camera film to digital cameras was a largely unnoticed revolution which took place within the last decade.

In industry, that may be so (I seem to recall one of the Star Wars prequels being the first feature movie done entirely with digital cameras). For end-user video cameras (handicams, or whatnot), we've been storing to magnetic tape for a good bit longer though.

Being digital doesn't mean using solid state storage. Magnetic tape is probably still the most used medium for digital video cameras. For example, Betacam SX is still used.

On a recent vacation I was photographing my nieces and nephew making funny faces. After the first shots they ran up behind me, looked at the back of the camera, and said, "Can I see?" They gave me bewildered looks when I told them it was a film camera and they'd have to wait a few weeks.

Ha! I took a Hungarian class with my daughter a couple of years ago; I think she was 8, which is why she needed me to sit in with her, given it was a college class at IU. (I should explain that her mother is Hungarian, and so this was more in the way of language practice and grammar instruction, not that my daughter is a super-genius. Although, of course, she is.)

Anyway, one of the dialog exercises was to talk about hobbies, and one of the hobbies was record collections, with a picture. She had absolutely no idea what the picture was supposed to be, until I explained to her that they were like CDs. The other students in the class exploded with laughter.

For that matter it won't be long before children have no idea what a music CD is, if we're not there already.

My younger child is 11; he hasn't had much interaction with physical storage media for music.

I was in the same boat. My son found an old disposable camera in a drawer, and I couldn't find a decent way to explain it to him with out the WTF? look on his face.

One of my nieces was photographed by her grandmother with a film camera, and immediately ran to her, expecting to see the picture on the back of the camera. On learning that wasn't possible, she exclaimed "oh, it's not working".

I recently had to explain to a class of college students what a LaserDisc was. It turned out, luckily, that one of the students also knew...

My god - that's a blast from the past. I actually credit the fact I ended up studying history to the 'Doomsday disc' the produced in the UK... would love to see a copy now. Do people still have the hardware knocking around?

The student who knew grew up in a household full of 'em. Videophiles find advantages in LaserDiscs over DVD: http://www.starlaser.com/dvd-lasr.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laserdisc#Comparison_with_DVD. Jacket art and possible increased quality due to uncompressed video are cited. I didn't know LaserDisc was an analog format! LaserDisc has some of the grooviness of the 8-track, if not the deep catalog of the LP.

Friend of mine was trying to fix an ancient computer that had a 5¼" floppy drive. He thought it was a slot loading CD drive. The CD is stuck in there now.

Me too. My first thought at seeing that question was, "I am too young to feel this old."

The singularity is coming!

My thoughts exactly.

Same here and I'm not much older than you.

Worse, my current computer has an A:\ drive. I don't know why I keep a 3.5" floppy drive around, exactly, because I haven't actually put a floppy in there in years, but I do have one.

And that's nothing compared to the 8088 that's collecting dust. It has two floppy drives, a 10 MB (yes, MB, not GB) hard drive, a CGA card & monitor, a math coprocessor and as much RAM as it can hold.

I don't know if it still works, though. It did work roughly a decade ago, which is the last time it was actually turned on.

Pity we got rid of the Apple ][ GS back in the 90s. It might be a collector's item by now.

That's pretty high end for an 8088! Is it a PC or PC-XT?

It does sound like an XT. The first PC I used was an XT-286; the precursor to the AT. It had a massive 20 MB hard drive!

I still recall that the expensive accounting software for which my father purchased the computer required an ISA card to run it. Now that's anti-piracy!

"The first PC I used was an XT-286; the precursor to the AT." It was actually a smaller case version of the AT.

I believe it had a different cpu (6mhz vs 8mhz) and different a motherboard (16bit vs 8bit).

You are correct about the clock speed, but not the bus difference.

"In 1986, the XT/286 (IBM 5162) with a 6 MHz Intel 80286 processor was introduced. This system actually turned out to be faster than the ATs of the time using 8 MHz 286 processors due to the fact that it had zero wait state RAM that could move data more quickly."


"(16bit vs 8bit)"


I think it's PC-XT. I added a lot of those parts with bits I found in a Hamfest back in the 90s. It's been mothballed for ages because I have nowhere to put it so I've honestly forgotten.

I'm betting XT. It sounds identical to what my father had.

I'm in my early twenties, and this makes me feel old too. I have an 8088 too (which contains both an A and a B drive), I should fire it up again. Though mine has a Hercules graphics adaptor (everything is green!)

hums the california games chiptune

> I haven't actually put a floppy in there in years

I have one computer (a Sun workstation) with a 3.5 drive that no longer works. The fun part is I cannot tell you in what year it broke.

Mine broke when the eject failed, I used a paper clip to pull it out, but lost the paper clip. When it started smoking I had to pull the floppy's power - thankfully I had the side open to my computer so I didn't have to turn the whole thing off before I caused an actual fire.

I think this was back in the early 2000's.

Here it just silently failed. I wanted to write something to a floppy and it just couldn't.

I'm 18 and could instantly answer the question. Not sure how to feel about this.

It's a good illustration of how fast technology moves.

I started in computing with an Apple II+ (not really - my II+ was only the first to have floppies). I always wondered why those poor CP/M (and MSX) users had to put up with such nonsense as drive letters ;-)

IIRC on the Apple the floppies were normally S6D1 and S6D2 (if you had two), unless you installed your floppy controller card in a slot other than Slot 6, which was the norm.

That would be DOS 3.x. You could specify a file under (Apple's) DOS with "long_filename,S6,D1". File names could have up to 33 chars and had type information (one byte) so as not to rely on naming conventions.

Long file names were under Apple ProDOS Apple DOS was still 8.3 (I think).

No. Apple DOS filenames were limited to 30 chars. ProDOS was limited at 15 chars.


My 33 figure was wrong (either me or Wikipedia). Maybe the directory entry had 33 bytes (30 for the file name, 1 for type, and two for track and sector)

I started out with an Amiga before moving to the PC. The Amiga (while still dealing with device-roots) at least had a more flexible system.

fd0: was floppy 1. If you had an additional drive, that would be fd1: etc. The best part was that you could also access devices by file-system label, so if you needed to make sure you were accessing not only a floppy, but the device labelled "WorkbenchExtras" you would simply do WorkbenchExtras:

Needless to say, this made multi-disk tasks & scripting rather pleasant, easy and cut out lots of boilerplate and checking.

It was a nice system and I kinda miss it.

Edit: df0: was floppy 1. dh0: was first harddrive, etc. Not that in changes much.

Don't forget the ASSIGN utility which created new device roots from one (or more!) existing folders, or with deferrment i.e. when assigning Fonts: to df0:Fonts, the OS remembers the disk referred to, and will ask you for that specific disk if you remove it and subsequently access Fonts:. It made working with floppies a lot more pleasant.

SUBST on Windows is similar, but with 1/10th of the power and just single drive letters.

I miss the Amiga too, but it simply never kept up the pace.

I think it was overcome by PCs when they started offering VGA graphics. The Amiga architecture was much more "intimate" with video generation than PCs and, thus, were not so easy upgrade as newer hardware became available.

Oh I do remember, and I was notorious for ASSIGNing things to my RAM: drive for performance-reasons once I got a 10MB memory upgrade to my Amiga 1200.

I just thought it might be slightly out of scope for the discussion at large, so I decided not to include it ;)

I have to agree with you. Only now I got to play with an Amiga (a 500 became part of my collection) and it's really very sophisticated for the time it was released.

Just to imagine most today's PCs deal with cruft that dates back to the CP/M days is... disgusting.

Apple's ProDOS also had something like that - the volumes were named and you accessed files with /VOLUMENAME/FILE.DAT paths.

I'm not yet done high school , and it makes me feel old too.

An accelerating rate of innovation will do that to you.

Me too :\

Aw, man. I turned 32 on Friday, which is 224 in developer years, and have spent the last couple of days consoling myself that everything's fine, I'm not past it, etc etc. And now this. Thank you, Hacker News. Thank you so much. I am as old as dust and time and the fabric of the universe. Now I know how all those COBOL programmers felt.

This thread had the opposite effect on me. I see all these "old folks" responses and think "now we get to see who the REAL rockstars are."

When we're talking about 100 core cell phones and Clojure, in many ways the teenagers and the old hands are on more equal footing. Then someone busts out "and then I reverse engineered the tape drive with an oscillascope" and I'm like.... "Respect."

I look forward to one day being the old hack who can say shit like that.

* It was actually eight thousand years later, not the year 2000. Technology had advanced to such a degree that everyone had virtual reality interfaces which allowed them to contact anyone else on the planet.*

This joke needs to be adjusted for the times. It should say 10 years not 8000.


The last line: "COBOL is forever" gets me every time. =)

I am as old as dust and time and the fabric of the universe. Now I know how all those COBOL programmers felt.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm 37, which is like 259 in developer years.

Man, I didn't even START programming until I was 27, and my career is going great. You aren't old until you stop learning.

If its any consolation I am only 24 and felt a bit old as well knowing entirely what was coming after clicking the link.

Lets just say whoever posted the question is a newb :)

If its any consolation I am only 22 and felt a bit old as well knowing entirely what was coming after clicking the link.

Few people on superuser.com seem to mention that B:\ was always reserved even on a single floppy system so that it was possible to copy data from one floppy onto another:

1. Insert source disk

2. Type copy a:\. b:\

3. The system will read a chunk of data from a:\ then say: Please insert disk B: and press any key to continue...

4. You'd swap the disks, press a key, and the system will write the chunk of data and say Please insert disk A: and press any key to continue...

This would go on and on and on...

Anyone remembers installing Win95 and the number of 1.44MB 3.5" floppies it came on? 26! And once you got to about disk no. 13 it would start asking you to insert seemingly random disk numbers every minute or so... Or how about getting to disk number 17 and being told that the installation is corrupt, start over.... errrr.......

Re; Win95 - Yes, and I still have them somewhere in my attic. I even have the original Windows 95 beta floppies. :-)

Another one that was a doozie was VC++ for Windows 3.1 - it was about 13 or 14 3.5" floppies also.

Quite fascinating how some design decisions tend to stick due to technical or other reasons. We will probably still run Windows 2020 on the C-drive. Sometimes the reason is backwards compatiblity, other times it's something that requires a huge redesign of an entire system.

But, most of the time I think it's because people simply think that this is the way things are supposed to be. One example is how long it took before Auto-ISO became an option on DSLRs.

In all cases there are opportunities for a startup to be disruptive. So, keep looking for those C-drives!

A massive pile of legacy Windows stuff probably assumes C: is the boot volume.

Windows has always had extensive backward compatibility, even if it requires tweaking to run 9x programs on XP and up. I often wonder how much better Windows could be if Microsoft were to choose to repeat OS X's innovation, which was almost completely severing backward compatibility.

>"A massive pile of legacy Windows stuff probably assumes C: is the boot volume."

Seeing as Windows has been bootable from removable drives and over networks for a long time, I sincerely doubt it.

When you read it as 'a massive pile of legacy Windows applications', which is reasonable, it's not a stretch to assume that many applications written in the last 20 years assume that the OS is on a harddisk, and on C: for that matter.

Prior to Windows 95 the preponderance of Windows programs were 16bit. Seeing as 16bit programs are not compatible with recent versions of Windows one can be reasonably assured that they are not in that vast pool of legacy applications.

Hand in hand with 32bit Windows came the registry, which is where most applications stored configuration information until relatively recent times.

To the best of my recollection, I have not seen an application or utility hard coded to C: since Windows 95. But I would be interested to learn of the actual examples which support your assumptions.

I haven't used windows since 98SE, but I learned my lesson and have recommended all family members put programs in the default locations.

I used to have Windows on C:, Program Files on D: and My Documents on E:. Everything broke, to an approximation.

Most code was written for internal systems. So even if you don't encounter them there are plenty of hard coded paths including drive letter in plenty of systems.

32-bit Windows 7 runs 16-bit programs just fine.

You've [luckily] never seen internally written software then. I see stuff referencing hardcoded paths to "C:\winnt\system32\" dlls all the time.

Hard coded paths are possible with any operating system, including OSX which was mentioned in the post to which I responded. And when dealing with it, assigning C: to the bootable drive is a feature of a particular implementation, not a legacy of the Operating System. So far as I am aware, no part of recent Windows versions are required to be installed on C:

Even if writing code to require it is trivial.

Many games and apps may run on other than the C: drive, but odd things are broken - configuration changes don't stick, temp files fail to be written etc.

Who else remembers using the square punch to put a hole in those 3 1/2" AOL disks to reformat them as HD?

My aunt did one better: she used a scissors to reformat a 5.25" disk as a 3.5" one. (Lesson learned: be excessively cautious when giving instructions.)

OT: You are just the second person I've ever heard say "a scissors" (with an article). Is this a regional thing (like waiting "on line" vs. "in line")?

I am not a good person to take Engrish usage advice from. Honestly don't know why I omitted "a pair of" there.

... so you've been doing this your entire life, eh? Guess that's why you're good at explaining thing to the technically non-inclined.

Yep, or vice versa, put a bit of tape over the hole to make disks writable that weren't intended to be. Good times!

USB drives could use such a feature.

write-lock: prevent it from beint written (and acquiring viruses)

read-lock: prevent it from being read (and passing viruses), only showing the free space and being able to write only in the free space

I have a USB stick with a write-protect switch. Unfortunately, the switch has broken. Now the drive will contain 128MB of obsolete early-00s data until the bits diffuse away.

SD cards have a write-lock. It always amazes me that it's purely physical and only a suggestion to the software.

Gotta love how the write-lock switch is positioned just perfectly so that inserting it knocks the switch into read-only position.

Doing that rather than switching into write-allowed position is a good example of fail-safe design. But yeah, I've had that happen more than once.

On some SD cards in some SD readers, the write-lock switch is too small to trigger the mechanical switch in the reader, making the card appear as read-only until tape is applied over the switch. This problem affects my BeagleBoard's OS SD card.

While not built into drives, an add-on hardware solution exists, Wiebetech's USB Writeblocker:


I have several USB drives with at least the former feature.

I only ever had drives with write locks. I must have gotten into USB drives late because I've never heard of read lock.

We did this on VCR tapes too. Little electrical tap over the broken tab, and bam -- you've got re-writable media!

My first stab at being an entrepreneur was buying normal 3.5" disks, stamping holes in them and selling them as pristine 3.5" HD disks. Let's just say it was less successful than I'd hoped.

My first stab at being an entrepreneur was buying up used floppies for pennies slapping a blank label on them and selling them for $1 a piece. But I was a pushover so most people could bargain me down to $2-3 for a pack of five.

I did this on an Acorn Archimedes disk and though okay at first, the floppy got corrupted after a few days. Bad idea!

The Archimedes would format any floppy to any density, so you didn't need the hole punch.

My point was that formatting a 800kb disk to 1600kb (as you could on the Archimedes) is likely to - and in my experience has - corrupt after a few days of use, and thus is not worth the amount of money saved.

Luckily it was just copied games that got corrupted, but it could have been worse.

They had something similair for 5 1/4" floppies to go from 360k to 720k.

Get off my lawn.

Remember punching single-sided 5 1/4" disks to make them double-sided?

Did that all the time for the Apple //e disks. Since most of the media at the time was for 360K disks for IBM compatibles but since the Apple format was 143K the vast majority of the time it worked.

In fact if I dug around in the box under my desk I could probably find the special puncher, and a couple unused ribbons for the old daisy wheel printer, etc.

I didn't have a punch. Scissors worked just as well.

Yeah, and they worked really well.

Square hole punches cost money. Scissors are already lying around the house. Sure, the results weren't pretty, but then pretty was not the stated goal.

This was for 5 1/4" floppies, naturally. By the time 3 1/2" was the standard, I had a job and could simply requisition them as needed.

I remember getting a few funny looks from the stores in the Electrical Engineering department when I requisitioned a few (probably at least five) boxes of 3 1/2" floppies so I could install Linux (Slackware) complete with a pretty full X11 environment (I'm pretty sure X and its apps was split over at least 12 floppies).

This would have been late '93 or so.

I used a soldering iron. The holes were round, but with a utility knife to cut the extra plastic, it looked very good.

Thanks, AOL!

By the time AOL launched in this country, they were giving away CDs which weren't good for anything but drink coasters. It seems they've long since departed as well.

I remember a time when you needed to carry 30 floppies to be able to copy C&C:Red Alert... and it was worth it.

I just used the CD trick when playing multiplayer. You start the game with the disc in one computer and then eject and run into the next room to start the game on that computer.

I think 9/10ths of the games I played with my brother were exploited with this trick until the warez scenes started developing proper and timely released nocd cracks.

Why? Westwood were probably the only game company that understood this problem, and shipped their games on two CDs (allies and soviets), even if the content was mostly identical, and could all easily fit on one, just so that two people could play at once.

It wasn't a particular problem with Westwood games, although it was when we got another player involved. I was thinking more of Age of Empires when actually saying that, I remember getting a 3-way going using a single disc.

We managed a 7-player at school, but that was using 2 discs.

Haha you just reminded me that we used to do this same trick for tribes 2 at a friend's house. We'd play online, too, so every time the map changed on the server, we'd have to run back and forth to load the new map.

Yep, and now it takes seconds to download for the iPad.

Same for when the demo of Quake came out, loved it.

I remember playing Quake on a 486 at 66 MHz.

Performance was terrible, but this was real 3D with a cool atmosphere. My Quake came on a CD though ... which I loved because of the included Nine Inch Nails soundtrack.

I just spent two nights pulling that ~10MB down from a BBS.

10 fps 3D action!

Makes you wonder, when will the floppy be discarded as the icon for 'save'?

Maybe when something comes along to replace "save"?

With the steadily increasing amount of software that auto-saves without you noticing, maybe soon we just wont need to "save" anything. It'll just happen.

GNOME has been using a picture of a hard drive for quite a while now: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gnome-document-save.s...

Though that may also become antiquated with SSDs and cloud storage :-)

My guess is never. The universal train icon for signs has a funnel and a cow-catcher, and it's a long time since a train looked anything like that.

Same goes for the universal sign for telephone - nothing like a modern cordless handset.

We can already seen this in action as the icon for 'mp3' on signs looks like a first-gen ipod. Already no players (even ipods) look like that, but I think it will stick around for a long time.

Some things get stuck as icons and the original meaning is lost with the sands of time. Once the icon is assigned to a meaning for most people, it sticks. There's no reason to update the icon, even if it no longer represents the object, because everyone agrees on the meaning.

There's only a handful of apps on iOS that include a save button, and even of those that do include one, DocsToGo is the only one I can think of that uses a floppy for a save icon. It might be gone before you know it ... though I'd guess you'll still see it in Windows in 2020 or beyond ;)

Best comment: I never anticipated this day would ever come....

I recently bought my 13-year-old daughter a laptop with 8 gig of RAM. When I was 13, I was lucky enough to get a computer with 8 kb of RAM (and one of the 8 went to the operating system, so there were 7167 bytes free.)

There aren't too many areas where one generation translates to a million-fold improvement.

Let me guess, did you have a PET-2001?

Your daughter had better be using that 8 gig for something useful. 8k should be enough for anybody!

Every now and then I regale her (and her sisters) with tales about life in the olden days, when if you wanted to change the channel on the TV, you had to get up and walk across the frickin' room!

Now excuse me, I need to chase some pesky kids off my lawn.

In college our remote broke. I taped a dime to the end of a fishing pole so it had a nice flat surface to push the channel up/down buttons. Channel fishing FTW!

you should probably chase them off the block, because they can still grab your wifi from the neighbours lawn.

Don't even get us old timers started on how we used to mount CD drives. Editing AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS and making sure the sound card driver loaded after so it wouldn't steal the same interrupt, and sometimes D:\ would appear to be there but you couldn't read it ... ah, my back hurts! Get off my lawn!

An writing another batchfile as to load MSCDEX only when you actually need to access CDROM as to preserve these precious 50kB of conventional memory :)

Do you remember those sound cards that came with their own IDE controller for CD drives?

When I was learning DOS on my dad's computer at work (IBM XT), I knew how to use the "cd" command to change into a directory. Unfortunately I didn't know how to get back out of a directory ("cd \") so I would restart the computer whenever I needed to get back to the root directory.

Ah, those were the days.

I believe that I used to change drive letters to get around this but it may have eventually remembered the last directory when you changed back.

In 20 years people won't understand CDs either, or why people would carry around plastic as big as 3 iPods to play 12 songs.

In 20 years, people won't understand iPods, or why you would have to physically carry around data anyway.

Physical limits are a major component of latency. Until we figure out a way to transmit information instantly with infinite bandwidth, local storage will always be a significant factor.

edit: And given trends in solid-state drives, local storage will be cheaper and more energy efficient than a wireless network for a long time.

Relevant: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes."

That quote has always bugged me. It's dimensionally wrong: a station wagon doesn't have bandwidth.

Bandwidth (in the sense intended here) is measured in bits/second: how do you measure that from a station wagon [full of mag tapes]?

Now a freeway full of station wagons ... that has bandwidth.

If it takes an hour to copy a terabyte of data to a tape, put it in a car, drive to a location and read the tape, you just transported 8796093022208 bits in 3600 seconds, or about 2443359173 bits/second.

edit: I always understood the quote as "the [potential] bandwidth"- the bandwidth that can be available using the station wagon as physical infrastructure.

Firstly, that number is a function of how far apart your particular origin and destination are, so it's not intrinsic to the station wagon.

And secondly, you just measured latency there, not bandwidth.

Unless I'm wrong, they've measured both: Latency is 1 hour (time it takes a packet to go from source to destination), bandwidth is that number they quoted.

Latency is 1 hour, but to get bandwidth you need to divide not by 1 hour but by the time between successive station wagon departures. For example if you only have one station wagon and driving back after copying the tapes takes a further 30 minutes, then the denominator is 5400 seconds and so the system bandwidth is 50% less than the number quoted.

Latency is greater than 1 hour, if it takes an hour to copy the data to the tapes. You've got to get them to the destination and copy them off after that.

>If it takes an hour to copy a terabyte of data to a tape, put it in a car, drive to a location and read the tape

That's 1 hr latency, unless I'm mistaken. Latency doesn't include disk operations on the client side, does it? Is latency time between a signal being sent and received, or between sent, received, and acknowledgement sent/received?

ie, is latency time(client->SYN->server->SYNACK->client->ACK->server), or time(client->SYN->server)?

Bah. My reading comprehension not so good.

>edit: And given trends in solid-state drives, local storage will be cheaper and more energy efficient than a wireless network for a long time.

At some point, though, you get diminishing returns. If all you're doing is playing mp3s at 192 kbit/s, existing wireless is fine and future wireless will be more than adequate. There's no need to add the expense of putting local storage on a mobile device if you can achieve the same end cheaper with cloud hosting.

Now, this is all academic, as we're talking about a radio, and I don't think they're likely to be around by then. Whether or not a device includes local storage will be an economic decision given its intended usage and market conditions of the time, which nobody can predict with great certainty.

How would they play music when jogging or in the train then?

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect ubiquitous wireless connectivity of one kind or another, and cloud storage. As for what form the device might take, who knows? It would have been pretty hard to predict smartphones in 1990; I expect further consolidation of devices, but have no idea what they'll look like.

Do you live in a major US city or Small European or Asian Country?

Look at remote places in Canada or Australia.

Local data caching is important.

I'd agree that caching is important, but when, realistically, would you not have any sort of wireless access in 20 years? Driving? Many cars these days have hard drives; it's easy to see that becoming more prevalent as storage gets even cheaper. The people designing mobile devices aren't worried about a single farmer in the middle of Saskatchewan. Cell phone providers didn't even bother with the whole of Saskatchewan for a number of years.

If you can get a cell signal, you can get streaming media, or at least you will be able to. I don't see that being much of a problem.

I live in Australia and already try to live mostly in the cloud. I have more than enough mobile data transferring > 5Mbps anywhere that I happen to be to live completely on cloud-based technologies if such technologies existed for all my requirements.

Streaming directly in their brain?

Ear-implant with wireless streaming, probably.

Their data connection will still work on the train or out and about. Obviously. It'll be like a mobile phone now, works everywhere (more or less).

Living in NYC and traveling almost exclusively by subway makes me appreciate my local storage. In time there will be wireless underground, but for now, it's necessary to store music and podcasts on local storage. The AT&T 2 GB limit per month also encourages the need for local storage.

As far as I remember the A and B drives were used for floppy disks. In the olden days home computers didn't have hard drives, and typically either had a single or dual floppy drive. With a dual drive you could do fancy things like make backup copies, without having to repeatedly store data to RAM and swap source and destination floppies. In the 1980s home computers typically didn't have enough memory to store the entire contents of a floppy disk in RAM, which made the process of creating backups irksome if you didn't have a dual drive.

If you've only started using Windows based computers within the last five years then the missing A and B drives may seem mysterious. Floppy drives started disappearing from first laptops and then desktop machines in the early 2000s.

I was working at an Apple reseller when the iMac came out. Part of our sales pitch was to try to convince everyone who bought an iMac that they needed a USB floppy drive to go with it. Everyone was convinced that people needed that floppy drive.


Floppy disks were also used in home computers that had hard drives. Before it was popular to have local networks, and before the internet was commonplace, sneakernet was the best way to share files among computers. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sneakernet

One might wonder why the first two letters are for floppy and not HDD. If you follow the drive letters, going from A to higher alphabets generally give you evolution of technology (ignoring network map Z:).

A: - floppy C:/D: - HDD E: - CD/DVD F: - External Storage

Because MsDos, at least in its early versions, could not dynamically assign new drive letters to newly inserted disks. So the workaround, which is still with us years later in Windows 7, was to reserve at boot time the first two letters (A/B) for drives with removable media (i.e., floppy drives, there were no usb flash dongles in those days).

And this was perfected in Windows 95 which always had drive A:\ visible in My Computer even on computers without actual floppy drive (in that case it was named "Removable drive", had generic removable drive icon and did nothing useful).

I don't think that's true for Vista or Windows 7. I have B:\ as a Backup partition from my second HD on both.

Does your computer have a floppy drive?

Perhaps it's because the first IBM PC did not have an internal hard disk as standard?

"Once upon a time ... technologies of the past." "Il était une fois... les technologies du passé."


This video made me feel tremendously old.

SSD is the best upgrade we can do these days?

Kids don't know what it feels to upgrade from a C-64 with a "datasette" to an early Atari 520ST with 3.5" floppies. THAT was an upgrade, everything else pales in comparison.

This reminds me that even us twenty-somethings may one day be made every bit as clumsy and baffled by whatever comes up 30 years from now as our own proverbial mothers are today...

Like this, linked from the article: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/12/12/

> "I think it shows how obsolete these things have become that the 'new generation' have no experience of them :-) Makes me feel old – Andy Paton"

Yet we had to put up with this inferior technology for so long. I remember people were still running around with floppy disks at high school in the late 90s/early 00s (it was easily 20 year old technology by that time) and I started using the internet for transferring my files. So much that I have never purchased a USB memory device.

They used to be used for floppy disks and other such things! In fact they started in DOS. Ah, remember the days? I do... b because I'm 27.

Anyone here started programming with QBasic?

I ate QBasic for breakfast for a couple years. Rewrote SNAKE.BAS with SCREEN 13 graphics. Wrote a slot machine program based on the one in "Absolute Beginner's Guide to QBasic" (IIRC - Google is no help, but I remember it had a neon green cover with a safari adventure guy). Rewrote a loan amortization program that my dad had originally written in Wang BASIC (and even then he only had a printout).

I have a soft spot in my heart for QBasic. As DOS-based procedural languages go, it has of the best editing environments, fantastic integrated help, and hits that sweet spot of making simple things easy and hard things possible that never outgrew my learning curve. Contrary to popular opinion, I never had to "unlearn" anything once I graduated to modern languages.

>Anyone here started programming with QBasic?

Guilty. Did a fair bit of that.

Although I think before that I was hacking batch files featuring the CHOICE command and firing them from config.sys in order to build a menu to allow me to chose from among the many different DOS memory management setups needed to play various games. Ahhhh, Dune II.

Thank god those days are gone to be honest. I'd pretty glad I don't have to deal with IRQ numbers any more.

The possibilities are endless (27 second video)...


I finally threw away my Model II 8-inch floppies a few years ago.


One day you'll have to take your kids to a museum to show them a CRT monitor (and they will have to take their kids to a museum to show them an incandescent light bulb).

Where did floppy disks come from, Daddy?

I'm old enough to remember the 8" floppy disk that was invented by IBM to ... wait for it ... boot System 360! I think they had CE (customer engineer, i.e., repair guy) diagnostics, firmware, etc. on them, as the little bit I actually saw one being used, it was during maintenance.

Back in the floppy days, archive tools matter because it can cut down the number of disks.

Cannot believe I still remember my old favorite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARJ

Screw pkzip. It always asked me to insert the first disk, again, last.

There are too many "this makes me feel old" in here. And in SO, for that matter. You snob folks...

Why does that make us snobs?

because for this purpose, you are all using "old" for "more knowledgeable and superior"

Also a nice reminder to expect the unexpected in your work. I bet most programs back then trusted there was a disk in A. Now installers are relying on the existence of C. But what if you boot from USB? The '/' solution is a more elegant one in this case.

I must be a ancient, because I remember having to identify which side of the floppy I wanted to use!

On the BBC Micro, the first drive had sides 0 and 2; the second drive had sides 1 and 3. And I was lucky to have two drives. I only saw HDs on magazines.

How about having to notch the other side of a single sided floppy to make it double sided. Or even having to put tape over a notch to make it read-only. I remember those little black pieces of tape that came with a box of floppies to make the read-only.

How long before a question like "My DVD wont play in this old computers DVD player?"?

You know what actually amazes me these days. I once had to explain this exact same question to someone and they were very interested in the answer.

I remember back in the old days when I would bring up anything tech I got called a nerd and/or geek and it was the kind stuff you dont talk to normal people about.

I got made fun of by people for talking about IRC channels and being on internet boards, back when they were command line.

The weirdest change for me as been the acceptance of knowing about technology. Today if you dont know what the interent or a computer is you are consider old and out of date. Back then if you knew that stuff you were an outcast.

What scares me about this question is that such easy and popular questions (and answers to them) mean a lot of karma points to all of the participants before it goes into community wiki mode, while folks who actually can google their problems (and spend time actually working instead of reloading StackOverflow every five seconds) have low scores, since the questions they ask are complicated and thus rarely answered and even more rarely popular.

The Timex-Sinclair 1000 was like my 3rd or 4th computer. End of contest (hopefully all the real PDP folks are long dead, right?).


2K RAM, 3 MHZ CPU (much faster than the .9 MHZ of my TRS-80 Color Computer. Yes, it didn't even have 1 MHZ). And yes, I did a lot of programming on that keyboard.

A VAX 11/750 was my 4th or so computer.

Of course, that was after an Apple II clone, and C64, and a 286. They were scrapping it and I (my high school, but really me) ended up with it. Can't remember if I ever got it working properly, but it was really impressive. It had been used in an NMR setup and had really neat vacuum tubes to do connect to that.

Scrapped doesn't count, if so I have some 1960s gear. I also have a bit of nostalgic fondness for VAX & VMS as I spent my early computing career working on it (along with the full range of DEC gear). I'd never want to go back, though.

My first personal computer was an Ohio Scientific C24P. I had to load BASIC into RAM using a 300 baud cassette tape. Beat that, ya youngsters!

Also, not everyone was cool enough to have both A: and B:

And tape drives transfer speeds were 300? baud. Most people can read way faster and some can type faster.

I have many memories of working late in school labs, feeling that awful feeling when the sky outside gets light as it literally dawns on you you've been there all night, making backups on multiple floppy disks as you go...Bathed in the fluorescents

I still have my MSX Hotbit with a 5 1/4 floppy disk extension. I had a lot fun with it in the past. Now I'm wondering what to do with it... At this time, I guess kids will find interesting that a computer must be attached to the TV so you can have a screen. Some love the typewriter, which prints at the same time you type!

The fact that Windows still keeps this hierarchy is what stuns me the most. Why are they still silently referring to this technology in 2011?! It just boggles my mind. It's almost like keeping your floppy disks in your top drawer even though you haven't used them for 15 years. And won't. Ever.

I'm in my early twenties, and one of my earliest memories of computers was my Dad trying to get a book of stamps out of the floppy drive on his Amiga. Plus, who could forget installing Windows 95 from, what was it, 20 floppies? And now we buy 1Tb drives like it's nothing...

This guy obviously wrote this question to provoke this exact response from people. He's duped all of you into obsessing over nostalgia and thinking/saying you've got a leg up on "today's youngsters."

Nobody who asks this question would need to go to a StackOverflow site to get it answered.

I miss going to class with a floppy and knowing it was corrupted, get an extension on the assignment. I am only 20... are there really computer users out there unfamiliar with floppies? I keep 5.25" drives around for fun and I still have Windows 95 on 3.25"ers :)

Never, this would happen again that one technology/company would have such huge effect.

This makes me remember when the first iMac came out (apparently in '98) and just broke my brain by not having a floppy drive.


Knowing the answer and feeling somewhat nostalgic about it makes me feel old!

and feeling somewhat nostalgic about it

And then remembering taking forever to save anything on a school computer, only for the floppy to read half the file and die when I got home. It's amazing - maybe it was the crappy quality of floppies I was using, or maybe I was using them for too long, but for me, regularly not being able to read data back off a floppy was a fact of life. Times have definitely changed for the better :)

Norton Disk Doctor to the rescue! Even if it couldn't save the data, you could reuse the floppy. They were expensive at the time.

Out of curiosity, I just googled for prices and it seems prices stayed about the same since I bought the last pack.

Norton Disk Doctor to the rescue! Even if it couldn't save the data, you could reuse the floppy.

Not only reuse but be pleasantly surprised yet irritated at the same time because suddenly the disk was magically usable again!

You can say that again. Reminds me of having to reinstall Windows 95 and swapping out 13-ish floppy disks. The good old days!

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