Like all things in the computer industry, the capacity of the floppy drive has changed considerably over the years. Taking into account innovations such as Iomega's Zip disks that can hold up to 750 megabytes, and the Sony Superdisk, holding up to 240 megabytes, the range of data storage was substantial. Although now considered almost obsolete, the most popular floppy disk can hold up to 1.44 megabytes of data and is still used by some computer hardware manufacturers and users today.
The floppy disk was created by IBM in the mid-1970s as a means of storing operating systems and programs. The first floppy was 8 inches in size and could hold approximately 80 kilobytes. The next innovation of the floppy was the 5 1/4 inches, which enjoyed popularity for years until it was superseded by the 3 1/2-inch floppy that could hold over ten times the data of the original 8-inch floppy.
Floppy disks were the best way at the time to store, transfer or back up data. The disks could be stored in off-site locations for safety and were extremely portable, making it simple to move data from one computer to another. Because floppy disks became synonymous with stored data, the "Save" icon in most computer programs is a picture of a floppy.
The early floppy disks held, what was considered at the time, an enormous amount of data. The 5 1/4-inch disk was standard on every computer, holding approximately 360 kilobytes of data; technology breakthroughs soon allowed it to expand to 1.2 megabytes. With the introduction of the more rigid construction of the 3 1/2-inch floppy, many computer manufacturers began including the smaller floppy on their systems.
As each new floppy disk was introduced to the computing public, the amount of data it could hold seemed unlimited. As programs grew in size, so did the floppy. During the late 1990s, recordable CDs and flash drives began to replace the floppy disk in popularity as larger programs were written and flash technology became the way to store transportable data.
Most computers today do not ship with a floppy drive to read any size floppy disks. With the advent of USB technology, an external floppy drive can be purchased for both laptops and desktops, which will allow the user to continue using floppies for data or for installation of programs shipped on that media.
No matter what the size of the floppy disk, they are all susceptible to dust, moisture and age. Being placed next to anything magnetic will destroy any data stored on the disk. Older 8- and 5 1/4-inch floppies can be rendered useless by a simple bend or crease in the storage jacket.