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Faster Forward: Sony move confirms floppy disk's death, but its icon lives on

By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; 2:38 PM

We're seeing yet another round of "the floppy disk is dead" stories this week after Sony announced that it would stop selling the things in Japan next March.

Sony's move was a formality, as it had already ceased sales of 3.5-inch floppy disks in most other markets. Years earlier, most computer manufacturers had followed Apple's lead in ejecting the floppy; that company looked gutsy in shipping the first iMac without a floppy drive in 1998, but by the time Dell stopped including floppy drives as standard desktop equipment in 2003 it was an obvious choice. The fragile, relatively bulky floppy held too little data to survive next to USB flash drives or flash-memory cards -- even if the electronics industry needed more than a decade to settle on a standard format for the latter.

(As a curmudgeonly aside: 3.5-inch disks, what some once called diskettes, don't flop at all compared to their 5.25-inch predecessors or even older 8-inch behemoths like the one you see underneath a vintage "floppy" in the above photo.)

But many of today's worthy reminiscences -- see, for example, those by ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Wired's Charlie Sorrel and PCMag.com's Lance Ulanoff -- leave one issue unaddressed.

That would be the floppy's most lasting inheritance, the "save" and "save as" disk icons you see in the toolbars and menus of many applications. Even when software developers rewrite interfaces from scratch, they keep going back to the same old floppy-disk icon -- see, for example, the icons featured in Microsoft Word 2007, as enlarged above.

What do we do about that? Should we agree on a replacement graphic of some sort? Or should we regard these icons as the visual equivalent of such spoken anachronisms as saying we'll "dial" a phone number?

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