Problems with Floppy Disks

Originally published 29 March 2000 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.

Q: I have a newer PPC Mac (running OS 8.x or 9.x) and an older 68K Mac. I'm having problems with sharing floppies between the two. What gives?

A: Apple has used three types of floppies in Macintosh computers since 1986.

As long as your floppy is supported on both Macs, you shouldn't, in theory, have any problems using the disk on either system. However, I've found that rebuilding the desktop, especially when going from System 6 to Mac OS 8.x (and vice versa), can be helpful in keeping away those pesky error messages. To rebuild the desktop, hold down command and option while inserting the floppy. A message should come up asking if you want to rebuild the desktop file. Click OK and wait while it rebuilds the desktop.

Another issue you might run into is 1.44 MB disks formatted to 800K in older Macs with 800K floppy drives. These Macs will gladly format floppies in the only format they understand, but Macs that can read 1.44 MB floppies will see these as unformatted or misformatted and offer to format them. If that's your problem, all is not lost. You can put some opaque tape over the high density sensor hole, the small square that doesn't have a sliding write-protect switch. This will let you read and write a 1.44 MB floppy formatted to 800K, but it's not something you should do on a regular basis.

If you still have problems, let it be known that floppies are not known to be the most reliable medium in the world for storing important data. It's quite possible, especially if you haven't used the floppy in a while or it's old (2+ years, especially if 800K) that the magnetic surfaces have started to degrade and the floppy won't work very well, if at all. In this case, copy as much as possible off the floppy and throw it away so you won't be tempted to use it again.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson