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Access USB Floppy Drive - Linux Mint 20.2

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

It's obvious as one reads around the 'net that while the hardware and software cartels have decided that floppy disks are obsolete, that is not how many users see it. What happens when your backups of old files are on floppies that you've not looked at for 20 years because you haven't needed them in that time?

Now would be a good time to get your hands on a USB floppy drive, even if you don't have an immediate need for it.

500 metres away from my home is the primary IT district for Malaysia with many shops and repairers in two complexes. So, half an hour, I thought, to wander over there, get a drive, plug it in and get what I needed off a floppy that I'd spent two hours looking for amongst, approx 500 that have been carefully stored in a ventilated cardboard box.

Why that file? It's because, almost 20 years ago, my primary data drive, an IBM, gave the click of death and lost everything on it. In those days, when hard drives were not so huge, backing up to floppy was a simple routine. Today, with my primary desktop having some 4TB of data, that would be impractical on floppies, even though the daily updated file routine wouldn't be especially challenging.

I had found, in my second back-up system, a copy of the file. That was in an Iomega Zip 100. Aside from the fact that the plastics have deteriorated and the case basically fell apart to the touch, the important bits still worked. Sadly, my PC refused to recognise it with a USB conversion cable and, again back to that cartel, the old parallel printer ports don't exist.

So, there I was, spending far too long walking around shopping centres asking if anyone had an external floppy drive. Some people didn't know what a floppy disk was. Others looked at me like I was mad. Some said "we don't stock them" and when they looked at their own suppliers' listings, nor did their suppliers.

This is why you should get one now, before they disappear for ever from the supply chain.

Luckily, there are some online. One of the largest manufactures of such disks was a company called Matsumi but you've probably never heard of them because they sold their kit to be rebadged but I knew the name and was happy to see it. Thanks to a little company called "DragonSheep" in Ipoh, purchased via Lazada (the equivalent of Amazon across much of South East Asia) one arrived the next working day. How long since it was made? The drivers in the box are for Windows 98. So when they are gone, they are gone, so to speak.

Then the fun began.

I plugged it in and it didn't spin up. The light didn't go on. That is not what I expected. This is Linux: it should just work. So I spent the best part of an hour trying to work out why Linux Mint 20 didn't recognise it, running plenty of command-line options which I found in many helpful but ultimately unsuccessful articles in various places including Mint's own bulletin boards.

Nuttin'

I looked at the BIOS; I installed various pieces of diagnostic software, I sat back in my chair and stared at it.

You know those "I wonder if..." moments? This was one of them. I had it plugged into one of my multi-outlet USB extensions that has, amongst other things, an external hard drive in one of the slots.

Unplug floppy. Put it into a socket on its own on the front of the machine.

Seconds later, voilà, there it is. Working. Seconds later, the all-important file was transferred to a hard-drive in the PC and was open on my desktop.

Lesson learned. Don't always assume that the obvious problem is actually the problem.

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