Friday, September 7, 2007

Unreadable Floppies

An external floppy drive
This External Floppy Drive connects to the USB port
Photo courtesy

Genealogists sometimes share data by floppy. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do so regularly and often have problems with TempleReady at Family History Centers (FHCs) or at the Church's temples.

Why is it that floppies written by one computer are not always readable by another?

There are two different problems that can cause this and they can appear to be very similar.


CAUSE: Floppy disk format not recognized by Windows 98, XP, 2000, NT, and ME because it is a preformatted floppy missing one byte of information required by these operating systems.

TO AVOID THE PROBLEM: If you have a choice, use TempleReady on a computer with Windows 98, XP, 2000, NT, or ME. If you must run on Windows 95 or MS-DOS, always format the floppy again before using it for sharing.

TO FIX THE PROBLEM: Copy all the files from the floppy to a temporary folder on the computer. Format the floppy again. Copy the files back to the floppy or reuse TempleReady.

Thanks to RussellHltn for his link to Microsoft's explanation of this problem.


CAUSE: Floppies work a little bit like old phonograph records. Instead of the needle in a groove used by a phonograph record, floppies use an electro-magnet and read or record circles of information. If two floppy drives disagree about the location and spacing of these circles, then one of the computers won't read floppies recorded by the other.

As a computer is used and gets old, its floppy drive can become so near or far sighted that it records floppies that can't be read by other floppy drives (although it can read its own floppies just fine). You know you have a problem if several computers can't read floppies written by your computer.

TO AVOID THE PROBLEM: If you're still using Windows 98 (or earlier, come on, you know you're out there), it's time to buy a new computer. Buy the cheapest name brand computer you can find. It should be less than $500 on sale. Don't buy one that requires a subscription to the Internet. Be brave. If you're retired, take the money out of your kid's inheritance. If you don't have the money, ask your kids for a Christmas present. (Just don't tell them you were going to disinherit them a moment before!)

I like to wait until Compaq computers are on sale for $400, but eMachines and Gateways are almost always available at that price (or cheaper). Make certain it comes with a 6 to 12 month warranty. Don't pay for an additional warranty unless the convenience is really worth it.

The new computer may not include a floppy drive, so find out how much it will cost to add one. Your best bet may be to buy an external floppy drive.

TO FIX THE PROBLEM: If you're using Windows XP or later, you'll have to decide between replacing the floppy drive or buying a new computer. The floppy drive itself is pretty cheap. If you or someone you know is willing to perform the exchange, go for it. Otherwise, call the computer stores in your area and ask what they would charge to replace your floppy drive. Compare that with the price of a new computer (see price range above). The older your computer, the more you should lean towards buying a new computer.


Floppy drives are fast becoming dinosaurs. New computers often don't include one. If you don't need a new computer, investigate the option of buying an external floppy drive that plugs into a USB socket of your current computer. Prices range from $35 to $70.

What do you think of the Insider's recommendations? 


  1. This is what I like, some real good tech information.Thanks, Donna

  2. I skip floppy drives altogether. All of the family members that are working on my spouse and I's lines use Gmail to send .paf .ged and other files back and forth.

    If a file were ever too large, like a .pdf that I have made of a book, we use MediaFire [] to store the files in an online filing cabinet. You can upload files that are 100Mb in size, which is plenty for any one file. The site provides a link and then you can email the link. Then it works just like any other download to retrieve it from the site.

    This does not work for TempleReady things, but I take the files on a Thumb Drive and have the Temple ake the disk. It takes 5 min longer, but it never fails. Since TempleReady seems to be incorporated in the New Family Search, even this work around will not be needed soon.


  3. Dear Donna,

    You're welcome. Thanks for the feedback. It helps.

    The Insider

  4. Dear DMV,

    Good comments. You know how lucky you are that your temple will accept a flash drive, don't you? I'm hearing that many can't (or more likely, don't know how).

    New FamilySearch is indeed wonderful. You'll love it!

    The Insider

  5. On 9/8/07, C. E. B. wrote:
    Great article on a problem that has been with us since the floppy drive began. I don't know if you dare tackle it or not, but Windows Vista is going to plague new users for some time. Some "features" don't work, others are a real pain. The worst problem is that none of the old printers and other peripherals have drivers and according to rumors, anything over 2 years old may never have a Vista Driver. Eventually it will probably work ok, but for now BEWARE!

    C. E. B.

  6. Dear Charles,

    Vista!?! Don't get me started.

    A staff member spent 4 days without a computer recently when the automatic Windows update made her primary hard disk unbootable.

    Ya' gotta love Apple's ads making fun of Vista. I especially like Security.

    — The Insider

  7. As a self described n3rd, I have seen both sides of the Vista thing. I can say that I stand fully behind the changes that they have made that require folks to get different drivers. I understand why companies have little desire to remake drivers for Vista, but the big companies have had ample time to do such if they wanted. Most seem to be hoping that folks will buy new add ons so that they can sell more than the market really needs.

    Yes, there are some REALLY boneheaded things that have been done [see above security video] but there have been great improvements to the OS.... even if most of the improvements have been in Linux since the beginning and OS X for as long as it has been out.

    Never adopt a Windows OS until the first service pack is out if you are not comfortable doing your own tech work.


  8. Dear DMV,

    I told ya'all not to get me started.

    Since a Vista computer showed up, printer sharing on our office network has reverted to cable swapping. I probably tried too hard initially to let Vista hold the security as tight as possible. Regardless, there seems to be no fixing it now. Some computers can see the printer when its on the Vista computer and some can't. Pain, pain, pain.

    -- The Insider


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