Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used for?"

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Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used for?"

Postby KnightExemplar » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:41 pm UTC

http://superuser.com/questions/231273/w ... s-used-for

This post on Superuser has reached over 645 upvotes. I knew the answer in a heartbeat, but I suddenly realized that a fair number of COLLEGE students today have never seen a floppy drive before in their life. They've probably never used one. I personally have used both the A: and B: drives when they existed.

We have an increasingly ironic group of adults, entering the work force, who have no idea what a floppy was. And yet... this symbol is the "save" icon:
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I just thought it was time to update everyone on this fact. A brief reminder that... we are getting old. I mean... wiser, with more experience. :wink: :wink:
Last edited by KnightExemplar on Wed Nov 06, 2013 12:42 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Dopefish » Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:03 pm UTC

I'm only 20 something, why do I keep discovering I'm old? :shock:

Man, when I'm actually old relative to the overall population I'm gonna feel like I've been dead for almost a century at this rate.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Sat Oct 19, 2013 7:40 pm UTC

It wasn't that long ago that I still occasionally used floppies to transfer data (about 7-8 years ago). My current desktop is the first one I've built without a floppy drive I think, I have two floppy drives on my desk and I have a couple of cases on my shelf where our old floppies are stored. It's weird to think that some of those are nearly as old as me (22).

But I never rush to use new technology; these fancy USB toys don't sit well with me.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby WanderingLinguist » Sat Oct 19, 2013 10:14 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:It wasn't that long ago that I still occasionally used floppies to transfer data (about 7-8 years ago). My current desktop is the first one I've built without a floppy drive I think, I have two floppy drives on my desk and I have a couple of cases on my shelf where our old floppies are stored. It's weird to think that some of those are nearly as old as me (22).

But I never rush to use new technology; these fancy USB toys don't sit well with me.


Hmm, I've got a couple of floppy disks where the last time I saved files on them was before you were born. Probably not readable any more. I feel old.

Anyone else here remember 8-inch floppies?

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby EvanED » Sat Oct 19, 2013 10:23 pm UTC

Never used 8" floppies, only seen them.

Did use 5.25", though.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:51 pm UTC

I remember my school had a machine that had a 5.25" floppy drive (I can only assume that's what it was; I was six at the time so don't really remember much, only that the disk was much larger than the 3.5 I was accustomed to). Why we were using it, I do not know.

I'm afraid I'm too young to have used 8" floppies.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Magnanimous » Sun Oct 20, 2013 1:36 am UTC

I had a few 8" floppies, but no drive to use them... That really doesn't seem so long ago.

If you're ever in Seattle, you should check out the Living Computer Museum. Bill Gates and Paul Allen got a bunch of (working) computers dating back to the 50s, complete with punch cards and big reels of magnetic tape and everything.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Nyktos » Sun Oct 20, 2013 2:35 am UTC

Collage students? Well I wouldn't really expect art students to know much about computers...

I'm twenty plus a few months and while I never really used floppies, I certainly grew up with computers that had (very dusty) A: drives, so I'm not sure this is an age thing. I doubt most Superuser posters are substantially younger than me, and 3.5" floppy drives were still standard on desktops at the turn of the millennium, at least around here.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby SomeoneSomewhere » Sun Oct 20, 2013 10:09 am UTC

I remember using 3.5" floppies before I went to school... Never did anything with 5.25" or older, though. I'm only just 17.

My dad's work used to have a camera that took 3.5" floppies, which we occasionally borrowed. Probably still got some of the photos.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby korona » Sun Oct 20, 2013 4:42 pm UTC

My hobby OS project from 2007 still used a floppy disc to boot because the floppy boot sequence on x86 is very simple and floppy drivers are easy to write.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby wumpus » Sun Oct 20, 2013 5:33 pm UTC

My bios (dated 2010) defaults to insisting it needs a 1.4" drive. Windows A: drives still haunt us.

Now B: drives are another story, and I suspect that I would still think "DOS A: and B:" instead of "Windows A: and B:". I suppose there was a little while when you wanted both 5.25" and 1.4" drives, but I mainly assume that the B: drives were there because hard drives were just a little too expensive and you wanted the extra space of another hard drive (or to make copying easier).'

I remember that two floppy drives came in handy on an 8 bit computer, I can't remember using a computer with two identical floppies and a hard drive, and only one machine (my father's) that had both 1.4" and 5.25" floppies.

Hint for the youngin's. Typically drive B: was mapped to drive A: (I don't know what happens if you try that now) if you only have one. It was surprisingly common (see above) to have two.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby dii » Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:54 pm UTC

My first computer had both a 5¼" floppy drive and a cassette drive.

My current computers have neither. Even the computer I got 8 years ago didn't have a floppy drive.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby troyp » Sun Oct 20, 2013 9:59 pm UTC

I'd never even heard of 8" floppies.

I remember when I was a kid, I'd sometimes have to argue with people about 3.5" floppies. They'd insist they were "hard disks", because the cases were hard. (They didn't seem to notice that the cases weren't "disks" either.) I managed to refrain from tearing any open to demonstrate they were "floppy".

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Sun Oct 20, 2013 10:25 pm UTC

troyp wrote:I remember when I was a kid, I'd sometimes have to argue with people about 3.5" floppies. They'd insist they were "hard disks", because the cases were hard. (They didn't seem to notice that the cases weren't "disks" either.) I managed to refrain from tearing any open to demonstrate they were "floppy".


You should have done, along with an actual "hard disk"; so as to make a comparison.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Jplus » Mon Oct 21, 2013 10:54 am UTC

It's probably a good thing that the newer generations are unaware of floppy disks, though. No need to carry that baggage if you have superior alternatives.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Mon Oct 21, 2013 10:56 am UTC

Just don't go changing the Save icon to a picture of a USB stick.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Jplus » Mon Oct 21, 2013 10:58 am UTC

I presume you mean a cloud. USB sticks are so 2008. ;)
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Mon Oct 21, 2013 11:40 am UTC

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Earthling on Mars » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:25 pm UTC

I'm 19, and I have a box of 3.5" floppy disks sitting under my desk right now. No floppy drive to use them in, though. My dad used to have some 5.25" floppies sitting around, but I think he finally threw them away.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Clix » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:46 pm UTC

Ah floppies. Never used 8", but did use the 5.25" on the Trash 80 lugable and cassettes on the Vic 20 (couldn't afford the other 44 pieces) Heck I can't even remember the last time I burned a CD or DVD. I took my first computer classes in the early 80s (oops, guess I need to specify 1980s) and had a many a late night session at this desk

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby EvanED » Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:32 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:Image

That post made me laugh, but anyone who laments the reliability, speed, or availability of the cloud and pines for the day of floppies has obviously never used floppy disks :wink:

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Derek » Mon Oct 21, 2013 8:50 pm UTC

My family used floppies to store documents well into the 2000's. In fact, I think it was only a couple years ago that my parents finally upgraded to a floppy-less computer (but my first computer of my own, in 2005, had no floppy drive).

These were all 3.5" floppies of course. I've seen 5.25", and I think our very first computer had a drive for them, but I've never had to use them.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby speising » Mon Oct 21, 2013 9:38 pm UTC

if you want some 8" floppy, and acoustic coupler nostalgia, watch the film "wargames"!

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby sparkyb » Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:05 am UTC

Back in the day my parents definitely had computers with A:, B:, and C: drives, because they had both 5.25" and 3.5" floppy drives. However my first computer (a hand-me-down from my dad) was a Tandy with 2 5.25" drives and no hard drive. The A: drive typically held my DOS disk and so I could put disks with data or programs in B:. Of course a lot of the time you could just take the DOS disk out once you had booted and put programs in the A: drive and data in the B: drive. Also, it was necessary if you wanted to copy things between disks. But that got tricky because "copy" was a program on the DOS disk. I never personally used an 8" floppy, but we had some old ones on display around my high school computer lab.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby lgw » Tue Oct 22, 2013 9:14 pm UTC

I've used 8" floppies - to install microcode on mainframes, back in the day.

I made good use of the big reel-to-reel tape drives (which far predate floppies of any size) early in my programming career. I was writing tape device drivers, and while the reel-to-reel drives were useless for most purposes, they were great for debugging tape drivers because you could see exactly what was happening, or sometimes hear your mistakes. Fail to detect that end-of-tape marker? flap flap flap flap
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Cleverbeans » Sat Oct 26, 2013 4:43 am UTC

I recall falling off my bike and destroying 3 months of work on 5.25" floppies and because I didn't have a hard drive and couldn't afford extra disks there was no backup. I cried for a couple of days.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby tastelikecoke » Sun Oct 27, 2013 4:57 pm UTC

And here I ask the reason why non-floppily flop A: drives go first than B: drives.

During my first encounter with computers I asked where's B: drive. Then my mother showed me a big floppity 5.25" disk and I thought "Wow, it's the diskette's parent!" (I haven't seen an 8", but I've seen laserdiscs and wow, those are insanely huge.) Whenever I use those yellowish folder I pretend they're the electronic folders and think of ways to view them as they are portrayed in computers.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby 3rdtry » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:41 am UTC

Thanks to this thread, I moved the SD card letter to A: (it looks a bit like a floppy anyways) and I'll probably move the main system partition too when I'm feeling more daring.

Floppy drives are things from the past, thankfully, just like optical media. I'd like to use this post to remind laptop owners that you can buy these neat caddy thingies you can use to replace that slow DVD reader with a proper storage device, and that you can get 60GB SSDs (enough to install any OS) for as low as $50.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Xenomortis » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:48 am UTC

That makes me think; how many people mistake the save icon to be an SD card rather than a floppy disk?

Also, apparently a source of several compatibility problems facing Windows developers was programs expecting system files (or worse, themselves) to always be installed on the C: drive (or C:\Program Files).
Probably less of a problem now.
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby darkone238 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 12:47 am UTC

Magnanimous wrote:I had a few 8" floppies, but no drive to use them... That really doesn't seem so long ago.

If you're ever in Seattle, you should check out the Living Computer Museum. Bill Gates and Paul Allen got a bunch of (working) computers dating back to the 50s, complete with punch cards and big reels of magnetic tape and everything.


I went with a friend this past weekend and I have to thank you for the suggestion. It was amazing and I highly recommend anyone here go visit.

We accidentally made the PDP-8/e play chess with itself for 2 hours though :oops:

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby chris857 » Wed Dec 25, 2013 4:32 am UTC

I'm 19 and remember using floppies (but only the 3.5", I've never used any other). Heck, the computer I'm typing from has a floppy drive. Never had a B:\ drive, since I don't think I've ever come across a two-floppy-drive computer. I also remember Zip drives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip_Drives).

Amusing how any time I bring up the file open dialog in Qbasic that it makes an audible check of the floppy drive.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby darkone238 » Sun Jan 05, 2014 3:34 pm UTC

chris857 wrote:I'm 19 and remember using floppies (but only the 3.5", I've never used any other). Heck, the computer I'm typing from has a floppy drive. Never had a B:\ drive, since I don't think I've ever come across a two-floppy-drive computer. I also remember Zip drives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip_Drives).

Amusing how any time I bring up the file open dialog in Qbasic that it makes an audible check of the floppy drive.

Ah but do you remember Jaz drives? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaz_drive :)

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby thoughtfully » Sun Jan 05, 2014 7:22 pm UTC

I have a 100 MB zip drive and a few discs floating aroud somewhere. I also have a 40 MB version that's part of Iomega's HipZip media player. There are some on EBay, I see :)
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http://news.cnet.com/2100-1040-246048.html

It still surprises me to see cassette and VHS tapes at the corner drugstore, though :)
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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby Coyne » Mon Jan 06, 2014 12:24 am UTC

Something you might add (if it isn't already there, I might have missed it) since this is a historical interest thing, is mention of the emulation support for both drives that DOS used on computers that only had one physical floppy drive. In that case the computer would work with just the one drive, asking you to remove floppy A: and insert floppy B: and vice-versa, as needed. Which could be quite a pain if it was doing a lot of switching between drives.
In all fairness...

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby cemper93 » Tue Jan 07, 2014 1:25 am UTC

darkone wrote:It still surprises me to see cassette and VHS tapes at the corner drugstore, though

Well, harddisk recorders are pretty expensive and you don't get to put all your recorded movies onto a shelf for showing off, so I can see why somebody would want a VHS tape. And as for the audio tapes, I can't really see much practical use, but I recently bought some to make a mixtape for a friend of mine, because we had decided that just stuffing music on a USB drive or linking to a Youtube playlist isn't half as personal as a mixtape you made for somebody.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby hotaru » Tue Jan 07, 2014 9:59 pm UTC

cemper93 wrote:
darkone wrote:It still surprises me to see cassette and VHS tapes at the corner drugstore, though

Well, harddisk recorders are pretty expensive and you don't get to put all your recorded movies onto a shelf for showing off, so I can see why somebody would want a VHS tape. And as for the audio tapes, I can't really see much practical use, but I recently bought some to make a mixtape for a friend of mine, because we had decided that just stuffing music on a USB drive or linking to a Youtube playlist isn't half as personal as a mixtape you made for somebody.

wow, it's almost like dirt-cheap optical storage (CDs, DVDs) was never invented!

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Jan 08, 2014 6:02 am UTC

Cassettes are still popular with the ambient music crowd, eg see http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/pro ... 31/5184134

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby 0x783czar » Thu Jan 23, 2014 7:10 pm UTC

It's odd, I'm under 25 but I keep realizing that my computer experience is not the same as most of my generation. My fist computer experience was on a 386 running MSDOS & Windows 3.1. I can still remember when my father upgraded us to 3.11 and when we bought our first Pentium so we could run Win95 when it came out (which resulted in the 386 becoming mine). My first e-mail address was a Juno address which I accessed on my 386 (which by the way used actual 'floppy' disks). I learned to program my 386 with MS-qBASIC, about the time my father upgraded our Pentium 3 to a Pentium 4 which came with Windows ME.

I keep getting told that things are before my time, when I have vivid memories of using them for my day to day tasks. But at the same time I've used a computer since I was very young—much younger than most people my age. And I grew up in the Seattle area during the 90s, which probably increased my exposure to the technology of the day.

However I also have experience with technology from before my time thanks to Paul Allen's living Computer Museum where they have old DEC PDP computers hooked up to teletype machines with punch-tape, so that the general public can use them. It was fun writing BASIC again, and on systems far older than my time.

Having an understanding of that older technology has really helped me understand current technology better. For instance, having used a teletype machine makes me understand the logic behind the archaic UNIX 'ed' command and why I was originally taught to skip line numbers by 10s and to call printed source code a 'listing'.

Anyway, it's nice to be able to know what people older than me in the industry are talking about, haha.

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Re: Superuser: "What are the Windows A: and B: drives used f

Postby free-bee » Tue Feb 18, 2014 2:14 am UTC

Just jumping in without reading the comments.
The first PC we had (that I remember) ran Windows 98. If I checked hard enough, which I am, I can find that install disc somewhere. I also have at least three floppy A: drives in my room. If you want, I can take inventory of my old hardware that, to my knowledge, still works. I'll give you a hint: there's a lot. Also, I'm 20.
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