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Linus Torvalds prepares to wave goodbye to Linux floppy drives

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When Linus Torvalds first created Linux in 1991, he built it on a 386-powered PC with a floppy drive. Things change. In 2012, Torvalds bid the i386 processor adieu saying, “I’m not sentimental. Good riddance.” Now, it’s the floppy drive’s turn to bid Linux adieu.

Torvalds has declared the floppy drive project “orphaned.”

Why? Because floppy drives have become historical relics. No one’s using them. Indeed, Jiří Kosina, the Czech Linux kernel developer in charge of the floppy drive driver, said he “no longer has working hardware.”

Torvalds continued, “Actual working physical floppy hardware is getting hard to find, and while Willy was able to test this, I think the driver can be considered pretty much dead from an actual hardware standpoint.  The hardware that is still sold seems to be mainly USB-based, which doesn’t use this legacy driver at all.”

That said, Torvalds added, “The old floppy disk controller is still emulated in various VM [Virtual Machine] environments, so the driver isn’t going away, but let’s see if anybody is interested to step up to maintain it.”

I’m not holding my breath that anyone is chomping at the bit to take over this driver. 

Interestingly, while the physical floppy drives are now rarer than hen’s teeth, their virtual counterparts still exist, and Kosina had to work on the floppy driver long after they disappeared from PCs. That’s because it turned out the code was full of race conditions. 

Kosina said a few years back that the “funny thing is that it always used to be, but no one cared — the real floppy hardware is just too slow to trigger any of the races in the code. But those who are brave enough to virtualize floppy drive will start hitting all those all of a sudden, as the virtualized floppy device is damn fast. After having fixed this, the driver just landed on my plate. Oh well, that’s not the career I have always been dreaming for.”

I don’t think anyone except the most true-blue old hardware will be dreaming of continuing to support the floppy drive. Floppy disks were a vital part of computing history, but they really are history now.

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