In this day of writable CDs, thumb drives, and cheap wireless networking, floppy disks are just about obsolete. However there are still many cases where floppies are a convenient or even the only method of data transfer to another computer. So what do you do when critical data stored on a floppy suddenly can't be accessed? Here's how to do it.
There are several things you can do to avoid floppy errors before they happen:
- Look for alternate methods. Floppies still have the highest failure rate of any storage media, so look for another way to get the data to its source. In addition to the methods above, consider emailing the file or uploading it to an FTP server and then downloading it to the target computer. That way, you don't have to recover files--you can just get them from the other locations where you saved them.
- If you use floppies infrequently, format the disk before every use (full format, not quick format). Formatting can sometimes repair previously damaged sectors, and will lock out those that can't be repaired so that no data can be written there. By cleaning the media up before writing the files, you are less likely to lose data later. Even if you use floppies often, format them periodically to protect against spontaneous corruption. Formatting, of course, erases all data on the disk so be sure to get any needed files off first.
- Take care of the floppies. Because they are used so infrequently, it's easy to forget they are there. Care for and store floppy disks properly. Keep them away from heat, dust, and magnets. Don't store them on top of or even near your computer monitor. Don't let electrical cables lie on top of them (AC electrical cables create a weak magnetic field around themselves which can damage a floppy).
- When in doubt, throw away a bad disk. Floppies are cheap and there is no reason to keep a bad one around.
- Finally, the most important rule of all: Never store your only copy of critical data on a floppy disk! Any data stored there should be backed up somewhere else. Floppies fail--often. Never forget that.
No matter how careful you are, you still may find that the only copy of some needed information is stored on a floppy that gives you read errors. So what do you do?
The first thing is to try it in another computer. Sometimes a different floppy drive is all it takes to be able to access the data. Try it in as many other computers as you can and you might just get lucky. Don't worry: A bad floppy disk won't damage a floppy drive. If you are able to get to the data, copy it to that computer's hard drive so you have a backup, toss the bad disk in the trash, and get a new freshly formatted one.
If that doesn't work, then it's time to try data recovery software. Some examples of this are listed below.
- BadCopy Pro - $39.50 - Specializes in floppy recovery only.
- Recover My Files - $69.95 - Recovers data from virtually all media, including hard drives and flash drives.
- Directory Snoop - $39.95 - Recovers data from floppy disks, hard drives and flash drives. Has other functions as well, such as secure file deletion.
As you can see, none of the file recovery software titles listed are free. I have yet to find a reliable freeware solution to data recovery, so your best option is to avoid the problem in the first place. Care for your floppies and they can be effective storage media.