Before waning in popularity in the late 1990s, the floppy disk was a mainstay of computer storage for nearly 30 years. Consisting of a rotating magnetic disk within a plastic casing, floppy disks were a convenient format for data storage that was small, portable and almost universally accessible. The disk in our collection were of two sizes: 5.25” and 3.5”.
Despite the obsolescence of the format, all is not lost. There’s still an opportunity to recover files from old disks with There is still an opportunity to recover files from old disks with the use of a few pieces of hardware and software. Using a USB drive for the 3.5” is easier than the 5.25” floppy drive which requires the use of a Floppy Controller to connect the drive to a modern computer. For this project we used the FTK Imager from AccessData, which allowed us to successfully create a disk image (.img) of each of the original floppies. Since many of the files on the 3.5” floppy did not have file extensions, the first step was opening them all in a plain text or hex editor. Luckily many of the files were readable as text and were helpful in understanding the history of the LO*OP Center.
There were also some mystery files on the 3.5” floppy that were not comprehensible in the text editor. Since many files, especially those from found on older floppies, were created by software that is no longer used, they are saved in file formats that are no longer supported. For these files we decided to attempt to open them using the original software. To do this we installed the Macintosh emulator Mini vMac to run software contemporary to the floppy disks. We thought some of the files were created on MacPaint, so we obtained a copy of MacPaint through the Computer History Museum. The source code for MacPaint was made donated to the museum from Apple for educational/non-commercial uses. Unfortunately these mystery files were not accessible in the emulator and we could not resurrect them at this time.
Want to try Digital Archeology yourself? Download the 3.5" Disk Image
When reviving the 5.25” floppy disk we had a better outcome. We successfully mounted the disk image of the floppy to the DOS emulator DOSbox. DOSbox creates a DOS window within a modern operating system (Mac, Windows, or Linux) which then functions in the same way as DOS did when it was a staple of computing. There we discovered a working copy of PC Tutor v4.1, a 1985 DOS game that teaches computer history, how computers work, and several in-depth courses in DOS usage and commands.