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Windows 95 almost came with floppy disk detection!

April 4th, 2009 No comments

A little gem from the days before Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, long before HD-DVD vs BluRay (oops thats no longer valid), long before DVD. It was sometime in the middle of the last decade – VHS was da bomb, Video Hits vs Rage and Cartoon Connection vs Cheez TV were the only arguments – Cartoon Connectino won because of Terresa (NSFW). I was in primary school, worried about girl germs and owning a Ferrari (little did I know that by owning a Ferari I could attract more girl germs) and Microsoft was preparing to release a little bit of software – nothing big, called Windows 95.

I was one of those sad cool people that got dragged along with my father to the launch of Windows 95 in the city back then – I didn’t care much, all I wanted was my Commader Keen and newly bought Duke3D to be working after dad ‘fixes’ the computer. He came out after the midnight launch with a massive grin and a bundle of these magical square thingies – which back then was the most reliable method of transporting data – which you insert into a Floppy Disk Drive (FDD).

Like Vista’s culling of features, Microsoft culled a – somewhat annoying to be – feature that would detect whether a floppy disk was present without actually spinning up the drive. Something like the USB mount status, but instead of physically asking the drive to spin and workout whether a disk was present, the author of the floppy driver devised a way (after much messing about with the floppy specs) to issue a sequence of commands to detect any presence. This is from a post on the The New Old Thing blog I found,

One feature which Windows 95 almost had was floppy disk insertion detection. In other words, Windows 95 almost had the ability to detect when a floppy disk was present in the drive without spinning up the drive.

The person responsible for Windows 95’s 32-bit floppy driver studied the floppy drive hardware specification and spotted an opportunity. Working through the details of the specification revealed that, yes, if you issued just the right extremely clever sequence of commands, you could determine whether a disk was in the floppy drive without spinning up the drive. But there was a catch.

The floppy drive hardware specification left one aspect of the drive behavior unspecified, and studying the schematics for various floppy drive units revealed that about half of the floppy drive vendors chose to implement it one way, and half the other way. Here’s the matrix:

Floppy Style Disk present Disk absent
“A” 1 0
“B” 0 1

The results were completely reliable within each “style” of floppy drive, but the two styles produce exactly opposite results. If you knew which style of drive you had, then the results were meaningful, but the hard part was deciding which style of drive the user had.

How annoying would that be? Having said that though, the Amiga‘s had these from the day it was born – and I have yet to meet anyone that would not remember the ‘seek-and-you-may-find-a-floppy’ at work.

Sadly, floppy insertion detection had to be abandoned. It was one of those almost-features.

Thank god for that! I still keep a drive handy just incase we need to install some RAID /AHCI drivers for pre-Windows Vista OS’s, these days everything is faster with USB.

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Windows 25 Years old

November 22nd, 2008 No comments

Completely forgot about a birthday, Windows turned 25 on the 10th of November.

On November 10th, 1983, Bill Gates first unveilled Microsoft Windows (v1.0) to the world at an unprecedented elaborate event at the Helmsley Palace Hotel (Wikipedia) in New York City. Windows 1.0 boasted a graphical user-interface to the MS-DOs world with menus, icons and multi-tasking. Not that I was around back then (I was born just under a year later) but here’s some screenies for your pleasure.

Windows 1.0 Boxshot

Windows 1.0 Boxshot

All for a cheap $99 and it even comes with Reversi. Steve Balmer, crazy back then, still a crazy guy today.

Belated Happy Birthday.

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