Friday, April 3, 2009

Floppy Insertion Detection in Windows 95

Raymond Chen has an interesting story about why Microsoft decided not to add floppy disk insertion detection to Windows 95:

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.

The reasons given for why Windows didn’t do this are not convincing for me. Microsoft didn’t want to make the user insert a floppy to check which kind of drive was present. Nor did they want to test the drive without a floppy inserted, because that would make users “freak out.” In a follow-up, he writes:

Nobody wants floppy drives to spin up as soon as a disk is inserted.

Really? You probably inserted the disk so you could use it, so it would be useful to have a window pop up showing its contents. And Chen seems more worried about having auto-detection not work in the rare case where the user has replaced his floppy drive (and the new drive is of the other type) than in the common case of making auto-detection work for most users. I find the whole thing bizarre:

It’d all just be a lot of work for a feature nobody wants. And then you’d all be posting, “I can’t believe Microsoft wasted all this effort on floppy insertion detection when they should have fixed insert favorite bug here.

I thought the poor floppy handling was one of the things that annoyed people about Windows, but maybe that’s just because I was used to computers that didn’t have this problem.

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You have to put on your 1995 hat: In 1995, a floppy drive spinning up without the user explicitly accessing it meant that you had a computer virus. How soon we forget the Jerusalem and Michaelangelo viruses.

My theory is that Microsoft simple _love_ providing refresh commands everywhere. And a dumb floppy drive is just a great excuse for that. Even current Windows versions come with one _for the Desktop_. And it's rather unclear why that is the case.

I have seen Windows users complain about the Mac's Finder _not_ having a Refresh command ("How can I know the Desktop is up-to-date?")

@ssp: That wouldn't be an issue if the Mac desktop actually updated in a timely fashion. There shouldn't be a lag on Finder window updates, but with Snow Leopard on a MacBook Pro, I notice them all the time. Maybe it's my workflow...

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