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Makers, users say farewell to floppy

When Michael McCreary bought three new computers for his company, he had no need for one of the oldest and most common computer technologies, the floppy drive.

But like many computer customers, he ended up buying floppies anyway. After all, they're cheap and he still has a few of the 3.5-inch discs lying around.

"As long as I need those files, I need a floppy drive around. Then I can toss them," said McCreary, the president of an eight-employee real estate management company in the Atlanta area. "The next computers I buy probably won't even have a floppy."

Long the most common way to store letters, homework and other computer files, the floppy is going the way of the horse upon the arrival of the car: It'll hang around but never hold the same relevance in everyday life.

And good riddance, say some home computer users. The march of technology must go on.

Like the penny, the floppy drive is hardly worth the trouble, computermakers say.

Dell Computer Corp. stopped including a floppy drive in new computers in spring 2003, and Gateway Inc. has followed suit on some models. Floppies are available on request for $10 to $20 extra.

"To some customers out there, it's like a security blanket," Dell spokesman Lionel Menchaca said. "Every computer they've ever had has had a floppy, so they still feel the need to order a floppy drive."

A few customers have complained when they found their new computers don't have floppy drives, but it's becoming uncommon as they realize the benefits of newer technologies, Menchaca said. Few new laptops come with a floppy.

More and more people are willing to say goodbye to the venerable floppy, Gateway spokeswoman Lisa Emard said.

"As long as we see customers request it, we'll continue to offer it," she said. "We'll be happy to move off the floppy once our customers are ready to make that move."

Some people may hesitate to abandon the floppy just because they're so comfortable with it, said Tarun Bhakta, president of Vision Computers outside Atlanta, one of the largest computer retailers in the South.

At his store, the basic computer model comes with all necessary equipment, but no floppy.

"People say they want a floppy drive, and then I ask them, "When was the last time you used it?' A lot of the time, they say, "Never,' " Bhakta said.

But plenty of regular, everyday computer users don't want to let their floppies go.

"For my children, they can work at school and at home. I think they're a pretty good idea," shopper Mark Ordway said.

"I just want something simple for me and my husband to use," Pat Blaisdell said.

The floppy disc has several replacements, including writable compact discs and keychain flash memory devices. Both can hold much more data and are less likely to break.

Even so, floppies have been around since the late 1970s. People are used to them. They are the oldest form of removable storage still around.

"There's always some nostalgia," said Scott Wills, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Georgia Tech who has held on to an old 8-inch floppy disc. "It's a technology I'm glad to be rid of. I'd never label them, and I never knew what any of them were until I put them in and looked."