San Francisco’s Public Transport Is Still Using Floppy Disks

Your daily commute might be powered by decades-old floppy disks.

Most people use computers and smartphones that are a few years old at most, but legacy technology is a common sight in key infrastructure. Case in point — San Francisco’s transit agency is still using 5-inch floppy disks.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s chief, Jeffrey Tumlin, mentioned during an interview that the train control system in the Market Street subway is still loaded from 5.25-inch floppy drives. Mind you, this floppy drive format was first introduced in 1976, roughly 47 years ago, and it was largely superseded by the end of the 1980s for the smaller, 3.5-inch floppy drives. Floppy drives themselves are mostly gone from public use. For a system to support this old of a drive, it has to be at least 30 or 40 years old.

Technology can be hard to replace in a lot of business contexts, which is usually why Windows versions geared towards servers or embedded systems are supported for much longer. It’s also how we usually end up with things such as ATMs running Windows XP.

Outdated technology was one of the culprits behind the massive meltdown Southwest Airlines suffered by the end of 2022. The longer you keep around older equipment, the more likely you are to suffer malfunctions or cyber attacks down the road. Sometimes it’s less of a problem, though. The New York City subway was partially powered by servers running the long-defunct OS/2 operating system as recently as 2019, with MTA consultant Neil Waldhauer saying in an interview, “OS/2 is probably the most robust part of the system.”

If you live in San Francisco and you’re on your daily commute, just remember someone is loading that data from a five-inch floppy drive.

Source: The San Francisco Standard

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