An important milestone passed most of us by last January 29.

On that date, the formerly ubiquitous tech icon, the 1.44mb 3.5-inch floppy, for all intents and purposes, passed away.

PC World (not the magazine), the largest British and European computer retailer, officially announced that day that they will stop selling the plastic square as soon as their supplies run out and never restock again. PC World is a significant indicator of tech trends in Europe, and this announcement seems to be the final nail in the floppy’s little coffin. (In this country you find them less and less, but they’re still around, barely, mostly in government offices.)

Other nails that have long been driven in are: Apple’s decision in 1998 to leave out the floppy in their then-new iMac, and in all succeeding products (they popularized the thing in 1984 anyway, so I guess they felt they had every right to kill it); on the PC side Dell removed the floppy drive as part of their standard configuration on their products beginning 2003, as had Hewlett Packard; the standardization of the CD-Rs, and now the DVD-Rs; the current popularity of tiny but roomy flash-based USB storage; and mp3s, video and digital photography’s large storage requirements.

I’d been expecting this to happen for years now, and it’s finally here. One of the factors that extended the floppy’s life is its conveniece as sneaker-net for tiny docs and small files in not-so-advanced areas like the third world, and as emergency boot disks and BIOS updaters for old, ailing computers. Another is the music industry, whose use of the floppy for midi programming and sampling is still alive and well in some corners of the world (like here).

In 1998 2,000,000,000 of these disks were sold annually. Last year it was down to a significantly smaller 700M, and estimates put it that only 2% of all computers sold today have the mythical A Drive. (Some OEM cases still have the vestigial bay of the floppy up front, but no one ever uses them; its like the coccyx is the vestigial tail we humans have, but no one wags it anymore).

Today the 3.5-inch floppy drive is a quaint old gadget, with occasional usefulness. I personally keep a USB floppy drive on standby for those rare occasions, but it gathers dust most of the time. I got to use it last week when I configured an old PCMCIA wifi card (given to me by penmanila, I think) for use with my Mac, and the serial number and drivers were on a floppy. Also, a lot of my old writing is still unarchived on better media and exist on floppies still, so I need to keep a drive around when I finally get around to saving them properly.

A lot of you younglings out there with your flash drives, memory sticks, Vaios and black Macbooks have probably never had actual hands-on acquiantance with floppies (or even understand why they’re called floppies when they obviously don’t flop – get off your pwit and Google it), so consider yourself blessed. But us old farts remember them with much fondness.

A moment of silence, then, for the floppy disk.

We loved ye, but ye shall not be missed.