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Why do Boeing 747s nonetheless use floppy disks?

Lots of small business owners would relate.

August
27, 2020

4 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

If you're old enough to remember floppy disks, you're old.

I am one of those people. I remember carrying stacks of the small storage devices around when I needed 1.4MB of data to store. I remember when, just to install Microsoft Office, I had to insert, remove, and re-insert dozen – yes, dozen – of these little things. I remember feeling cool because the little floppy disk was so much more advanced than the old-fashioned 5.25 inch floppy disks. And I remember the excitement when (finished?) "Zip" drives were introduced that had those new looking floppy disks that could hold almost 100 times the data! That's 100 megabytes!

Impressive. And then I remember my smartphone has 177,000 floppy disks – yes 177,000 – and I just feel old.

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The Boeing 747 aircraft is also old. But hey, it's still up and running. Although it was first launched in 1989, more than 400 Boeing 747s still fly around the world today. Most of the technologies that power the Boeing 747 have been updated to keep up with the times. Except for one. Apparently the jet is still using floppy disks.

What?

According to The Verge, security researchers who conducted tests on the plane found a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive in the cockpit that is still in use so it can "upload critical navigation databases" every 28 days. And although usage has declined, many aircraft require engineers to "load eight disks with updates for airports, flight paths, runways, and more." Incidentally, Boeing is not the only large organization that still uses floppy disks. According to the Verge report, the US Department of Defense did not stop using 8-inch disks to coordinate the country's nuclear forces until October, and the International Space Station is "full of disks."

You know what? As a small business owner, I understand that. I really do.

I'm not a tech idiot. In fact, my companies sell cloud-based applications. We are also a Microsoft partner. I spend my life convincing small business owners like me – many of them old like me – to update their technology and replace it with the latest and greatest new products. Many of these business owners do, but quite a few of them don't. And when it doesn't, I'm always asked the same question: what is my ROI?

Whether it's a floppy disk or an older laptop, changes in technology cost money. The big technology companies will try to convince you to spend your money with them as it will improve your productivity, make your business safer, and make your life better. In some cases this is absolutely true.

But not infrequently do I meet the savvy person who has been running a business for decades and does not necessarily get involved in this story. These are the people who drive a 10 year old car, only buy used equipment, and have never seen a TikTok video. You are not ignorant. They will spend on technology and other things that make them money. But they don't believe in spending their hard earned money on anything unless there will be a real return on their investment.

See also: Ellen, apologize already

If I tell them that Boeing 747s are still using floppy disks, they'll understand immediately. "Hey if it works," they say. "Don't break it." Maybe you can argue with their opinions, but given that they have been around for so long, I often find it hard to argue with their success.

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