Despite what you may think, floppy disks aren’t dead, at least yet! I still use them, as do millions of others world-wide.

Why, in the year 2011, would anyone still be using floppy disks? In my case, I have a large investment in older test equipment (e.g. HP/Agilent 8510C microwave vector network analyser) that use them as a primary means of storing test data. Test instruments like these cost several hundred thousand dollars and have service lives that last decades. As a result they are not retired nearly as quickly as computers and cell phones which are obsolete in a matter of only a few years. As a result, there are a lot of engineers and technicians still using floppies.

Through my use of floppies, I encountered an annoying bug in recent versions of Ubuntu Linux. I believe it also affects other recent Linux distributions as well. The bug was introduced during an upgrade of a software package known as udisks, which, among other things, is used for probing hardware and detecting which disks are connected to the system. In short, the developers were aiming to cut boot times with new computers (that don’t use floppies) but inadvertently broke the automatic detection of floppy drives on systems that do have them. As a result, the desktop Floppy Drive icons in Ubuntu / Debian Gnome desktops were rendered useless for graphically mounting and manipulating data on floppy disks. See Bug #441835 on Launchpad for all the details.

While there was a command line work around available, I and many others have hoped for a fix. This morning I believe the fix finally arrived. According to Post #344 on Launchpad:

Edit “/lib/udev/rules.d/80-udisks.rules” and search for the lines
# PC floppy drives

# USB floppy drives
SUBSYSTEMS==”usb”, ATTRS{bInterfaceClass}==”08″, ATTRS{bInterfaceSubClass}==”04″, ENV{ID_DRIVE_FLOPPY}=”1″

Replace those “1” (ones) with “0” (zeros). That’s all the magic.
Now restart the udev daemon by typing “invoke-rc.d udev restart”

You’re done. It should work now.

I tried this fix on two of my Ubuntu 11.04 machines this morning. One uses a motherboard based floppy controller. The other uses an external USB floppy drive. In both instances the desktop floppy drive icons now seem to work for mounting and unmounting the floppy disks. I have posted my results to Launchpad but have yet to hear confirmation from others. Let me emphasise that this is NOT AN OFFICIAL FIX so don’t blame me or any of the other contributors to Launchpad if it doesn’t work for you! If you have been affected by this bug you should continue to monitor Launchpad until a final resolution is made. Given how easy this fix seems, I’m still a bit wary to think of it as a permanent fix. It is certainly progress in the right direction though!

Update May 8, 2012

I have confirmed that the above fix also works on XUbuntu 12.04. If you attempt to restart the udev daemon using the above instructions you will get a message that udev has been converted to an upstart job. Just follow the directions and you should be fine.