Retrieving a novel from 3.5 inch diskettes
January 14, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Hivemind, I have some 3.5 in diskettes containing files created on a Tandy word processor. I've tried accessing the disks on both a pc and a mac with the same result: the computer asks me if I would like to format the disk. I would like to: Transfer the files off of the disk. Recover text from an unknown filetype. Know of any software on Mac Classic, Windows or (possibly) Linux that could help me accomplish either of these? PS - This is my first time querying the hive, so please let me know if I'm doing it wrong.
posted by drzz to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
Do you know what the exact model of the word processor was? How old was it?

It most likely formatted its disks in some proprietary format that modern PCs/Macs can't read, and probably that format is so obscure that nobody these days can be bothered to write a conversion tool (it's a lot of work!). But it's hard to say for sure without knowing more about the original word processor.
posted by xil at 11:39 AM on January 14, 2011

First guess (linux)

First -- make sure the write protect tab is enabled so you don't format the disk by mistake with a mis-click.

Next, attempt a raw disk copy. This will create an image of the disk in a file if the disk is readble.
# dd if=/dev/fd0 of=floppy.img

Look to see if there's anything recognizeable as text within the file, or not (expect a lot of junk)
# strings floppy.img

If you see anything of interest, you can start to slice and dice the file. Success would depend on that word processor saving the contents of the files in a format that's semi human readable. You *might* be able to recover the text, but I wouldn't expect to recover any of the formatting.

If you know the model of that tandy word processor you might be able to find more information about the file and disk format to offer more options for recovery.

(dd is available for windows here: but I have not used that version personally. Instead of strings, just open the file in a text editor and have a look about to see if you see anything interesting. You might also search on common words like "and", "the", or the title of the novel to see if it appears).
posted by devbrain at 11:40 AM on January 14, 2011

Can you take a photo of the floppy, or say whether it says its density on it somewhere? If it's a normal 3.5 floppy you can tell the density by seeing whether it has a hole on the side opposite the write protect slider.

If it's any normal PC density, you can make an image of it using your Linux machine. It may or may not be hard to recover the original text from that.

I hope you have already write protected it. (it says how here)

Do you still have the word processor thing?
posted by fritley at 11:40 AM on January 14, 2011

You might want to look around to see if anyone has written an emulator for that model. Some quick Googling leads me to believe that (depending on the model and when it was made), certain TRS-80 emulators might be compatible with the format. MESS will do a bunch of TRS-80s, though of course you'll need the ROM images as well, which you can find if you look hard enough.

A few years ago I was able to use an emulator to read a 5 1/4 inch disk from my TRS-80 Color Computer days.
posted by bondcliff at 11:50 AM on January 14, 2011

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm not sure what Tandy model was used - I think it might be in a storage locker somewhere, though. I'll check for the density hole tonight.
posted by drzz at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2011

At least some (possibly "most/all") of the older stand-alone "word processors" used diskettes that were formatted in "strange to us now" ways. Some wrote to the disk in a spiral (I think these probably wouldn't have even fit in your 3.5" drive without force).

I don't know if you can use current PC hardware to read those disks. At the very least, you'll probably require a "real" floppy disk drive (not USB), and special software designed for the task.

A search finds various folk with various word processors in your similar situation.

You might be dealing with disks created in a Tandy Portable Disk Drive (TPDD) or Tandy Portable Disk Drive 2 (TPDD2).

Looks like there's some hope for accessing old formats under current versions of Windows (assuming non-USB floppy drive):

That appears to be just a driver, which can then be used with software such as CocoDisk or SAMdisk (see Links on that page).

Good luck!

Tangent: Some old IBM floppy drives would format a standard density diskette as a high density diskette, ignoring the lack of key hole -- that's probably not the problem here, but the solution was always to punch the missing key hole (on the opposite side of the write protect hole).
posted by ffej at 12:32 PM on January 14, 2011

I don't mean to be a storm cloud here, but floppy disks were notoriously unreliable as a storage medium. Anyone that regularly dealt with diskettes remembers having to run piles of them through format/write/verify loops before finding one that could reliably read back what was just written without errors. So in addition to the fact that it might have been formatted in a non-standard way that isn't readable by PCs or Macs, there's also the possibility that it's just not readable at all.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:55 PM on January 14, 2011

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