The best way to preserve Macintosh software from floppy disks
Published: Sunday, 3rd December 2017
I’ve been mulling lately on how to best preserve Mac software that’s tucked away on floppy disks, and I’ve got some thoughts to share.
Firstly, and most importantly, *now* is the time for all Macintosh enthusiasts to back-up their floppy collections to hard disk. Seriously, finish this article and then go and back up everything you have! In fact, now is probably at least several years past that crucial point, with many Macintosh floppy disks now being between two and three decades old, far beyond the expected lifespan of this mass-produced media. But it is what it is, and if we’re lucky then most of our floppies are still readable. Certainly, I’ve just backed up a couple of hundred disks and maybe less than 5% were totally dead. Still, don’t rest too easy until you’ve backed everything up!
Anyway, it was that large task of backing up floppies I’ve acquired that set me to thinking; what’s the best way to preserve this software? Now, “preserve” can mean many things to many people. My interest is in putting Macintosh software into the hands of Macintosh users, so I’m coming at the debate from that angle. I want to see Macintosh software preserved in a way so as it is instantly accessible to other Macintosh users on their vintage Mac systems, with no further decoding or interaction required. The only way of doing that, in my opinion, is by using a workflow that is 100% achieved within the vintage Macintosh environment with vintage Macintosh tools.
So, here’s where I’ve come to; using vintage Mac hardware to read the Mac floppies, I duplicate the content of each floppy (or series of floppies, if it’s a game or app spread over several disks) to a new folder, then using Disk Copy 6.3.3 (EDIT: following feedback, I wrote an update to this point) I create a disk image of each floppy, which I then copy to the previously mentioned folder, and then I compress said folder using Stuffit Deluxe 4 into a self-extracting archive, et voila!, we have a package of preserved Macintosh software, ready for extraction in the classic Mac OS and immediate use, with images of the floppies if it’s desired to write back to physical media. And, not least of all, by using Stuffit to compress into an archive, it’s easily shareable through the web, FTP, email, or sneakernet if so inclined.
Here’s an example of a folder I just made for Monopoly by MacPlay, which came on three floppies, all of which allowed me to duplicate their contents and then make the disk images:
Is that archival standard preservation? Probably not, no. But it’s a practical method to ensure that this software can be enjoyed again by my fellow enthusiast with almost no effort whatsoever, and that’s what floats my boat!
Here’s the link for the Stuffed archive of the Monopoly folder: Monopoly.sit
And for those of you not blessed to have a vintage Mac to play it in right now, go ahead and check out this emulated version of it I just created at the Internet Archive: Monopoly by MacPlay at archive.org
So, that’s my thinking on preservation of Macintosh floppy-based software. I’m going to encourage as many people as possible to take up this call-to-arms and get their floppies backed-up *pronto*! The more software we can save and make available, the better. If you’ve got a stack of Macintosh floppies sitting on your shelf or in a drawer, you know what to do!
 Regarding using actual Mac hardware, there’s actually a *huge* caveat to be aware of. Over the years, Apple created and used several floppy disk standards; 400K, 800K, and 1.4MB, and various file-systems. There’s a good overview of that whole mess here at LowEndMac. The annoying outcome of that is that not all Apple floppy drives can read all Apple floppy disks. If you’ve got a Mac Plus or 512K, it won’t be able to read 1.4MB disks. If you’ve got an iMac with a USB floppy drive, it won’t be able to read 400K or 800K. The sweet spot is the middle period of Apple’s evolution; the early to mid 1990s. Almost all Apple Macs produced between 1990 and 1997 come with SuperDrive installed (the floppy SuperDrive, not the CD/DVD SuperDrive from the turn of the Millenium!) and these drives will handle all three formats. I’m using a Mac LCIII+ for my floppy back-up work, and it does the trick just right!