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A floppy disk is a data storage device that is composed of a disk of thin, flexible ("floppy") magnetic storage medium encased in a square or rectangular plastic shell. Floppy disks are read and written by a floppy disk drive or FDD, the latter initialism not to be confused with "fixed disk drive", which is an old IBM term for a hard disk drive.
The 3½-inch disk is made of two pieces of rigid plastic, with the fabric-medium-fabric sandwich in the middle to remove dust and dirt. The front has only a label and a small aperture for reading and writing data, protected by a spring-loaded metal cover, which is pushed back on entry into the drive.
The reverse has a similar covered aperture, as well as a hole to allow the spindle to connect into a metal plate glued to the media. Two holes, bottom left and right, indicate the write-protect status and high-density disk correspondingly, a hole meaning protected or high density, and a covered gap meaning write-enabled or low density. (Incidentally, the write-protect and high-density holes on a 3½-inch disk are spaced exactly as far apart as the holes in punched A4 paper (8 cm), allowing write-protected floppies to be clipped into European ring binders.) A notch top right ensures that the disk is inserted correctly, and an arrow top left indicates the direction of insertion. The drive usually has a button that, when pressed, will spring the disk out at varying degrees of force. Some would barely make it out of the disk drive; others would shoot out at a fairly high speed. In a majority of drives, the ejection force is provided by the spring that holds the cover shut, and therefore the ejection speed is dependent on this spring. In PC-type machines, a floppy disk can be inserted or ejected manually at any time (evoking an error message or even lost data in some cases), as the drive is not continuously monitored for status and so programs can make assumptions that do not match actual status (i.e., disk 123 is still in the drive and has not been altered by any other agency). With Apple Macintosh computers, disk drives are continuously monitored by the OS; a disk inserted is automatically searched for content and one is ejected only when the software agrees the disk should be ejected. This kind of disk drive (starting with the slim "Twiggy" drives of the late Apple "Lisa") does not have an eject button, but uses a motorized mechanism to eject disks; this action is triggered by the OS software (e.g. the user dragged the "drive" icon to the "trash can" icon). Should this not work (as in the case of a power failure or drive malfunction), one can insert a straight-bent paperclip into a small hole at the drive's front, thereby forcing the disk to eject (similar to that found on CD/DVD drives).
The 3-inch disk bears much similarity to the 3½-inch type, with some unique and somehow curious features. One example is the rectangular-shaped plastic casing, almost taller than a 3½-inch disk, but narrower, and more than twice as thick, almost the size of a standard compact audio cassette. This made the disk look more like a greatly oversized present day memory card or a standard PCMCIA notebook expansion card rather than a floppy disk. Despite the size, the actual 3-inch magnetic-coated disk occupied less than 50% of the space inside the casing, the rest being used by the complex protection and sealing mechanisms implemented on the disks. Such mechanisms were largely responsible for the thickness, length and high costs of the 3-inch disks. On the Amstrad machines the disks were typically flipped over to use both sides, as opposed to being truly double-sided. Double-sided mechanisms were available but rare.