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The floppy disk icon is a widely recognized symbol in user interfaces, typically representing the “save” function.

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Screenshot depicting a floppy disk as "save" icon

When did the floppy disk icon become the standard symbol for the “save” function in user interfaces?

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    Now I'm wondering, when did the function of copying in-memory document to disk became known as "save"....
    – Therac
    Apr 12 at 17:32
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    @Therac that dates back to computing center use when one would save a card stack to a tape or disk drive.
    – Raffzahn
    Apr 12 at 19:10
  • @Therac, Suppose you prepare more food than you can eat at a single meal. You don't want to just throw it away, you want to save it for later, right? Suppose you are doing work on a computer, and suppose you don't want to just throw it away when you switch the computer off. What are you going to do with it? Apr 12 at 19:46
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    @SolomonSlow I suppose, but Load/Store were more familiar terms to me as a kid.
    – Therac
    Apr 12 at 20:30
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    The Xerox Star (the origin of the 'desktop' metaphor) used a floppy disk icon to represent the floppy disk. You could save a copy of a document to the floppy by dragging the document icon to the floppy icon. I don't think there was a distinction between 'close' and 'save' when merely editing documents. That's not something that occurs on desktops before computers.
    – dave
    Apr 12 at 21:45

2 Answers 2

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Floppy disk icons have been around for a very long time, as standard features in GUIs on floppy-disk-equipped systems, as have toolbars or buttons where icons are used to represent actions (see Xerox Viewpoint for example).

However, as far as I’m aware, the first “environment” to standardise the floppy disk icon as a representation of a “save” action was Microsoft Office. Version 4.2, released in 1993 for MacOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows NT, featured icon toolbars with a floppy icon in all programs in the suite.

Screenshot of Word 6 showing a floppy disk icon

The use of the floppy disk in this fashion dates back further. For example, Excel 4.0 used it in 1992, Word 2.0 used it in 1991, and Turbo Pascal for Windows and Lotus 1-2-3 had two floppy disk icons, also in 1991. But this wasn’t consistent.

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  • Word 2 for windows (1991?) had the floppy save Apr 12 at 16:58
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    Ech, Word 6 (pictured). A giant leap backwards from Word 5.1a for the Mac.
    – DrSheldon
    Apr 13 at 3:44
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    Interestingly Xerox Viewpoint in 1985 has a toolbar and some recognizable icons, such as blank page for (presumably) new document. It uses text for Save instead of icon, so we can presume that there was no standard icon at that point.
    – jpa
    Apr 13 at 9:21
  • If we're getting back as far as 1991, I wonder whether, at that point, the icon was a 5.25" disc rather than a 3.5" disc? Apr 13 at 9:55
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    @DanielHatton in 1991 the icon used in Microsoft and Borland programs depicted a 3.5” floppy; the icon used in 1-2-3 depicted a 5.25” floppy. Apr 13 at 10:01
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I can't find an image featuring their save icon, but I think the Classic Macintosh (released on 1984) already used a floppy save icon, designed by Susan Kare.

Kare’s breakthrough designs for the Macintosh, which included the smiling computer at startup, trash can for recycling and a computer disk for saving files, are now commonplace in the digital era. They are so recognizable that they are legendary.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-susan-kare-designed-user-friendly-icons-for-first-macintosh-180973286/

Macintosh was popular enough to consider their UI as creating an standard.

The Macintosh contained a single 400 KB, single-sided 3+1⁄2-inch floppy disk drive, with no option to add any further internal storage, like a hard drive or additional floppy disk drive. (Wikipedia)

and thus, any file save operation involved a floppy, making that analogy very easy to grasp (unlike nowadays, where —despite the meme not being a factual story— knowledge of the icon has clearly outgrown that of the actual floppies). In contrast, the earlier LISA did use a hard disk, with an higher associated cost than the floppy-based Macintosh.

There is a nice story about how the deal with Sony for that 3.5" drive came to be.

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    No. I used classic Mac a lot, and Apple did not use icons to represent actions such as Save. Instead, actions were in menus (File -> Save) and command keys (Command-S).
    – DrSheldon
    Apr 13 at 3:42
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    Classic Mac did use floppy icon, but it was for requesting a floppy, not for saving. It was also used on desktop to represent the floppy.
    – jpa
    Apr 13 at 9:07

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