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I'm attempting to retrieve text documents from a floppy disk that is a 2.0Mb/2.0 Mo DS HD floppy similar to:

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The only thing he knows is that the documents were created on a mc around 1996.

What are some ways that I can retrieve these text documents and what software problems should I expect keeping I have no idea what application or OS was used to create the documents?

migrated from apple.stackexchange.com Dec 4 '17 at 21:25

This question came from our site for power users of Apple hardware and software.

  • Based on the origin of the migration, the documents were created on a Mac, presumably? Any idea which application? – Tommy Dec 4 '17 at 21:50
  • If we knew what type of device authored the disk, any problems with format could be dealt with. – PhasedOut Dec 8 '17 at 13:35
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From my experience, you have two options:

  1. Use a utility called "MacDisk For Windows" from (https://macdisk.com/mden.php) that has a good chance of allowing a PC that is equipped with a Floppy Drive (USB or Otherwise) to read the HFS or HFS+ Formatted Macintosh Disk you have. I've used this in the past with good results.

If you are concerned about using this old disk in a newer PC and running into a formatting error so severe it may damage your media the choose option

  1. Locate someone locally who has a G3 Blue and White, G4, or G5 Apple Macintosh that is still equipped with a floppy drive, and copy the disk contents to a standard formatted Flash Drive which would be visible by both PCs and Macs. I specify these apples because they use early versions of OS X, or even run OS 9, are highly likely to include a floppy drive in their standard configuration, and a USB port for the flash drive. (as duskwuff mentioned, the G5 might not be the best since it does not support internal floppy drives and only runs OS X so you would still need to get a USB floppy - mentioned it because it could still be available on the used market)

It may be a good idea to acquire one of these legacy Power Macs anyway, since you may run into this issue in the future - diskettes, in the wild, tend to roam in packs. You maybe able to find a functional one inexpensively.

Also, the files on the disk may be in some odd Macintosh application format, like Claris, Appleworks, Office Macintosh, or some other non-cross platform extension that may require you to manipulate it and convert it to a PC-readable file type from the original data. I doubt that time is of the essence, since this floppy has probably spent many seasons in retirement already.

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    LibreOffice supports Claris, Appleworks, Word for Mac, MacWrite, and a couple dozen other formats, including more varieties of plain text than you can shake a stick at. – Mark Dec 4 '17 at 23:09
  • @Mark good to know, it figured it would, I always get concerned about older formats just because of a nightmare project long ago involving 15 year old Lotus Notes/Smartsuite data and transforming it to Corel Office...... – PhasedOut Dec 5 '17 at 13:32
  • The Power Mac G5 might not be a good recommendation. It cannot natively run Mac OS 9, never supported an internal floppy drive, and was a late enough model that most users would not have purchased an external floppy drive for it. – duskwuff Dec 7 '17 at 16:36
  • If the disk is MFS formatted and/or 400k, even the G3 might be too new... – rackandboneman Dec 8 '17 at 1:00
  • @rackandboneman true, however, if the disk is a High Density Double Sided Disk, the chances of that are less. We really need to know from the OP what type of Apple authored the disk. – PhasedOut Dec 8 '17 at 13:34
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That's the ubiquitous 1.44MB 3.5" floppy. Any modern floppy drive should be able to read it; the hard part is finding software that understands the format -- Mac-formatted disks aren't readable by Windows.

The first thing I'd try is plugging a USB floppy drive into a Mac and reading the disk directly: if you're lucky, everything should just work, and you can copy the files onto the hard drive to try various options for reading them. If it doesn't, you're probably looking at a data-recovery effort, which can get a bit tricky.

The files may be plain text or SimpleText documents, in which case TextEdit can read them. If not, LibreOffice is free and supports a wide range of old Mac word-processor formats.

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    The drive may be able to read the floppy, but the floppy drive controller may not. – snips-n-snails Dec 4 '17 at 22:02
  • @traal Apple definitely switched to MFM when they went HD; I can't seem to find a conclusive answer as to whether that also means IBM-style sectors, but I would assume so? – Tommy Dec 4 '17 at 22:58
  • @Tommy find which FDC controller was used that will tell you if it is compatible or not for more info see similar QA Copying disk image from HP 9122D drive – Spektre Dec 5 '17 at 9:21
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    @Spektre yep, we're both commenters on the same answer there; since the WD references there is intended to use System 34 formatting in MFM mode I still think the answerer has made a mistake in attributing an incompatibility to the sector format in use but I agree with the principle: just saying that byte X will have flux transitions Y guarantees nothing about address marks, CRC formulas, etc, etc. I can't find an actual part name, sadly, but a proliferation of Windows 3.1/95 Mac disk readers for the PC strongly implies ordinary IBM-style sectoring to me. – Tommy Dec 5 '17 at 16:48
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On floppy media that was not sold as preformatted, the unformatted capacity was commonly stated. 2MB is the unformatted capacity of what is commonly called a 1.44MB floppy.

However, the actual low-level format on the floppy could be:

  • PC DD format, which is 360 or 720kB. A PC drive can physically read that.
  • Mac 800kB/400kB format. A non-specialty PC drive will choke on it.
  • PC HD format. 1440kB. PC drive can read.
  • PC specialty formats, like 1720kB. Unlikely that someone wrote to such a floppy from a Mac. PC drive can read with luck (these formats traded capacity for reliability) and an OS that supports it.

The filesystem could be:

  • a DOS style FAT12/FAT16/VFAT filesystem (any Windows or linux PC can deal with that)
  • a Mac-specific filesystem (MFS, HFS, HFS+) - will need extra software in windows, and manual/special handling in linux (a floppy automounter, if present, will likely not work).

The Documents:

Unless they are plaintext (and even then, you might need a text editor that is configurable regarding character and newline encoding), you will need whatever software can process the given format.

In case of a documented, or semi-plaintext, format, you might be able to write a rudimentary decoder yourself.

If the filesystem is Macintosh specific, it is important to know that these filesystems actually treat files as a pair of two "subfiles", so called forks. Macintosh applications often made use of that, and a file is incomplete and probably unusable if one of these forks is lost. Special attention has to be paid when handling this kind of file, since some non-Mac drivers will either only give you one of these forks or present them as two separate files (sometimes with one of them as a hidden file).

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