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Maybe because you back in the old days formatted all the floppies yourself. Then a proper format code was written to the disk.
In the (very) old days, floppies were totally unformatted when you bought them, you had to format them yourself. When you bought yourself a new 10-pack and wanted to prepare them all for use, you'd spend a significant fraction of the afternoon waiting for the job to complete. (And remember: In the DOS days, you couldn't use your PC for anything else while waiting.)
As a service to the customers, the makers of floppy disks started selling "pre-formatted" floppies. Unfortunately, some of the largest brands failed to write a proper format code. I don't know if there might have been any logical reason not to, but that's how it was. At several occasions, I was offered batches of unused, but obsoleted software floppies: When a new software version came out, it was cheapier to ditch or give away the old version, than it would be replacing the labels and rewriting the disks. These mass produced floppies was similar, in that they lacked the format code.
My guess is that floppy writing "robots" for making ten thousand identical copies (whether blank or filled with software) per batch was such a small market that there only was one, maybe a couple, models in the market. If these machines were fed the files only, and did't themselves write the format code, it could explain why such a large fraction of pre-formatted / pre-written floppies had this defect.
Most BIOSes dropped support for 5.25" floppies a decade before they dropped support for 3.5". And if you're trying to do anything with 5.25" disks, you'll need that old BIOS. I had go to several layers deep in my pile of motherboards before I found one that worked. Good luck with that.
In the old days when floppies were the standard, lots of floppy manufacturers sold "pre formatted" floppies ready to use. But they didn't write the format code (360K, 720K, 1.44M...) in the boot sector. Don't ask me why - it is true that Good Old DOS (GOD) didn't require it: If reading according to one format failed, another format was tried, and another, until reading succeeded. 16-bit Windows (i.e. up until W98) followed suit. With Win32, MS declared that "Enough is enough!". In XP and later versions, a floppy without a proper format code is considered "Not formatted".
I never knew this. I've purchased plenty of these "pre-formatted" floppies, but I've never started using them without reformatting them myself first (even back then, we had already started hearing of hardware/software that shipped with some virus, so why take a chance?).
So you're saying if you bought those pre-formatted disks and just started dumping data on them (say, with DOS), XP and newer will say they're not formatted, but Win16/DOS will access them just fine. Did I get this right? If so, that's news to me.
I did ruin a couple floppies after XP said "This disk is not formattet. Do you want to format it?", and I trusted XP, thinking that some magnetic influx had ruined them. But my experience (with both too old floppies and CD-ROMs) is that "weak" disks may fail in one reader, but succeed in another one. So before abandoning a big pile of floppies, I first tried them in my old win16 machine, and they all worked fine (except for those I had already reformatted).
At that time, I wasn't aware of the explanation for it (follow the link that Tim Deveaux gives, above), but access to machines with Win16 wasn't a problem. Now, when I am digging in old "archives" (cardboard boxes in the basement) to preserve old history, the problem is slightly bigger.
Yeah, I read that MS article from Tim as well. That was definitely interesting.
Fortunately I went through the exercise of going through all my old floppies and putting them on hard drives or CDs maybe a decade ago. Over the last few years I've done the same with my CDs and DVDs. My entire "whole-life archive" is now just under 8TB, so it fits nicely on a single drive (obviously, I have more than one, for redundancy). That goes back to DOS programs and my college notes.
In this era of mass storage, selectively deleting stuff is a waste of time.
So very long ago, I had an 286 Assembler program that did this, later updated to C. It's purpose was to rescue data from damaged floppies - sector by sector if necessary, into any number of files (displaying sectors and letting you toggle through and with 'next', 'previous', 'save' along with opening and closing new target files.
It had the option of assign-format option and also had a 'discover' option. Discover would count sides, tracks, and sectors/track - and figure out what it needed. Also, could handle 'oddly formatted' disks that had, for example, 81 tracks, discovering them even if disk info said 80.
The bad news:
But I let it go - it used direct access to the ROM Bios - and windows started to get rather upset with that. Also, areas of memory where I was no longer welcome. DOS was good.
When you succeed in reading your discs you should realize that there is a strong possibility that you get read errors. These floppies were not always very reliable.
I once owned 5 computer stores and had a lot of experience with hardware, but I must say that I didn't know about the formatting issue.
A few years ago someone who once was a customer from the old days visited me asking more or less the same question.
I advised him to setup a Windows 95 or 98 machine. Make sure that the internet was accessible and email the rescued files to himself.
Because being able to access your floppies does not mean you can access the data on them in Windows 10. You still need to get the content to your new machine. If you email the content that shouldn't be a problem.
I also think that you will never get your USB floppy drive working on Windows 95/98. Windows 98 already had some USB functionality, but I don't think that you get that up and running because there was no plug and play (or should I say plug and pray) in those days.
But you question did sent me back in time when I was a young lad and purchased floppies. One disc could hold multiple games like Frogger. Nowadays it is unthinkable that you can do anything with a medium as small as 360Kb/720Kb/1.2Mb/1.44Mb or last version 2.88Mb. PS one 360Kb disc cost about US$ 5 in those days. But in the time that I used the 360Kb discs I had a 5Mb harddrive. It was as big as a shoe box. It made a clicking sound when it started up. And you could hear the discs increase velocity and you more or less expected the lights to dim because of the power usage and sound it made (which of course it didn't). Well that was totally besides the point, just a walk down memory lane.
I hope you find a solution.
If you live in The Netherlands I can borrow you a mainboard/floppy-drives/Windows CD, but I assume that you live in the states. But also where you live there must be some people that still have some 'old junk' from the past.
For 3.5 inch disks you can tell for if it is a 1.44Mb disk or not by the tell tale hole on the side opposite the write protect slider. If it's got the hole it is high capacity, i.e. 1.44Mb, if not it is one of the lower capacities.
I went through this problem a couple of years back, and it's only gotten worse since then of course.
I'll give you the tl;dr blurb first... you ARE going to end up here: KryoFlux Products & Services Ltd.[^] Save yourself a LOT of trouble and start with these guys, the documention alone is both necessary and sufficient, but you might as well just bite the bullet and buy their dedicated hardware because the other bad news is that a lot of your media is going to be bad. Their USB generic flux-sensing floppy controller is very powerful and surprisingly inexpensive and the software is free for non-commercial use (and ridiculously expensive for commercial use.)
Along the way I discovered that if you don't go the Kryoflux route you will also need an older motherboard with a BIOS that supports 5.25" drives if you will be trying to read them. The only way to tell if this is the case is to power it up and look in the settings. I had a mountain of used MB's laying around and I had to dig down a couple of feet to find one. (8-10 years old at least? How long ago did Gateway croak?)
It turned out that almost all of my media was useless, although I haven't made it through all of them. (1000 or so mixed 3.5, 5.25, 180K to 1.2M.) Totally my fault, the A/C went out in my storage shed and it didn't occur to me until it was far too late than this was ruining my floppies, including distribution media from practically every major PC software package and OS from 1982 until CD's took over. I'm crying a little now.)
My next project, and it's a failure so far, is recovering data from a dozen or so MFM hard drives. Data for that is even more scarce, and so far no samaritan with a hardware solution which is probably what it's going to take.)
I'm always surprised by people who claim "tl;dr" but have a lots of reactions without reading the text (Also, I am quite worried by how short entries that can cause a "tl;dr" - it seems as if even acadmics have a maximum attention span of three or four sentences. But that's another discussion.)
I don't have to search for a PC which can read 5.25" floppies (and has a 3.5 floppy as well); it is sitting in my basement. It doesn't have a network connection. It does have a USB interface card plugged into the bus - I believe it is USB 1.x only, not USB 2.x. I have to dig out an old VGA screen, and a keyboard with the "large", round (DIN style) connectors...
A few years ago, I did sort my floppies into "important" ones that I did transfer to harddisk, and those who are not that important, those that can wait. I think that the threshold is a little high for setting up that really old stuff, just for seeing if there is some "nice to have" on the low priority floppies. If I could just install an alternate floppy driver an plug in the USB reader, the initial effort would be a small fraction, and working speed would be higher because I wouldn't have to move it on by USB. And I could do it directly from my recliner where my current PC is located.
So this isn't a critical emergency, more like digging into some old letters: If it can be preserved, fine. If not, no big catastrophy. When I did the previous round of saving, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I was surprised by how little problems media detoriation caused. Practially all the floppies were still readable.
And if this was a life critical emergency case, I would go to experts in this country. They are top rate, too - I think they have most of their income from criminal investigations by the police.
I went to the web pages of htis KryoFlux and was surprised: Usually, when someone are only aware of the offerings in their own country, they are from the US. So I expected to find an American country. Here in Europe, most people are aware of other countries than their own, and are not shocked to learn that there are services at the same professional level outside their homeland.
My first thought is replace the windows floppy driver with another one, maybe an open source one exists that will do what you need. Or maybe you can get away with booting into linux off a cd/usb and then copy the files from there.
Yes, another floppy driver was what I was hoping for.
Years ago, I saved a lot of files on floppies coming from another OS, one that used 2048 byte sectors, and therefore managed to pack more than 20% more data per floppy than the IBM format. We did that by installing an alternate floppy driver in Windows - I don't remember if it was 3.11 or 95, but it sure was the 16-bit flavor. The file system was quite different, but very familiar to us, so once we got hold of the sectors, picking out the files was easy.
I was hoping that someone had written a similar driver for Win7 or Win10, handling floppies without a format code.
I might look around for some *nix software that handles it, but I guess it has to do it the way old DOS did: Try one format after the other until a read succeeds. That really is sort of a crazy approach; I wouldn't expect Linux to have copied it! But you never know...