Can Mac floppy disks be used in PCs and vice versa?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

What is the difference between the 3.5 inch disks used in Macintosh computers and their clones and the 3.5 inch disks used in IBM's and their clones. If there is no difference, can they be used on the other computer?

Tech replies:

It’s important to keep in mind here that a floppy disk – of any stripe – is merely a recording medium. Physically PC and Mac disks are the same. If you take a blank 3.5″ floppy disk – even one formatted for IBM-compatibles or for Macs – and slap it in your 3.5″ disk drive, it’ll work in either one, provided you format it yourself. (On an IBM-compatible, this is as simple as typing – at a DOS prompt – format a: and hitting enter. On a Mac, you get a prompt warning you that the disk isn’t formatted correctly, and asking whether you wish to do so.)

So, can you use a Mac disk in a PC? Sure. But maybe what you wanted to know was: can I _read_ a Mac disk in a PC? No, not unless you’ve got special software, since the formatting is different. (Exception: Power PCs can read both kinds of disks.) As for what kind of software you need to do the translation … oops, sorry, gotta pick up the cat at the chiropractor. We’ll take it up another day.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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