Do you remember floppy disc head cleaners?

5.25″ floppy drive

Actually floppy disc head cleaners have an interesting story. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s they were a pretty rubbish product, boring, low tech. and low profit. One company evolved this into a top selling minor triumph of technology.

Back when Floppy discs were the main storage game in town and all PCs ran DOS, the heads of floppy disk drives used to get clagged up and then wouldn’t be able to read the data from the disks. In an industrial environment this might be due to oily residue or other grime, but in those less enlightened times, the worst culprit was tobacco smoke residue; which the fans in the computers used to suck in, or blow out, through the slot in the front of the drives. This required regular cleaning to remove the varnish like layer off the drive’s heads.

The original low tech head cleaners were a disk of stiff cloth in a floppy disk jacket onto which you would decant a few drops of cleaning solvent. On inserting the disk you’d get a very brief period of cleaning whilst the drive tried to find the index track of the disc, then an annoying prompt appeared on the screen announcing a disk error as the PC failed to boot from the disc. They were next to useless; very little real cleaning took place and then the operator (often a secretary, as these machines were generally used as word processors) would get a meaningless and often confusing message about a disk error.

So from a user standpoint the original floppy disc cleaners were almost useless, and from a marketing point of view they weren’t great either, once someone bought one the only re-sale opportunity was if they lost the thing.

Telematic Micro Limited were a company specialising in floppy disc test and maintenance systems which would enable the head alignment to be adjusted and set up on early floppy drives. At several hundreds of pounds a pop, I wasn’t likely to be selling a lot of them. However these guys really understood floppy disc drives. When I pointed out to them the opportunity for a better floppy disc head cleaner they came up with HeadMax the intelligent floppy cleaner for PCs.

They created a floppy disc with a mildly abrasive cleaning surface printed onto the inner 40 tracks and a disc cleaning programme on the outer tracks which was derived from their disc test software. This solved the user experience problem; the disc would boot and load a cleaning program which measured the head signal from a test track, it then applied a cleaning cycle repeatedly until the signal from the head was good and the disk heads were clean. Each cleaning cycle used up one of the 40 cleaning tracks and showed a diagnostic display of the drive. This was the ideal floppy cleaner, it had a good user experience with a nice onscreen display of the cleaning progress, it could be sold for a premium price, it counted down its usage and prompted a repurchase when used up, which was great for repeat sales. This product was an amazing success and did great business. Later versions of the product were produced for Windows 95 called DriClean.

Amazingly the Telematic Micro web site is still online preserved from 1998 at where you can see the original products, their marketing blurb, and a brief history of the floppy disc.