Dell Computer Corp., one of the world's largest computer makers, said Wednesday it will stop putting the drives in its desktop computers next month and offer them only as an option.
Newer storage devices can hold far more data, at a competitive price, spelling likely extinction for the floppy.
"What Dell has done, I expect every major vendor to do in the next 12 months," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting firm in San Jose, Calif.
Floppy disks, the square 3-1/2-inch plastic device that stores 1.44-megabytes of information, have lost their allure for many people who have evolved to newer, larger-capacity technology.
Floppy disks long ago ceded their turf as the delivery medium for software - CD ROMs and the Internet now handle that task. And many people find a 1.44 MB disk too puny to handle the daily data of a digital life - photos, MP3 files, e-mail records.
Rewriteable CDs, ZIP drives and portable hard drives - especially keychain-sized flash memory devices - have established themselves as far more useful.
"The utility of a floppy disk is just no longer there for most users," Bajarin said.
Dell brand 16-megabyte USB flash memory drives will be offered standard in Dimension's high-end model first and the company will consider making it available on all desktops depending on customer response, Dell spokesman Lionel Menchaca said. The keychain-sized USB drives will cost the same as floppy drives, he said.
USB drives are considered "plug-and-go" because they plug into computers and software is easily installed. Drivers are included in Windows XP, which comes standard on Dell's desktops, he said.
Persuading some desktop users to drop the floppy could be a challenge, which is why Dell is moving slowly, Menchaca said. The company no longer provides floppy drives on standard notebook computers.
Apple Computer Inc. stopped including floppy disk drives in Macintosh computers five years ago. Other PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard, continue to offer floppy drives on desktops.