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3.5" Media Construction
3.5" floppy disks are similar in concept of course to 5.25" disks, but offer several improvements in implementation. The three main improvements over the older style of disk all have to do with durability. First, the jacket is made of a much sturdier material that can withstand a reasonable amount of abuse without destroying the disk within. Second, the read/write window of the disk itself is protected by a sliding metal cover that is engaged when the media is inserted into the drive. Finally, the disk itself is smaller, which makes it much sturdier as well.
The 3.5" disk has several other improvements over the 5.25" media as well. The write-protect notch is replaced by a hole with a sliding plastic piece; when the hole is open the disk is write-protected and when it is closed the disk is write-enabled, and switching from one state to the other is simple. The large hole in the center of the 5.25" disk is replaced by a small metal disk with an indexing hole in it, improving durability further.
The 3.5" disk media is reasonably durable and reliable, especially compared to the very flimsy and vulnerable 5.25" media. It doesn't require a protective pocket per se--manufacturers often provide thin plastic pockets with the disks, but I have yet to figure out what exactly the point is of these. The jacket is sturdy enough to handle a ball-point pen with no problems, and they can be mailed readily, as everyone at America Online apparently knows. :^)
Next: Media Density