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Thread: Floppy Disks: It's too late

  1. #1

    Default Floppy Disks: It's too late

    I just read on interesting blog post earlier:

    ASCII by Jason Scott / Floppy Disks: It’s Too Late

    tl;dr Most 5.25" floppies are unreadable without special equipment due to decay, along with a noticeable amount of 3.5" floppies.

    How does everyone else feel about the decay of old media? My first computer use involved using a lot of 3.5" floppies, and I reckon a few of those are probably unreadable now, but it's not like I have a drive to check them in anymore. Still, I was about 7 when I recorded them, and all that I'll be losing is a few 640x480 Pokemon wallpapers which are probably on the internet anyway and some MS Paint doodles.

    For a lot of people older than me though, they might have had important data stored on those drives.

    On top of that, the expected lifespan of a CD-R is ten years. CDs were first released in 1990, and CD writers were first affordable around 1999 sometime. Given that the expected lifespan isn't exact, and we're talking an error range of several years either way, a lot of early CD-Rs are probably now unreadable too. Unlike floppy discs, I did have a lot of stuff stored on CD-Rs as my parent's first computer also had a CD writer. Given my parents bought the cheapest CD-Rs going, that's probably pretty much all unreadable, if I could find them anyway.

  2. #2


    Heh, I would have cared five years ago when I backed my last 10 floppy disks onto a CD and replaced the floppy drive with a 9 in one memory card reader.

  3. #3
    Butterfly Mage


    Generally speaking, it's best to make backups of things you care about and *refresh* the media when better storage devices come about. I can say from painful experience that I had a completely finished novel that is no longer in existence because the computer it was on died and the backup was on a 3-year-old IOmega tape drive. Well... guess what? Tapes have even shorter life spans than magnetic discs!

    These days, I keep a copy of my current novel-in-progress (320,000 words so far) on one computer and two different online backups that are located in different areas of the country.

  4. #4


    Keeping all the stuff you care about in one spot with regular (verified) backups, and on active media is in my opinion the best approach. In other words, don't leave all that old stuff on a disk/drive/online storage dump somewhere and hope that you can still access it when you want it. Keep in on your hard drive (or in my case, internal file server) with all your current stuff.. and back it up using the same processes. Storage is so cheap these days that there really is no reason not to.

    Somewhat off-topic, but for backups I use RAID6 on my file server, have a complete mirror of my file server that is synced weekly (to some considerably cheaper hardware) .. and have historical snapshots of select stuff that is updated daily (rsnapshot) and is copied to one of 2 external hard drives. Basically I keep one hard drive here, attached to the machine, and one at the office. I swap them about once a month (ok, sometimes many months go by.. I'm not perfect).

    The result of all that (and while it sounds complicated, it really isn't), is for everything I have protection from hardware failure, a complete backup that is at most a week old in case that fails.. a backup of my really important stuff in case that fails, and if something really bad happened (house burnt down/stuff was stolen) .. I have a a backup at the office that is a month or two old.

  5. #5


    Not a big deal to me. What data I might have had on 8", 5", and 3" floppies are either on modern media now or so obsolete that it doesn't matter.

  6. #6


    it is a bit of a deal to me, mainly as I love to find old computers and such and buy them up. So any that don't have CD drives, are going to be difficult to get things running on them without floppies =P. But same could likely be said for a lot of older media as well (there is one that is a rarity now but I can't remember it off hand, it was a failed video player I think?)

  7. #7


    Decay of digital media: this is actually a BIG problem, and the history student in me is afraid for the future. All those documents and artworks that survive for centuries by accident after being lost in old buildings or whatever - the wealth of historical data we've got from stuff like that is huge!
    In 20 years time, by contrast, you'll find some old CD from the 90s and try and read it: even if it hasn't corroded, you still have a CD/DVD drive, you wont have the software to read the damn thing...
    I worry this is going to mean only the stuff we think is important NOW is going to survive, whilst all the trivial everyday stuff is going to get lost in the mists of time - in a hundred years will they have (proportionally) more documents from 1900 than 2000? Brrr...
    I hope I'm wrong..

    The BBC rather infamously had a particularly egregious case of this problem with the 1980s "laser-disc"
    BBC - Domesday Reloaded: Story of the Domesday Project

  8. #8


    OH my fucking Christ, this is the very bane of my existence!!

    I'm presently a video archivist. Video tape and floppy disks (of either size) are of very similar composition-metallic particulate adhered to a plastic backing (a circle, a ribbon spooled onto a reel or in a cartridge, et cetera) by what's essentially a form of varnish.

    U-Matic began seeing common usage as a cartridge-based tape format in the broadcast television realm in the early 1970s, and why not? It was portable, much easier to edit, didn't require processing, was a hell of a lot more durable in the field, and was less expensive. It was win win win win win win win.

    Here we are, nearly 40 years on after some of those earliest tapes were made. Couple that with the fact that they hadn't quite worked out the best formulations and everything, and you get a whole lot of vintage video footage that's dead dead dead because the tapes have decayed. Usually what happens is the varnish decays, so when you try to play the tape, the crap all flakes off and gums up the playback heads and everything else in the deck.

    Right now in the archive I work with, I've been finding about 10-20 percent of our materials, from the early '70s to the late '80s, that is gone because the tapes are unplayable.

    The other issue that comes up is lack of players. In the case of 1-Inch video tape, which was commonly used for final edited pieces in the late '80s and early '90s, the tapes hold up amazingly well. But, the decks were big boat anchor things that most places have long since gotten rid of. The few that are left suffer random malfunctions and are nearly impossible to find parts for, so we have all sorts of 1-Inch tapes that we can can't play because there are no players left. And, because 1-Inch was a reel-to-reel format, even when you do find a player, chances are no one will know how to use it.

    The bottom line: The archival world is facing a crisis of immense proportions, and we as a society are very much at risk of losing the last 20-40 years of our history.

  9. #9


    I keep my writings on three different mass storage devises as well as on my computer. I also store it in one other place, on the printed page. I print it all out and keep it in notebooks. That way, if the worst happened, I could still type it all out. My novel is now over 130,000 words, and I wouldn't want to type all of that, but I'd rather do that than lose it.

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by Hex View Post
    How does everyone else feel about the decay of old media?
    As a genealogist and family historian, I recognise that this is disastrous. Way back in the brave new post war world the British government took the decision that they would no longer keep stacks of paper records from their Censuses, but would record it on magnetic tape, the indestructible and convenient medium of the future. Fast forward 50 years and the British National Archive is now engaged in a race against time to try and save what's left of the 1961 Census from the disintegrating tapes.

    TNA at least have some funding: many archives have very little and their collections of tapes, and videos, and magnetic media could easily become just so much unusable junk. Welcome to the Digital Dark Ages...


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