Tuesday, 27 April 2010

death of the floppy (again)

Sony's announcement that they are to stop selling floppy disks is one more nail in the coffin of the once ubiquitous 3.5" floppy. (The 5.25" and 8" are long gone). Now to most people it's not a disaster - computers havn't incorporated floppy drives for years, and if you really need them other manufacturers still make them, though for how long is anybody's guess.

However this is interesting from a digital preservation point of view as the 3.5" floppy was the de facto backup and temporary storage medium at the start of the born digital/read it on the screen/email it era, meaning that a lot of people's drafts from the late 1990's are sitting in boxes of floppies on the top shelf of their bookcases.

Now, older computers with floppy drives can still be found. They're all about five years old but probably have a version of XP or Ubuntu on them and can read all these floppies (unless you have any of these really old variable speed format Apricot or Apple ones).

Find one and copy the contents of all these floppies onto a hard disk and burn the contents to CD. If the machine can't burn CD's zip up the files and transfer it to a machine that can. Do this now. Because even if you're a penurious researcher who still uses a really old laptop and backs up their work to floppy you need to consider three key points
  1. your floppy drive is going to break sooner rather than later
  2. your drive may be slightly worn such that it can only read (and write floppies) produced on your machine
  3. you need a different backup solution - floppies will soon be gone, probably by late 2012
Now like typewriter ribbons and old Orwo black and white film you'll probably be able to find the odd box on ebay, but really it's time to change if you want to keep your work.

(you might notice that I'm not mentioning document format - Open Office and AbiWord can, in combination, handle just about anything that you might have used in the last 10 years or so)

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