April 27, 2010
The end of an era: Sony to discontinue floppy disks. PLUS: The continuing bane of DATA ROT!
Another nail in the coffin. In what has to be an expected call, Sony announced that sales of the formerly ubiquitous floppy disks will stop in March 2011, save for possible niche markets. The move comes as Japan’s demand for the magnetic media has dropped from a high of 47 million in 2000 to last year’s 8.5 million.
Sony is apparently the last manufacturer to discontinue the magnetic 3.5″ drive (but will still make and sell the 3.5″ magneto-optical disks), even as computer makers stopped installing floppy drives as early as 1998. When the 3.5″ format replaced their bigger 5.25″ brothers, it was mostly seen as an expected advancement in technology even as IT managers pulled out most of their hair to make changeover. Today’s rewritable DVDs (RW Blu-Rays out yet?) and USB flash drives dwarf the floppy’s puny 1.44MB with gigabytes of storage, and with the possibility of solid-state drives being standard on PCs in the future, it’s time to retire the magnetic floppy media.
Better get what files you can from your floppies before you become a victim of DATA ROT!
Beware of DATA ROT!
Source: CBS News 60 Minutes.
I was able to catch the above CBS news piece one rainy Sunday morning over a year ago. I’ve been debating on whether to report on it here since then, but with Sony’s announcement it now seems more relevant.
Data Rot: a definition.
(From Wikipedia) Bit rot, also known as bit decay, data rot, or data decay, is a colloquial computing term used either to describe gradual decay of storage media or to facetiously describe the spontaneous degradation of a software program over time. The latter use of the term implies that software can literally wear out or rust like a physical tool. More commonly, bit rot refers to the decay of physical storage media.
“Data Rot” as defined above technically refers to computer technology, but the 60 Minutes piece stretches the term to include non-computer technologies such as cameras and film and tape recorders. Given that computers are part of virtually everything these days, the analogy seems quite apt. Magnetic tapes, photographs, books, records, and even paper are prone to thermal and chemical reactions that render them useless. But they can also be made unusable by advances in technology itself, as anyone who had an 8-track can testify to. Maybe we can modify the Wikipedia definition above to something a bit more reflective of what CBS is trying to convey. A proposed definition:
Data Rot (n):
1) The physical destruction of a medium due to physical, chemical, thermal, etc. forces that render the medium unusable or unreadable.
2) The rendering of media being unsupported due to changes in technologies.
You must have seen data rot in action already. If you live in the US, you must know about the changeover from analog television signals to digital “high-definition.” Most everyone had to buy high-def TVs, or converters for older analog sets. That could be considered a form of data rot. How about movies? Remember VHS, or Beta? What about regular DVDs as opposed to Blu-Rays? Or do you just use Netflix online? Do you still have a CD collection, or have they been ripped to MP3s?
Preventing the inevitable. It can’t be too hard to imagine what kind of damage data rot can do. Important, valuable, and/or historical data could be lost forever leaving critical gaps in our collective conscious. One way of preventing data rot is to keep up with the technology; Upgrading software and systems as needed, and converting to the most common and supported formats. It may not cure or even prevent all data rot, but it is better than having to try to salvage unsupported data.