The first wave of desktop computers users are getting old. As a cohort, they are retiring from their jobs, downsizing their homes and, maybe, passing on important digital data.
Chances are good that some of this information will be stored on relics from a bygone era: floppy disks, Zip drives, tape cartridges and the like.
Any library, archives or museum–or any person–who might be the recipient of such bounty should consider their options, of which there are three:
- Use a commercial service to transfer the information to more modern media.
- Acquire some older equipment to do the job yourself.
- Do nothing and hope for the best.
All of these choices have associated risk. A service can be expensive; getting your own devices can be a challenge; and doing nothing is–well, doing nothing. A more general threat hovers over things as well: the longer the wait to transfer information, the greater the chance the original media will degrade and lose data.
Anyone who has to deal with older information might want to think about hedging their bets by acquiring some equipment to access obsolete media. This can be a complicated process involving a slew of gear, common and uncommon (Bernoulli Box, anyone?).
For the sake of brevity, I’d say there are four basic media readers:
- 5.25 inch floppy drive (HD/1.2 MB)
- 3.5 inch floppy drive (HD/1.44 MB)
- Zip Drive (250MB)
- Jaz drive (1 GB)
These can be hard to find. A quick search of eBay data for the past three months shows that only 49 5.25 inch drives of all types were available for sale and that “new” or “mint” drives can sell for nearly $60.
Getting a drive to read media is the beginning. You will, of course, need to connect it to a computer. There are an alphabet soup of potential connections: ATAPI, SCSI and USB, for example, and modern computers may not be compatible. After hooking up an older drive, you may also need to find a specific device driver to use it. And, when everything is up and running, you will need to carefully plan how to work with the old media, whose condition is frail and content unique.
The time and effort needed to gear up for older media might make the difference between having enduring access to older information or, sadly, having no access at all.