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January 4, 2012

This Old Zip Disk

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

The label says 1997. It’s an Iomega Zip disk. Capacity: 100MB. Yep, back in 1997, that was really something, 67 times the capacity of a floppy disk and far cheaper than those outrageously expensive CD-R discs and the rare drives that swallowed them.

The Zip disk phase was necessary. It filled the removable storage gap between floppy diskettes and optical discs for a few years. In fact, I remember getting PCs with ZIP drives pre-installed.

The original Zip disks stored 100MB each. Eventually they came up with 250MB models. Iomega also marketed the JAZ disk, which was a 1G and 2G format. They’re all gone now, but some of the disks remain, as I discovered this past weekend.

Like a good businessman, every year end I archive my file cabinet. All my financial records, receipts, statements, they call get collected and placed into a storage box. Files are copied onto a DVD and shoved into the fire safe.

I also go back a few years, and take a prior year’s storage box to purge it. The files either get shredded or recycled, so I don’t have to keep buying storage boxes.

This year the 1997 box was up for purging. In amongst the papers I found a Zip disk.

I was bemused.

It probably made perfect sense to archive my financial data on a Zip disk back in 1997. It was a popular format, and I figured it would be around for a while. It wasn’t, of course. Then again, who can predict which formats will be viable 15 years in the future?

Curiosity got to me, so I decided to see whether or not I could even access the information on the disk. So out into the boneyard I went.

Of all the Zip drives I’ve owned (and there were quite a few), I kept one. It’s a 250MB external USB Zip drive that I probably retired in 2004 or so.

So I plugged the Zip drive into my PC’s USB port and waited.

And waited.

The 250MB Zip disk, loged in the drive for 8 years, wasn’t being read. But as I was about to give up hope, the Computer window on my PC flowered open with the 250MB disk’s contents. It was an archive of my Weekly Wambooli Salad newsletter, which I last saved in 2004. (That’s how I knew how old the disk was.)

Eventually, I slid the 100MB disk archive from 1997 into the ZIP drive. Low and behold, it appeared in the Computer window. And, true to form, there were the financial files from 1997 — none of which are useful to me today because the software I used back then is incompatible with today’s software.

Still, my point wasn’t to get old archives, it was to see whether I could access the information at all. Project: Success.

Now if I could only think 15 years into the future, and figure out whether I’m cursing myself for storing old financial data on a DVD in a file format unreadable by any future computer software.


  1. I’ve got a single 100MB Zip disk sitting right above me in amongst the Palm PDAs and many boxes of 5.25″ floppy disks. They were pretty neat things back in the day, it’s just a shame they had so many reliability issues.

    Comment by linuxlove — January 4, 2012 @ 7:04 am

  2. I wish I would have kept some 5 1/4-inch floppies. I used to have so many! I’d love to show one to my kids and ask them if they could tell me what it is.

    Comment by admin — January 4, 2012 @ 7:09 am

  3. Maybe I should mail you a couple of them 😛

    Comment by linuxlove — January 4, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  4. I’ve got one of those disks I used it at University I remember paying some horrific amount for it, it was filled as soon as I got it as a back up for an animation film I was working after being told that this was the best method to securely back it up, I suppose it was but who was to know that they would become extinct so quickly. I have a feeling the CD/DVDS full of data might go the same way soon enough. I only use a CD for software I buy for example Windows 7 or the odd game I buy but not much else. Many newer laptops or Ultra books have no DVD burner in them. Also if you think about Blue Rays I’ve still not watched one even though I have a PS3 I went through the having hundreds of VHS tapes and DVDS and don’t want to start that again.

    Comment by chiefnoobie — January 12, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  5. It’s a phenomena called the digital desert. Once popular, but now long-gone, older file and media formats create huge obstacles for data migration. There is no solution, and I’m not aware of any proposals for long-term, effective data storage.

    Comment by admin — January 12, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  6. I like that sounds like a title of a Sci-Fi novel the digital desert, I suppose the other option is cloud storage but given all the hacking that has been going on recently that might not be the safest option. It’s probably best to do as many different formats as you can but that would prove costly.

    Comment by chiefnoobie — January 13, 2012 @ 6:06 am

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