February 3, 2014

Is the end near for optical media?

Music CDs are already on the way out. In the music industry, digital download sales surpassed audio CD sales a couple of years ago. That's why so many young people (and some old ones) walk around with those little ear buds attached to their smart phones. Instead of buying CDs for gifts, you now buy download gift cards.

There is nothing wrong with this evolution in media. It's like vinyl records, 8-track tapes and cassettes—all fallen victim to newer technologies. DVD movies as well are going to bite the dust—just like their predecessors VCR and Betamax tapes—thanks to streaming video and smart TVs.

So, where does that leave the software industry? I spoke to Dell recently about a mouse that came with my newest computer having gone bad. The customer service rep agreed to send me a new one and, oh by the way, was there anything else they could do for me? Well, I never got an operating system install disk for my new computer, which is still under warranty. That's not so unusual. Computer companies don't ship install disks anymore because (1) the operating system is pre-installed when it leaves the factory, and (2) there is a hidden partition on your hard drive that you can access to re-install the software if necessary. Still, some of us old-timers want those darn install disks. Never mind that it takes a degree in library science to keep track of them all.

The Dell support guy surprised me when he said they would be happy to send me the operating system (Windows) on a flash drive. I was happy to hear that for a number of reasons, one of which is that flash drives are re-usable, while factory install CDs and DVDs are not. So, I turned to my computer guru Ken Yavit, a Philadelphia-area consultant, and asked him if this signals the end of optical media. He confirmed what I already knew. He said one of his clients wanted to make a backup for his new Acer laptop, and the manufacturer's instructions were to place a 16-gigabyte flash drive in a USB port to initiate the backup.

I can't say that I'm nostalgic about the optical disk as a storage medium, but it puts me in the frame of mind of having to plan for future backups of all of my documents and photos. What is the way of the future—cloud storage? I'm not ready for that yet, but we'll just have to wait and see what develops.

What is your plan for storing your precious data when optical disks and drives are obsolete?

© 2014 Will Daniel


  1. The media I use for backing up my precious files has been, and will remain for the foreseeable future, external USB hard drives. I have 4 1Tb+ drives always connected to my PC, and a backup program that makes full "images" of each of my internal drives (6 different partitions). The image program runs unattended, automatically capturing full backups the beginning of every month, and incremental backups of new and changed files every night. The program I use and recommend to my clients is Symantec System Recovery (descended originally from PowerQuest's DriveImage, and more recently, Symantec Backup Exec and System Recovery).


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