CD and DVD ROM: endangered species

“Technology is like a fish. The longer it stays on the shelf, the less desirable it becomes.”
– Andrew Heller

The image below represent blank CD and DVD towers. They have been at that level for years now: I have not burned a CD or DVD for backup in years. Even more interesting is that I am still playing old 33 and 45 vinyl from times to times but music CDs even less often (but that might be a generational thing!). USB flash drive have also become so common that 2 and 4 Gb versions are used to distribute promotional documents. While I think the traditional USB flash drive is also close to the endangered technology list, they still are used widely to move data around, but Cloud-based alternative have become the most “frictionless” method for many digital users.



The point is that in the last few years, these two towers have become excellent toys for my 18 months old son to play with when he comes to my home-office. My main computer does not have a CD/DVD reader/burner and my only use of such reader until recently would have been for DVD playing while on the road.

Looking backward, when I tell my teenagers that I had to code i.e. manually write and “run” my games and more importantly do not turn the computer off, they laugh at me (my very first computer was a TRS-80 MC-10 model from Radio-Shack). When I upgraded to a C64 and got a Datasette, I was able to record my codes on an audiotape. This was a revolution: code once and use multiple times. It change my life, no kidding! Of course afterward, there was the flexible magnetic medium (like the 5.25 Inches commodore disk drive), the Mac 3.5 inches non-rigid disk and, another revolution the hard drive. No more playing disk jockey to load a large game or saving loads of data.

Another funny thing, my first hard drive, was a Jasmine Direct Drive…20 Mb! Bought it at the same time as my first Mac, a Mac Plus when I started the University. A whooping 800$ CAD for the drive alone but well worth it at 40$ per Mb (Yeah that would scale to 40×10^6$ per Tb. Of course now you can buy 1 Tb of traditional hard disk storage for about 80$: 10 times less money for 50000 time more disk space – a combine factor of 500 000!). This thing was physically huge by today standard: think a thick pizza box size…Zoom in 2015, SanDisk just announce that the smallest form factor on the market, the microSD card, will now be available in 200Gb. That is right, 200Gb on the size of a finger nail for 10000 times the capacity of my Jasmine Drive!

This figure from Wikipedia look at hard drive areal density and is very impressive. We are currently close to 1Tb/, to double in the coming year using the same technology and to increase by another order of magnitude with new upcoming technologies.




You’ve got to love technology 😉


  1. Yup, in the end, all technology will fail. I remember printing out my notes once, as teenager, because I wanted to have a hard copy. But I only did it once, it was over 400 pages in a tiny font size. 😉 I think the advantage of DVDs is that even one to three decades is rather long and I hope we get something similar in the future (storage cubes?). But I also agree that document formats are a problem. In the end, it’s monitoring which technology/file format fades out and get them to a new one in time. (Although I’m surprised no-one wrote converters for the old file formats yet.)


  2. I wonder though whether DVDs don’t have specific advantages not shared by newer (and larger) storage media. For example, it’s hard/impossible to change information once burned on a (non-RW) DVD. And I’m guessing it’s less affected by, let’s say, if a lightning hits your house. In this sense, I would love to see a chart showing not only the capacity but also the … resilience of the storage media. In my perception, currently storage space is valued over persistence — which isn’t necessarily a good thing.


    1. IF you search for the following “lifetime expectancy of CD and DVD” in Google you will get a few good links on this. Most optimistic prevision are about 30 years for the current technology.

      My main issue is more of the obsolescence of the specific document formats. I can still access documents I have written over 30 years on 3.5″ disks or ZIP disks. However, lots of these document formats, created before PDF, are simply unreadable. That includes early Mac WriteNow and MS WORD documents.


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