Preservation Week Quiz: Saturday’s Question of the Day

As part of Preservation Week 2015, the State Archives is partnering with the State Library of North Carolina on a Preservation Week Question of the Day – a series of questions related to the preservation of materials both physical and electronic. See the State Library’s blog to see their question of the day posts.

What kind of computer can open the files on this 3.5” floppy disk from 1990?

Dysan floppy disk

  1. Any modern Windows or Mac computer, as long as you buy an external floppy drive.
  2. A Windows computer from around 1990 running MS-DOS and having a working floppy drive.
  3. A modern Windows computer with special hardware installed inside the computer, plus an external floppy drive, plus special software to emulate a 1990 computer.
  4. There is no computer that can read the disk, because the insides of the disk have definitely deteriorated too much by now.
  5. There’s no way to tell. You can’t be certain about whether the data has survived or what it will take to access the files until you start experimenting with different hardware and software.

Do you know the answer?  Find out below the cut.

Answer: 5

This floppy could be deteriorated beyond repair, and if its files are intact, you don’t have any way of knowing what software was used to create them. Although the outside of the disk indicates “DOS FORMAT” (indicating that the manufacturer made this disk for an old-fashioned MS-DOS computer), the disk could have been re-formatted for another operating system.

The longer you wait to remove files from old digital media, the more difficult and risky it will be to access the files. 3.5” floppies were introduced to the market by Sony in 1982 and continued to be in widespread use for nearly twenty years, so some of your old 3.5” floppies lying around the house could be much older than others. Disks were formatted for different operating systems during that time (including MS-DOS, Windows, Mac, and many others), and you rarely have any way of knowing what software was used to create the files. Added to all this, the disk itself may have deteriorated and all or part of its files may no longer be physically intact.

If you missed one of the questions in this week-long quiz or would like to take the quiz again, all of the questions can be found here.