Have you noticed that CD-ROM disks have almost disappeared? At one time, CD-ROM disks were the preferred distribution method of big genealogy databases from companies such as Ancestry.com. Many of these disks required either Family Tree Maker for Windows or the FamilyFinder Index and Viewer software. FamilyFinder Index and Viewer is no longer available while Family Tree Maker for Windows is still very popular but the newer versions do not include the software required to read the older genealogy data on CD-ROM disks. Other companies produced disks in their own proprietary format although I think all of those proprietary products are now defunct. A few companies did and still continue to release products as PDF files, easily read on most any computer.
The moral here is to never produce (or purchase) data that is in a proprietary format. If you do, you will be locked into that format and sooner or later the data will become unusable. The preferred format today is PDF although that is certain to change also to some newer format within a few years. I'm guessing that EPUB will become popular. It is an open standard for e-books created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).
Many companies have abandoned CD-ROM distribution in favor of online databases. That trend is certain to continue.
A second problem is that many computers are now produced without CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disk drives. The so-called netbook computers never have CD-ROM drives and some of the more powerful laptop computers of today (MacBook Air or Asus S3 for Windows) also do not include CD drives. Even a few desktop computers (Macintosh Mini) do not include the needed drives. This trend appears to be spreading. I suspect within a few years you won't be able to buy a laptop or desktop computer with an internal CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive.
As big a problem as data CD-ROMs are for genealogists, the problem is even bigger for audio CDs. To be sure, you can still purchase CDs but the supply is dwindling. The latest trend is to downloading songs from Apple iTunes, Amazon Cloud, Google Play, and a few dozen other web sites. Illegal song downloads seem to generate a lot of publicity but legal (and paid for) downloads are taking over the music industry. Downloading of music is faster, easier, more convenient, and (in many cases) cheaper than driving to a store to purchase a CD. The number of CD stores in malls all over North America is declining dramatically every year.
The disappearance of music and data CDs is a future problem for you, for me, and for a few million other genealogists. However, it is a far bigger problem for the Library of Congress and a number of other large libraries that own tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of CD-ROM disks! How will they convert?
The latest Library of Congress' digital preservation newsletter contains an article by Butch Lazorchak that describes that organization's dilemma and what they are doing to handle the problem. Rescuing the Tangible From the Intangible describes the music and data CDs still being received by the Library of Congress. For instance, more than 700 new CDs come in every month from just one source: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
In addition to this cascade of new items, the Library has droves of valuable CD-only historic material already in its possession, with even more material stored on really endangered storage media such as ¼ or ½ half inch tapes, floppy discs, zip discs, mini DVDs, digital audio tape, digital linear tapes and many more. A rough estimate is that the Library has more than 300 terabytes of data stored on these devices, with the potential for it all to be locked-up and unusable when players for them no longer exist. However, the Library of Congress has a program in place to make sure the data and the music remains available forever.
The Tangible Media Project, or TMP, is working to get valuable Library digital collections off rapidly deteriorating physical (“tangible”) media into digital storage environments where they can be managed, backed-up and preserved for the long-term while also being made potentially more accessible to everyone around the world.
You can read Butch Lazorchak's article at http://goo.gl/59gH0.
My thanks to J Hansen for telling me about this article.
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