Alas, poor CDs and DVDs, we hardly knew ye.
Have you purchased any software lately? How about digital images of an old genealogy book? Did you obtain them on a CD or DVD disk? If so, keep that disk. It is already an antique and probably will be a collector’s item before long.
Twenty years ago, we all purchased software on floppy disks. Perhaps ten years ago, software was usually delivered on CD-ROM disks. When was the last time you purchased software that was delivered on a CD or even a high-capacity DVD-ROM disk? Yes, there are a few companies that still deliver software that way, but the number of such companies is dwindling.
Most software these days is delivered electronically, usually by means of a file download. Even Microsoft is now delivering Windows 10 by software download.
I own an iMac desktop computer, a MacBook Pro laptop, a Windows 10 laptop, and a Chromebook laptop. None of them have internal CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disk drives. Of course, iPads, Android tablets and other handheld computers never had CD-ROM drives.
My situation is not unusual. Millions of new computers are sold every year without internal CD-ROM drives. In fact, industry experts tell us that CD-ROM drives will soon be as rare as floppy disk drives. To verify this, visit any local computer store and look at the computers being offered for sale. A few of the desktop systems might have CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drives, but most will not. Laptop computers rarely have internal CD-ROM/DVD-ROM drives.
A Samsung Ultrabook Series 9 laptop with no CD or DVD drive. It is too thin to hold a CD disk drive!
Delivering software on a CD is useless for the few million people with similar computers without CD or DVD disk drives. As a result, most vendors have switched to electronic delivery. A few have not made the switch yet but probably will do so before long.
To be sure, I do own an external CD and DVD-ROM disk drive that can plug into a USB port on almost any computer. I purchased it 5 or 6 years ago. However, that external drive has been sitting in the closet, untouched, for 2 or 3 years now. I simply haven’t had a need for it.
A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a new MacBook Pro laptop. Since I wanted to be able to run both the Macintosh and Windows 10 operating systems, I also purchased a copy of “Windows 10 in a Box” from Amazon. The box I received looked like the boxes of software I have purchased in the past that contained CD-ROM or high-capacity DVD-ROM disks, along with instructions and some documentation. I assumed this latest purchase would be the same. Wrong!
When I opened the box, there was no disk inside, not even a flash drive. The box only contained several small pieces of paper. There were several advertisements for other software products, a Windows 10 Certificate of Authority (a software license certifying that I am legally entitled to run one copy of Windows 10), and a piece of paper giving the URL (web address) where I could download Windows 10.
In fact, I did download Windows 10 and installed it along with Parallels on the Macintosh, and everything went smoothly. I now have a MacBook Pro laptop that runs both the macOS operating system and Windows 10. (It also runs Linux and the Chrome operating systems, but I will leave that story for another article.)
Data CDs are going through the same changes. Not long ago, you could purchase all sorts of genealogy books and databases on CD. I think I still have a cardboard box of Family Tree Maker data CDs stored in the basement. Those CD disks are no longer useable with the more recent versions of Family Tree Maker. In fact, Family Tree Maker dropped support for those CDs several years ago. The data contained on the disks is in a proprietary format, not the standard PDF format or the EPUB format that is popular with ebooks. As a result, the data CDs are now about as useful as the old AOL CDs that we all received in the mail years ago. (When was the last time AOL sent you a CD?)
Of course, the music industry dropped CDs almost entirely several years ago. Remember the nearby record store that sold records and CDs or the video rental store that rented DVD disks? What ever happened to those stores? Those two probably disappeared about the same time.
Most music these days is purchased by digital download or is simply rented. For reference, look at iTunes, Pandora, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, and similar services.
When was the last time you saw someone walking along the street with earphones and a rather large Sony Walkman CD Player? That used to be a common sight. Nowadays everyone listens to an iPod that only plays digital music. Even my latest automobile does not contain a CD drive. Instead, there is a USB connector on the radio where I can plug in a flash drive. That’s good news for me and for millions of other drivers, as we can now store many thousands of our favorite songs in the space previously required for storing just a few CDs.
Genealogists and the companies that serve the genealogical marketplace tend to be conservative. We probably are amongst the last ones to go away from plastic disks in favor of digital downloads. Yet this is happening now within the genealogy community. The big book stores (Amazon along with Barnes & Noble) now sell more ebooks as downloads than they do printed books. To my knowledge, neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble sell ebooks on CD-ROM disks these days.
The genealogy specialty publishers, including Genealogical Publishing Company and Heritage Books, continue to offer printed books, downloadable ebooks, and even ebooks on CD-ROM disks. I suspect the smaller vendors will continue to offer books on CD as long as there is any significant market left for them but certainly will not do so forever. After all, many of their customers are like me: they don’t own a computer with an internal CD-ROM drive. That will become even more common as the PC manufacturers keep omitting CD-ROM drives from their products.
So what are we supposed to do with our genealogy CDs? There are several answers:
1. Family Tree Maker data CDs
If you own any Family Tree Maker data CDs, you probably are out of luck unless you still have a very old version of Family Tree Maker installed. Even then, there is no easy method of exporting the data to a more modern or widely-available format.
IMPORTANT: The required Family Archive CDs software will NOT work on Windows 10 and there is no known workaround.
If you are running Windows 8.1 or earlier, you can find some information at http://www.genealogical.com/content/dlfav6.html and at http://www.genealogical.com/content/cd_help.html. However, the information appears to be long out-of-date. In fact, it states that the software is only for Windows 95 and later. Windows 95??? Yes, the info hasn’t been updated in a long time.
A companion program, called Family Archive Viewer, was designed for use on Windows computers that did not have Family Tree Maker installed and used to be available from the FamilyTreeMaker.com web site. Family Archive Viewer software for Windows apparently has now been removed from the site. It used to be available at http://www.genealogy.com/abtffiv.html but that link no longer works.
If you feel adventurous, there is a download available at http://downloads.informer.com/family-archive-viewer/11.0/ that claims to be Family Archive Viewer version 11.0. However, the site is not sponsored by any of the past producers of Family Tree Maker, and the site is therefore suspect.
I won’t download that file because (1.) I question its legality and (2) I don’t own a computer with an internal CD drive. However, you are welcome to try it, if you dare. Should you download it, make sure you also check the downloaded file for viruses! Illegal file download sites often are full of viruses.
2. CD-ROM disks containing PDF files
Thousands of genealogy CDs have been sold over the years that contain various books digitized in PDF format. If you are fortunate enough to have both the disk and a CD-ROM drive, I would suggest copying the CD immediately to a hard drive or to a flash drive or to a dedicated file space in the cloud, such as Dropbox. (I would do all three! You can never have too many backup copies.)
If you no longer own a computer with an internal CD-ROM drive, see if a friend who still owns a CD-equipped computer will copy it to a flash drive for you. If unsuccessful, you can still purchase external CD-ROM drives that plug into a computer’s USB connector. See Amazon, eBay, and other retailers for a selection of drives to choose from.
NOTE: If you own a Macintosh, I would suggest purchasing only the Apple USB SuperDrive (see https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MD564LL/A/apple-usb-superdrive). You can find cheaper external CD-ROM drives from other vendors, but they often have problems with drivers when used on a Mac. While it is expensive, the Macintosh SuperDrive is 100% compatible with all current Macintosh computers.
3. CD-ROM disks containing EPUB files
A few ebooks were sold on CD-ROM disks with files in the very popular EPUB format. If you have one of those disks, I would suggest copying the CD immediately to a hard drive or to a flash drive or to a dedicated file space in the cloud, such as Dropbox. (I would do all three! You can never have too many backup copies.)
In fact, I would leave it in EPUB format unless I had a specific need for something else. If you do need to convert the file format to something else, there are dozens of programs that will do this for you. I would start first with EPUB to PDF, a FREE conversion service in the cloud at http://www.convertfiles.com/convert/ebook/EPUB-to-PDF.html.
So what am I going to do with all my old Family Tree Maker data CDs? I am going to store them right next to my buggy whip collection!
As for your other future “collector’s items,” I suggest you copy your data CDs NOW!