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MMD > Archives > April 2003 > 2003.04.29 > 12Prev  Next

Longevity of Music Media
By Ray Finch

I read George Bogatko's posting about Longevity of Music Media with
interest [030428 MMDigest].  He makes a valid point digital media being
for the more part quite fragile.

I don't even use floppy disks anymore because they are not reliable.
The data I put on a floppy today may or may not be there 6 months from
now.  Floppy disks used to be much more reliable (when they used to
cost $50.00 per box of 10 disks).  Floppies are not a good long term,
or even short term, storage media.  Backup tape and other magnetic
media have a tendency to fade over the years.  (Although I do still
have floppies from the days of $50.00 per box that are still readable
today after nearly 20 years.)

Paper is, for the most part, is a durable media but I have to disagree
that it should be the preferred media for long term storage.  Paper
rolls are bulky and ware a bit more each time they are read/played.
Also very old rolls have a good chance of ripping, sometimes to shreds,
when played or scanned in a mechanical fashion.  Paper is also prone to
water damage and to being eaten by bugs and other vermin.

Mr. Bogatko makes a comment about CD-RW media and market changes making
old data and media unreadable.  I have experienced this myself, having
to load up DOS and an old DOS 3.1 program to retrieve data that the
modern Windows programs had no hope of ever reading or having to locate
old drivers to get a 10 year-old tape drive to run (under DOS) to
retrieve data that would otherwise be lost forever.

However, I have to say the CD-RW (CD-ROM) is actually a very good media
for long term storage.  CD-ROMs are far more durable than magnetic
media and even more durable than paper.

CD-ROMs are also, for the more part, "future proof".  Let me explain.
For format of a CD-ROM is something called ISO 9660 and has been the
same for the last 20 years and is not going to change any time soon.
ISO 9660 is an international standard that all CD-ROMs use.  It is the
same format for PCs, Macintosh or UNIX machines or anything else that
can read a CD-ROM.  Although the data represented on the CD-ROM may be
in a different format for PC to Mac or UNIX, the way it is stored on a
CD-ROM is _exactly_ the same.  With this in mind you can take a CD-ROM
made 10 years ago and still read it on an XP machine, a Mac or what
have you.  You can pull up a directory listing and read files, etc.
Now, of course, the format of the data needs to be something that is
usable to whatever software you might be using, but my point is that
the data will still be there and will be readable for years to come.

MIDI:  Mr. Bogatko does make some points about MIDI.  I have heard MIDI
files that I have been less that happy with but the problems that he
points out with MIDI are not problems with MIDI itself but rather the
way and accuracy the music is encoded into the MIDI format.  MIDI
itself is quite accurate and when you down to MIDI ticks and such the
amount of error in the translation is so infinitesimally that it would
not be detectable by even the best trained ear.

When properly implemented, MIDI is a very good long term format.  Like
the ISO 9660 format for CD-ROMs, MIDI has been around since the early
1980s.  It has changed very little since that time and 20-year-old MIDI
files still play on today's hardware.  Also, like the CD-ROM, MIDI is
the same format on all hardware platforms -- PC, Mac, or anything else
that may come down the pike.

As for as accuracy in translating rolls from one format to another,
this is something that common sense and good software are responsible
for.  Like the financial programs that Mr. Bogatko points out, long
term storage shouldn't use any format that will change when used or use
storage media that will change when stored over a long period of time.
Storing a matrix in a computer file is as accurate (or may be even more
accurate) than storing the same data punched in paper.  If the punching
in paper are accurate enough for our long term store storage, then the
same data stored in a computer file will work as well.  It is more a
question of how accurately the music data is stored rather that the
storage media itself.  With this in mind paper is no more accurate that
anything else.

So to summarize, CD-ROMs are quite durable compared to other storage
methods.  They don't fade over time, bugs don't eat them, they are not
damaged by water and they are relatively immune to hot or cold.  The
CD-ROM format is very stable and is not likely to change anytime in the
foreseeable future.  Even if it does, they is so much data in the
CD-ROM format that old CD-ROMs will almost certainty be readable for
years to come.  MIDI is a mature and very stable data format and also
not likely to change any time soon.  The combination of CD-ROM and MIDI
_will_ be readable 100 years from now.


Ray Finch
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

 [ CD-ROMs duplicated commercially by a stamping process are considered
 [ _likely_ to last a long time, but we won't really know for sure
 [ until another 80 years goes by!  Recordable (CD-RW) CD-ROMs utilize
 [ a fragile transparent layer to store the data, and we just don't
 [ know yet how stable the dye will prove to be.  -- Robbie

(Message sent Wed 30 Apr 2003, 02:22:11 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Longevity, Media, Music

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