Will CD/DVD data last forever?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Q. Is the data I'm saving to CD going to last forever? Would a DVD be a better choice for long-term storage? I've read so much about this subject, I'm now thoroughly confused.

A. Data saved to CDs and DVDs will not last forever because CDs and DVDs degrade over time. There are, however, a few things you can do to hinder the inevitable deterioration: First, store disks in a protective plastic CD/DVD jewel case and limit exposure to air and sunlight. In fact, avoid storing CDs and DVDs in environmental extremes of heat, cold, dampness, etc.

The discs with the longest data retention are made using a gold reflective layer. This information can be found in the manufacturer's specifications. Gold discs are rated for 300 years of storage in archival-grade storage conditions. 300 years is just a guess, though. Nobody knows for sure. And since none of us are going to be around to complain if our discs fail before the 300-year mark, manufacturers might as well claim that the data is safe for a million-jillion years. Of course, the underlying assumption is that somebody is going to have a CD or DVD player 300 years from now. Perhaps they will be able to borrow one from the Smithsonian.

As far as CD vs DVD, there isn’t any difference in the physical media in terms of lifespan, though by virtue of there being far less storage capacity on a CD, if you have 10 CDs and one goes bad, that's arguably preferable to all data contained on one DVD falling off a digital cliff.

Time and technology move ahead at such an unrelenting pace, it's a good idea to re-evaluate your long-term storage media every five to seven years and transfer your data to newer storage media as it becomes available.

Q. What's the best way to get help with a program?

A. Though often overlooked, just about every program and app has its very own Help file. In addition, most popular applications have an online community, forum, or message board within which users can interact, share tips and assist each other.

The next time you need to know how to perform a certain task with a program you're using, look on the Menu bar at the top and click Help, or you can press F1 on your keyboard in any Windows program.

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week

Google Math
Yes, indeed, Google does it all -- even math. The next time you need to add, subtract, multiply, divide, calculate percentages or raise a number to a power of X without breaking a sweat, give the Google Calculator a try. The regular Google search page can perform basic math functions, as well as more complicated math, including units of measure conversions, physical constants and physics. It can even be used to experiment with other mind-numbering systems, such as hexadecimal, binary, hunkydorian and Klingon. Using Google for basic math calculations is as easy as using the plus sign for addition, the hyphen for subtraction, an asterisk for multiplication and a forward slash for division. For example, go to Google and where you would normally type in a search term, type 12+2 and press Enter, or type 15*8 for multiplication, or 138/4 for division. If you need assistance with the Google Calculator, take a look at the Google Calculator Cheat Sheet at http://bit.ly/1pTkLqZ.

The Music Animation Machine
If you're a music enthusiast, this site displays animated digital interpretations of music. First up is an incredible animated version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Clicking it will take you to YouTube, where you will find a 33-minute video of the animated score. If you go to the Timeline, you will see how much this animation project has grown since the 1970′s. Click an event on the Timeline to learn more about it.