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Posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Dave!Remember when taking pictures was a relatively complex ordeal where you had to load your camera with "film" and then send it off to be developed and printed? And THEN if you wanted to get those photos into your computer you had to have them scanned, touched-up, color-corrected, and burned to a CD? Hard times. Hard times.

Back in the early 1990's, Kodak came up with a system to cut down on the hassle called "Photo CD." This was a service where you could have your film developed, scanned, and a CD burned all at the same time. I loved it. The scan quality was pretty darn good if you went to a reputable lab, and the convenience was fantastic. It also saved a lot of money over paying somebody to scan them for you or buying the equipment to do it yourself.

Unfortunately, Photo CD never really went anywhere for a number of reasons. Eventually Kodak abandoned their proprietary format, and that was the end of that. Soon after, digital photography caught hold, and film died a long, agonizing death. With that in mind, it's not like PhotoCD had much of a chance had Kodak hung in there. Still, for somebody stuck in the film era, it was good while it lasted.

Flash forward to today, and there are a lot of Photo CDs still floating around out there.

Tonight I ran across a pile of them while tossing out some old computer junk.

Needless to say, you can't just pop a Photo CD in your iMac and look at all the pretty pictures. Modern computers have no frickin' clue how to read (let alone display) any of the images in that dead format. Lucky for me, people have reverse-engineered the proprietary Kodak file scheme and there are decoders out there (assuming you're tech-savvy enough to hunt them down and figure out how to use them). Or, if you have an antiquated computer laying around with old software installed, you might be able to read Photo CDs (Photoshop v5 anyone?)... which is probably the easiest way to do it. Eventually, I might get around to converting them to JPEGs (or whatever) but for now they're just sitting in a pile on my desk.

And it gets you thinking.

Photo CD died less than 20 years ago and it's quickly becoming impossible to read them.

And it's just a drop in the bucket. Think of all the dead formats out there... ZIP disks, JAZ drives, SyQuest cartridges, floppy disks, VHS, LaserDisc, digital video cassettes... the list goes on and on. And can CDs and DVDs far behind? Does Apple even sell computers that have CD/DVD drives any more? How long before they're just two more dead formats on the pile?

If you've got any media sitting around that has stuff which is important to you... I wouldn't wait too long to get it transferred.

In twenty years, you might not be able to. At least not easily.

Categories: Apple Stuff 2014Click To It: Permalink


  1. Matt says:

    I recall a meme on facebook that says something like “scan it and keep it forever” where people would scan their old photos, store them somewhere electronically (hopefully on a better sight than facebook with their horrendous jpeg artifacting) and thought “scan it and keep it forever”? – ha! For all the reasons you state in your post.

    *Print* it and keep it forever. Yes there are obvious drawbacks to that as well (organizing, the nasty effects of light, humidity, etc. to prints). But at least a hundred years from now someone might stumble across an old print picture of me and say “oh, is that what great-grandpa looked like?” vs losing it on some electronic format.

  2. Jeff says:

    I have a huge pile of old VCR tapes from when my kids were young, followed by a ton of 8mm. At one point I bought a com port (9-pin?) interface converter and some software so I could copy it to my computer, and now I don’t have that anymore. But you’re right… I need to get on my horse and offload those to an external harddrive stat!

  3. JimA says:

    I’ll have to go find all my old photo CDs now and make sure I have a copy of them somewhere.

  4. I have mine & HHH’s wedding on VHS. It was the only option that Treasure Island Casino Wedding Chapel offered at the time! Even back in 2004 it was difficult to try & get it put on a DVD. I hope I can find somewhere to do it soon! #10 is up this year and I’d like to watch it again!

  5. Thought experiment:

    What if the ancient Egyptians actually had the wonderful gizmos we had today, but none of them survived the ravages of time? Knowing this would happen, that is why everything was carved in stone.

    If you’ve seen any of the “Life After Man” shows, you know that pretty much all trace of our civilization (at least what we haven’t put off-planet) will be gone 500-1000 years after man disappears.

  6. Sarah says:

    You know I have a few of those photo CDs lying around. I will have to figure out a way to get the photos off of them, although maybe looking at embarrassing junior high photos is not worth the time.

  7. I used to have a Zip Drive. Remember how awesome it was to have 100MB disks. No clue where mine are now.

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