Click-Click-Dead: Pt. 2

Boxes of sad Zip disk readers

Photo "Clicks of Death for sale" by Phil Dokas via Flickr

(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


When Robert Frost wrote about the road not taken, he made the right and safe choice. The process for imaging Zip disks forked once, twice, and then three times. Each time, I had to take the road less travelled and risk it all to the Click of Death. It ended up taking me two months to image and bag thirteen out of the seventeen 100MB Zip disks combined from the Robert Altman and John Sayles collection. Four of these disks contained commercial software and were not imaged. For comparison, it took me the same amount of time to image and bag over 200 3.5” 1.44 MB floppy disks.

Surprisingly, my gripe with Zip disks turned out not to be the Click of Death (CoD). If you are primarily reading this to see if I ran into CoD, you can stop here. None of the drives and disks we had were impacted by CoD, but the overall sentiment is still there. It’s still poor in design and did nothing to reduce my stress, and for that its transgressions cannot be erased. Things ended up taking a turn because of the Zip disk formatting situation. While Zips are pre-formatted to work on a Mac or PC, they can also be reformatted to work with either. Does this sound pointless and confusing? Yes, yes it does. While it made the nice labels meaningless, it did add to this wild digital preservation tale.

The Setup

This journey began with three Zip drives in each size: 100MB, 250MB, and 750MB. The 250MB drive was the sole survivor. The 750MB drive never worked and the 100MB drive stopped working probably because it felt the need to retire and pass on its legacy. Drives that came after the initial 100MB are backwards compatible so the 250MB drive was fortunately able to work with the disks we had.

The Zip drive was connected to a Mac or PC using a Tableau Forensic USB Bridge (T8-R2) for write protection. Installation disks that came with the drives included write protection but was only compatible with older operating systems. That was around the time when Windows 7 was relevant.

Phase I - PC

To image the disks, I started on Darth, one of three Windows machines in the Digital Preservation Lab. The other two are named Little Miss Sunshine and Ms. Pacman, and our Mac is aptly named Mackie. It’s not relevant information but it’s relevant information. It’s easier to start on a PC as opposed to a Mac because PCs pop-up with a reformatting warning that let me know I might be working with a Mac-formatted disk. Macs let me perform a logical transfer but doesn’t let me know that it can’t actually do anything with the files because it’s in an unreadable format *sad trombone.*


The one and only Zip disk in the John Sayles collection and one disk in the Robert Altman collection were successfully imaged on Darth using FTK Imager. Disks left: 11/13.

Phase II & III - Mac

As referenced earlier, Mac-formatted disks require a logical transfer as opposed to creating a forensic disk image. For this process, I used DataAccessioner. FTK Imager is only available on command line for Macs running OS 10.5 and 10.6 so it took itself out of the running. DataAccessioner is a neat, little tool developed out of Duke University Archives to migrate content. It is easy to use and is an ideal solution to our unable-to-create-forensic-images situation.

Unfortunately, DataAccessioner also ran into issues with Zip disks at times and created yet another fork in our path. Actually, no, it didn’t. The path stopped here and we could only go down a single murky path: The copy-and-paste.


Using Data Accessioner, we were able to execute four successful logical transfers. Disk left: 8/13.

The remaining eight disks were copied and pasted into a manually created “carved_files” directory. Thankfully, Apple’s dreaded Rainbow Wheel of Death, also known as the Beach Ball, chose not to appear. Disks left: 0/13.


The final score was Zip Disk: 0 - Digital Preservation Lab: 1(-ish). I was able to image or transfer files from every disk excluding commercial software, but it wasn’t always ideal.

My overall experience was educational and led me down the incredible story of Zip disks and Iomega, a great conversation starter for any party. This adventure in particular was a surprise considering its extensive and bizarre history. It was also one of my last projects working in the Digital Preservation Lab and I am sentimental about that. Working in this lab has only increased my understanding of the incredible need for this work and for that I will always be grateful.

If you want to get your nerd on some time soon, keep your eyes peeled for the soon-to-be posted Zip Disk Workflow on the Digital Preservation Lab’s microsite.