The Roddenberry floppies

Star Trek featured advanced computers that could take instructions and respond in spoken English. The actual computers of the time were more primitive, though, and personal computers didn’t exist in the sixties. In the 1980s, though, Trek creator Gene Roddenberry used two custom-built computers to enter scripts, story ideas, and notes. They ran the CP/M operating system and used 5.25 inch floppy disks.

Star Trek TNG logoSome time after his death in 1991, Roddenberry’s estate discovered almost 200 floppies of his. They went to a company called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which took years to recover the documents due to the unusual challenges. They’ve now reported success in recovering “lots of documents” from the disks. Revelation of just what’s in these documents is up to his heirs, but material related to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which started in 1987, is likely to be a big part of it.

5 1/4 inch floppy diskRecovering data from 5.25 inch floppies is a tricky matter even in the best case. Those disks, unlike the 3.5 inch ones used in later computers, weren’t in a hard shell; their very thin, flexible material was exposed to the world. DriverSavers must have been dealing with disks that could fail at any time, with the risk going up as they used them more. In fact, thirty of the disks were already seriously damaged. To make matters worse, they weren’t in any of the standard formats of the time. They used an implementation of CP/M with its own unique disk driver software, and there was no documentation. DriveSavers took three months to reverse engineer the disk format.

After that, DriveSavers reports that “reading the nearly 200 disks was tedious work that took the better part of a year to finish.” MacWorld says that the disks were provided to DriveSavers only in small batches, for security reasons, and handling them must have been a very delicate process. Hopefully we’ll learn soon about some of their contents.

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