A wind of nostalgia blew past, and for some reason I remembered rainy nights in the early 90s, waiting for Norton Speed Disk to defragment a 30 MB FAT16 drive. But what happened to the defrag tools? Well, on Windows it seems they are all alive and well, with Windows 7 apparently doing automatic daily defrag in the background. In other words, on modern NTFS file systems it is still considered necessary. What I'd like to see benchmarks on is how much of a difference it makes. Is it really worth it?
On most Linux file systems the story is different. They typically do not require defrag, since they don't suffer from fragmentation in the first place. In fact, ext based systems will intentionally scatter files so there is room for them to grow without splitting up. For a great and easy to understand explanation, see the OneAndOneIs2 blog.
As for staring at those fancy looking progress and status screens of the defrag tools, it seems it's a thing of the past across all OSes. It was a nice way to kill time; a bit like watching the washing machine tumble the clothes, I guess. Well, there's always Bittorrent chunks. They actually look a bit similar when only part of the torrent is downloaded.