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When hard drives were much smaller than they are today, they were routinely close to being "completely filled up." When files were added or expanded, it was fairly unlikely that sufficient large blocks of contiguous free space existed, anywhere, period. So, "fragmentation" was a fact-of-life, as much because of the problem of "being almost completely filled up" as anything else.
These days, space is usually plentiful. But disk and disk-controller hardware is a lot smarter, too. There is often copious amounts of unused RAM which can be devoted to file-buffers. So the practical impact of fragmentation is for the most part "gone."
Does fragmentation continue to exist? As I said earlier, yes, but it's academic: nobody's "screaming." Some filesystems and storage systems rearrange files on the media for various reasons, but the payoff of a "disk defragmenter" program has vanished.
When I was in secondary school I was taught loads of stuff in science class, mainly about electrons and atoms and orbits. Then I get to university and am told "yeah, that was kinda nonsense, just a teaching aid and not at all true, but you couldn't handle the truth" by the lecturers there. At the risk of aligning myself to a university lecturer, I'd say this is a similar thing...
Are you saying there aren't really electrons and atoms and orbits? I think even in university, that is the official story.
Unless you get into quantum mechanics, which is highly specialized.
I note that the next Fedora release will dump the whole ext file system tree in favor of the btrfs (which is fully supported in the new 3.0 Linux kernels). My understanding (from reading, no experience) is that you really don't need to defragment btrfs file systems because the storage medium usage (and access) is optimized by the file system's internal structure.
Since Fedora is Red Hat's "test bed" for new things, if the Fedora experience is positive, newer Red Hat (and CentOS) releases may move to the btrfs in a year or two.
Just remember that it is a good idea to have a least 10% of the filesystem you want defragmented available for the entire process to be successful. And don't forget, UNMOUNT THE AFFECTED FILESYSTEM BEFORE YOU RUN DEFRAGMENT!