Friday, February 13, 2009

Hope for Obsolete File Types

While reading the news on BBC's website about the Continental plane crash, which happened only a few miles from where I live, I found this article tucked away in the Technology section.

A number of researchers across Europe are involved in a project called Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (appropriately "KEEP" - there must be people out there that have a full-time career creating project names that result in catchy acronyms). The goal of the project is to create emulators that can read whatever obsolete file format you might have floating around.

It's a bigger problem than you might imagine: the number of unreadable documents in archives is beginning to mount up. Britain's National Archive estimates that it holds enough information to fill about 580,000 encyclopedias in formats that are no longer widely available; and research by the British Library estimates that the delay caused by accessing and preserving old digital files costs European businesses about £2.7bn a year.

It will be interesting to watch this project as it develops. Imagine being able to take your Wang word processor files and read them in true native format thanks to an emulator (after carefully preserving them and making evidentiary sound working copies, of course).

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