Digital Dark Age??
Is it just me or does anyone else find Microsoft's comments about a new "Digital Dark Age" rather ironic - as the primary reason for any impending "Digital Dark Age" is actually down to Microsoft's business practices
The National Archives (TNA) and Microsoft have come to an arrangement to support long term access to digital documents. Under a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Microsoft will provide TNA with a system that combines previous versions of Windows and Office to help solve problems of managing historical records based on …
Making Microsoft responsible for ensuring long-term access to the nation's digital documents?
That's rather like putting the Big Bad Wolf in charge of child protection, or letting Count Dracula run the Blood Transfusion Service.
The only way to achieve the National Archives' laudable goal is either to require Microsoft to fully disclose details of their proprietary formats and place that information into the National Archives, or to convert all documents to the Open Document Format.
"Microsoft said the partnership reflects the efforts it has made to move away from a proprietary model. The latest releases of Office use the Open XML format, which is under the independent control of Ecma – an industry association dedicated to the standardisation of ICT systems."
This isn't a news article, its a press-release. Everyone knows that ISO, the only standards organisation worth taking notice-of, is not rushing to approve Miscrosoft proprietry XML format which documents and requires compliance with bugs in old versions of Office.
"Microsoft said the partnership reflects the efforts it has made to move away from a proprietary model"
that made me chuckle, I always thought the proprietary model meant that we own this and you can't have it so ner ner... I don't see the source code for office 2007 around... Just because they don't obfuscate the format in binary any more doesn't mean they're not obfuscating the format at all, in fact there are questionable parts of the open xml format, first question I have is how is it open?
WRT ECMA don't microsoft have quite a substantial presence within the ECMA allowing them to direct/define any standards they want? I'm pretty sure they do, which is one of the reasons ISO are still hmming and haring over 'open' xml.
elreg please stop these "microsoft are doing good! honest!" stories, they give me acid reflux
MS' preferred method to access old documents is to boot up specific old versions of their OS and office software in order to read them?
I hope to god I've misunderstood that, because it sounds like an absolute nightmare:
You have an old .doc file to open, do you:
a) Get a company to write a decent converter, that reads the document version and displays it accordingly.
b) Take your best guess at what version it is, boot a computer with that version of word. Repeat as necessary until the file appears to open. Repeat later when you realise it actually missed some features.
Of course, as others have pointed out, none of this would be necesary if MS had properly documented their formats in the first place, instead of changing them willy nilly to try to lock out their competition.
Rhetorical question - I'm not disagreeing with the views expressed so far.
But if we want to get involved in finger-pointing (and I think we do), how about the genius at TNA that decided the best choice of file format for archiving the nations documents for the forseeable future was MS Word 97?.. or maybe they're all saved as PowerPoint screenshows - it would make as much sense.
Still, its good to see the technology lessons have been learned and they're now converting them all to a more appropriate standard.
erm.. hang on... Office 2007... Virtual PC
Fer crissakes! I've got some magic beans if there interested
"Staff and visitors at TNA will be able to view historical information based on legacy formats in the way the author intended."
Given that even if you know the version of Word and Windows that the document was created on, you stand little chance of viewing it in the "way the author intended", I'm not sure this actually helps.
I love how this sort of thing comes about as if it's some kind of fantastic new idea to preserve historical data, and as if it's actually some kind of problem that we're heading into.
It's not as if you can't go out and buy floppy disc drives these days. Hell, Google would of jumped at the chance to make software specifically designed to absorb all the information, correctly catalogue it onto giga/terra/petabyte drive arrays so all the info from the damn paper could be stored in 1/100th of the space.
Not to mention you'd be able to get a 3rd party on the books making an automated 5.25" floppy disc reader capable of loading, reading, and discarding the floppy suckers at a rate of knots.
The best quote on this subject comes from the BBC's version (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6265976.stm)
"Ms Ceeney said: "If you put paper on shelves, it's pretty certain it is going to be there in a hundred years.
"If you stored something on a floppy disc just three or four years ago, you'd have a hard time finding a modern computer capable of opening it."
She's not referring to the hardware at all, if you read the article it says the hardware isn't an issue. So you seriously have to wonder why Ms Ceeney is having such a "hard time" opening a file created in 2004. Technology does move on, but that's just getting a bit carried away.
There's a subset of PDF designed for just this purpose. PDF/A (for PDF Archive) is an ISO standard (19005) based on a publically available spec, and has various long-term oriented features like requiring all fonts to be embedded with their copyright information, color profiles to be embedded or otherwise well known and so on. We develop software that supports it and we're slowly seeing more interest in that aspect, particularly from government bodies, so I'd say it's here to stay.
Microsoft definitely hold some blame here. If newer versions of Office could competently display old Word documents, there'd be no need for the mad scientist virtual machine solution. (I wonder if they have to buy a licence from MS for every version of DOS/Windows/Office they need to use for this? ;-) )
MS chose to rework .DOC format for every new version of Office, forcing people to upgrade, and now they get to benefit from a bit of PR fluff about how they're making it possible to read old documents. Gotta love that lock-in.
But MS aren't solely to blame, they're just one of many peddlers of closed formats over the years, and this is a perfect example of why vendor-dependent formats are trouble waiting to happen. At least these days we have a couple of options which aren't tied to any one OS, software package or vendor and stand a good chance of being readable in the future. TNA need to be converting everything they can into such formats, starting now.
The hardware most certainly *can* be an issue. I may have a 3.5" floppy drive in my current system, but no standard PC floppy controller can read the Amiga's native disk format, so anything I didn't transfer when I *had* a working Amiga is now trapped on unreadable media. Luckily none of it is important enough to jump through hoops to recover, but TNA's archive is of significantly more importance to the national record than my A-level coursework is...
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