In cleaning out some closets this spring, I finally threw out many boxes of floppy and Zip disks. Without even considering what might be on them.
I was pretty sure the process of attempting to sift through their contents would be a big time suck.
The first step would be to find my external drives for each format since none of my current computers has either built in. Then comes the larger problem of having software that would open the files.
One reason for having Windows installed on my MacBook Pro is so I can have some of those older programs available when I run across documents I do want to open (ClarisWorks, anyone?).
But I certainly can’t cover every possibility we’ve been through (Word Perfect 5, anyone?)
On a much larger scale, the head of the National Archives of the UK has the same problem and is warning that this is a “ticking time bomb” that could result in the loss of “critical knowledge”.
She was speaking at the launch of a partnership with Microsoft to ensure the Archives could read old formats.
Microsoft’s UK head Gordon Frazer warned of a looming “digital dark age”.
He added: “Unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole.”
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.”
While the Big Monopoly of Redmond is now concerned about this problem, that company is actually one of its primary causes.
But some critics question Microsoft’s approach and ask why the firm has created its own new standard, rather than adopting a rival system, called the Open Document Format.
Instead, Microsoft has released a tool which can translate between the two formats.
Ben Laurie, director of the Open Rights Group, said: “This is a well-known, standard Microsoft move.
“Microsoft likes lock-ins. Typically what happens is that you end up with two or three standards.”
The Archive’s solution is exactly the one that I’m using, virtualization. They are setting up computers with multiple operating systems and multiple versions of software to allow access to the “ancient” files.
But is that really a good long term plan? How many different OS and file formats will have been devised by the end of this century?