I was amused by an article in the July/August 2007 edition of Information World Review regarding the problems caused by (lack of) digital preservation of e-documents at the National Archives (TNA) â€“ though I should add the intention of the article was not to amuse.
It seems there are problems accessing data created in legacy versions of Microsoft systems, though I wasnâ€™t entirely sure if this was because of the medium used to store the data (I think most people would struggle to get at the contents of a 51/4 inch diskette these days), or the software application itself (surely Word97 is not yet obsolete?). However, as the article points out, the objective is to make â€œdigital data as resilient as paperâ€. And anyone whoâ€™s spilt coffee on the printout of that latest policy statement knows exactly how resilient paper is!
Ah yes, I remember how we were once told that CD-ROMS were virtually indestructible, and that preservation of the data was guaranteed in perpetuity. I guess anyone whoâ€™s tried to rebuild software on a malfunctioning PC using the original manufacturerâ€™s CD-ROMS can testify to this being a myth.
Iâ€™m reminded of a quote from a senior executive at the old Sperry Rand Corporation (now Unisys) when questioned about the longevity and integrity of digital data on Sperryâ€™s (circa 1960) drum storage technology. The riposte was â€œit will last indefinitely, or 5 years, whichever is the soonerâ€. It seems we still havenâ€™t cracked this little nut!