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Another digital preservation problem: Microsoft lacks specifications for its own old formats

Chris Rusbridge, retired Director of the UK Digital Curation Centre (DCC), sent an open letter to Tony Hey of Microsoft asking that they publish the specifications for older file formats. He has received a reply:

But the good new is that Microsoft is willing to work on the problem! The response from Microsoft continues:

  • We can look into creating new licensing options including virtual machine images of older operating systems and old Office software images licensed for the sole purpose of rendering and/or converting legacy files.

  • One approach we could consider is for Microsoft to participate in a “crowd source” project working with archivists to create a public spec of these old file formats.

Of course, this is a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone solution, but such kludgy solutions are necessary when born-digital information is produced in proprietary formats rather than open formats — and when libraries accept these formats rather than insists on preservable digital objects.

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1 Comment

  1. jrjacobs says:

    I came across a comment to a /. story “LiMux Project Has Saved Munich €10m So Far” that seems to corroborate — at least anecdotally — the issues with legacy MS file formats (and *this* is where one *should* use the term “legacy”!). This is obviously a known issue, not just in the library/archives world.

    Open Source software programs like Open or Libre Office and Google Docs in particular deal with Microsoft’s proprietary data formats better than Microsoft does. Good luck getting your five year old Office installation to read the latest version from MS. Meanwhile Google et al can cope with it fine. Perhaps not perfectly, but fine. The lesson here isn’t that using non-MS software gives a less than perfect experience, it’s that using MS software encourages a less than perfect experience. 99% of users demand little or nothing more than MS was offering in the 90s, but they’re forced to upgrade because otherwise they can’t read the files they’re getting from that work colleague with the new PC.

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