The current issue of RLG DigiNews discusses two possible approaches to preserving digital objects: migration and emulation in terms of costs over the life of the objects.
Migration is moving electronic files from one application to another – say from WordPerfect to the latest edition of word. Emulation is designing software and sometimes hardware that will mimic a desired operating system – say a Macintosh with SoftWindows. Both approaches have merit, and both have problems. Some of the problems arise from proprietary formats protected by trade secrets. If you can’t describe the specifications of a WordPerfect file exactly, you’ll have trouble rendering it in Word or future word processors (the pink-strikethrough effect).
Another thing that the two approaches have is ongoing costs, discussed in the RLG Diginews article. You can put a box of microfilm in storage for 40 years and have it come out readable with no further investment. But if you did the same thing with WordStar disks even 15 years ago, you are out of luck today.
Any preservation initiative for government information must take the CHRONIC lack of funding resources of federal information agencies. That’s why we at FGI believe in a distributed electronic future and not the mostly centralized model currently favored by the government. It’s also why many in the documents community, myself included believe in a multiformat model (i.e. print, electronic, microfilm) as well.
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