[Fsfe-ie] MS, digital preservation and Irish National Archives

Teresa tmh1 at eircom.net
Fri Jul 13 15:06:29 CEST 2007

There was a piece on the mid-morning Derek Davis show on RTE1 on 
Wednesday, 11 July about digital preservation. OOXML was not mentioned 
but this was clearly the backdrop to the discussion because the lead-in 
to the story was the British Library/UK National Archives (TNA) "digital 
dark age" story from last week.

You can listen here, it starts at 1 hr 27 mins


Two people from the Irish National Archives were interviewed along with 
Nick McGrath, Microsoft Director of Platform Development.

The two archivists welcomed the MS/TNA initiative and said it was 
encouraging that one software developer was attempting to meet the 
challanges in cooperation with public archives. They were resassured by 
the MS arrangement with TNA. One archivist pointed out that MS was not 
the only software used in the Irish public service.

Nick McGrath explained that MS were offering TNA two different 
approaches to fixing the digital dark age problem.

1. They were enabling translation of documents from the older versions 
to bring them up to latest file formats. TNA have a comprehensive search 
and retrieval system that achieves this very purpose.

2. When people look at the documents, they may want to look at them in 
the format and application which they were originally created in. MS has 
been providing applications like Word, Excel, etc. for 20+ years. They 
decided to go back into their archives within MS and to collect old 
versions e.g. win3.1, office 4.2, and to create a "virtual pc" 
environment for every single older version. Now TNA have 2 different 
ways of retaining the information.

They can either convert it to the latest versions of MS products which 
now comform to open standards, or they can allow the person to view in 
the original application, old versions of MS products.

The presenter asked about the point made by the archivist, that many 
other computer systems are used beyond MS and does the system accomodate 
the work of other producers.

McGrath responded that 15 years ago the market place was very 
fragmented. This meant that MS had to have incredibly good 
interoperability or translators to the other packages that were 
available e.g. Lotus 123, WordPerfect or WordStar.

Now TNA have got old verions of MS Word which correspondingly allow them 
to open up those other older legacy products as well. So it doesn't just 
protect them on the MS format themselves, but it also protects them for 
the competitor formats that were in the marketplace 10-15 years ago.

The presenter asked that if you use this system, are you no longer under 
control of MS, that you no longer have to get at the stuff through MS if 
you get the system.

McGrath said yes. MS has listened to archivists around the world, and 
has engaged with the PLANETS consortium of European national archives 
[http://www.planets-project.eu/]. In response to their feedback and that 
of public sector organsations and customers, MS has now opened up their 
file formats in the latest version of Office 2007. This means that any 
document that is created in those formats is created in open standard 
i.e. it is fully documented. Archivists in 100 or 1000 years have all 
the documentation that will explain exactly how to open up that file and 
how to preserve that data.

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