With many file formats and software popular in 1993 now obsolete and unreadable, company compliance and information governance teams are warned against losing critical digital information forever
As 90s hit television series The X-Files returns to our screens next month after a 13 year hiatus, digital preservation specialist Preservica has launched an awareness campaign to highlight the danger of file format and software obsolescence, and an impending ‘Digital Dark Age’ – warned against by Google’s Vint Cerf last year.
In conjunction with the new series of the popular US TV show, fans of the original series at Preservica have been pointing out the many changes in software that have occurred since the first episodes of The X-Files aired more than twenty years ago, in 1993.
Many popular file formats and software applications popular in 1993 have already disappeared or become obsolete. With technology refresh rates and application de-commissioning programmes beginning to accelerate, critical long-term information and files are now more at risk than ever.
“This has a particular impact on long-term business records that need to be retained for 10 years (or are already 10 years old) for compliance, legal and knowledge reuse,” said Jon Tilbury, CEO at Preservica. “Who could have thought that the systems we were using and trusting back in 1993 would become so obsolete that their files are no longer useable and readable - half a generation’s worth of data lost forever.“
WordStar, Lotus 1 2 3, and Pagemaker are some of the most notable ‘ex-files’ no longer readable, whilst even software that is still used today can no longer support files from older versions – MS Excel Versions 2–5, Photoshop 2 & 3 and even Word (v1, v2, v6). It is not just files, but also media that has rapidly become obsolete: Betamax, floppy disks, smart drives and even now CD-ROMs have all but disappeared or become obsolete.
Discontinued software Wikipedia pages serve to highlight the issue of software and file format obsolescence, however companies remain unaware of files ‘at risk’ in the future, or future ex-files. Technology analyst Gartner comments: “As formats change, software is retired and hardware becomes obsolete, the data that organizations might want to keep can be lost forever. Government documents are one example, but companies also have information that needs to be preserved in order to eliminate the risk that they will not be readable or usable when required.”
“Preservica has seen a 50% increase in customers using its digital preservation software in the last six months, including major corporations like BT, HSBC, Lloyds Bank and Associated Press, as well as cultural institutions like Yale Library and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. All have recognised the need for a robust digital preservation strategy and software - over and above reliable long-term storage and archiving,” added Jon Tilbury.
Preservica has championed the way in helping organisations address this critical challenge, working with the UK National Archives to build a Technical Registry of file formats and incorporating tools into its digital preservation platform to ensure files can be automatically migrated to newer formats as old formats and programs become obsolete. The Preservica software can now identify and characterise over 800 different formats, and supports over 300 migration pathways.
To combat the issues of inaccessible files, the company has developed a white paper, discussing the issues and how to combat them.