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The Forum > Article Comments > Avoiding a digital Dark Age > Comments

Avoiding a digital Dark Age : Comments

By Adrian Burton, published 11/4/2007

Being able to preserve digital data is a must for research information.

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All too true, but don't expect too much help from vendors. Microsoft are about to make all their old document formats obsolete by shifting to Open XML. All those billions of .doc, .ppt and .xls documents are about to turn into "legacy formats". Open XML offers technical advantages and it is (somewhat) more open than the formats it replaces, but the main advantage for Microsoft is that it will force people to upgrade. Just goes to show that you shouldn't trust your archival data to a proprietory format.

I work as an archivist and yesterday I was presented with some photos. Some were prints, so they were easy. Some were on Zip disks (uh oh) and the remainder were on CDs in .tga format (which we can't read). So now I have to work out how to extract files from hardware I can't read and convert files to a format I can use. Oh dear.
Posted by Johnj, Thursday, 12 April 2007 12:24:48 PM
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Perhaps the reason this article has attracted so little comment is that most users of stored information qualified to comment upon the technicalities are as yet too busy with the excitement of discovery, correlation and validation in their respective fields to have really noticed the dangers of this effectively globalized 'privatization' of knowledge.

The frustrations of incomplete backwards compatibility as operating systems and applications evolve, together with what I perceive as the forced obsolescence of hardware, have driven me to commit, digitally, to open source. What little I knew, digitally speaking, I am gradually re-learning, BUT FOR THE LAST TIME. I now use Linux, and buy only Linux compatible hardware.

The implications of the MIT '$100 laptop' project for third-world computer literacy are enormous. It uses Linux. Non-proprietary. Open source. Within a few short years there will be tens, even hundreds, of millions of users. From these will come millions of users, virtually all using English, capable of software development, and of sheer necessity, hardware adaptation. Australia needs to ensure it will be further up the learning curve, ready to ride this wave.

A characteristics of the Dark Ages was the ability of a centralized authority to define heresy and force orthodoxy upon scholars. One of the principal tools of this enforcement was the suppression of widespread knowledge. Emergence from the Dark Ages was not complete until it was proven that the power of that centralized authority could be broken. It was broken in a small island in which the rule of law had, however imperfectly applied, always been considered more appropriate than the rule of one, or any number, of men. We have inherited its language and its laws.

The maintainance of the rule of law requires records. The storage of these records requires archiving. Once, the destruction or theft of such records was a means of effectively changing or perverting law. The digital age has, in the absence of really good archiving, ushered in another means of perverting law: ease of changing some of the content of important records.

A most important topic.
Posted by Forrest Gumpp, Sunday, 15 April 2007 8:10:36 AM
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Forrest, it is inevitable that this thread won't generate any discussion. After all, there's no opportunity to bag Muslims, lefties, moral relativists or ABC-watchers.

I am happy to endorse your open-source crusade. However, I guess I am more interested in open file-formats than open-source software. It doesn't matter to me which editor you use, as long as the TXT, HTML/XHTML, XML (or whatever) you generate is standards-compliant.

Microsoft is the past-master at taking standards and then producing their own (non-compliant) version. Open XML is their attempt to crush ODF (a genuine open standard). Time will tell whether they succeed or not.

Power to the Penguin (though I won't be giving up my Mac any time soon).
Posted by Johnj, Wednesday, 18 April 2007 1:18:24 AM
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