Friday, July 06, 2007

Data Ticking Time Bomb

There's an interesting article over at BBC Technology News concerning the compatibility of modern and future computer systems with old file formats.

From the article:
"Unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole." [...] "If you stored something on a floppy disc just three or four years ago, you'd have a hard time finding a modern computer capable of opening it." [...] "We cannot afford to let digital assets being created today disappear. We need to make information created in the digital age to be as resilient as paper."

This really is an emerging problem as we move forward to a more computerized world. Right now the technology allows us to digitize large aspects of ours lives. Computers and electronic services are replacing traditional concepts such as paper-based documents and records and physical transactions.

Nowadays nobody uses floppy disks and most new computers don't even have a floppy drive. How about those people who kept an archive in such disks in the past? They probably won't be able to access it from their current computer system and what about in a year or so? Also, a lot of electronic documents are stored in formats that have either evolved or been completely abandoned. So, is that information lost? This should never be the case when it comes to unique, irreplaceable data!

Currently the idea of open document (format) standards is constantly gaining ground. They are standards for creating text, audio, video, picture files etc. So as long as they are carefully designed and most vendors follow them, we shouldn't have a problem. Things get complicated when closed source software such as Microsoft Office establishes and follows product-specific, non-standard formats which may even be incompatible among different versions!

When it comes to storage media (like floppy disks) the problem still exists since technology evolves quite rapidly and does not allow any ties from the past to slow it down. So yes it's quite possible that the CD you are using today to backup your files will be useless in five years from now since your new computer won't have a CD-ROM Drive! Besides, blank CDs don't have a life expectancy more than a couple of years. At this point, the evolution and wide use of computer networks and the Internet might give the answer. It's so easy to quickly upload and manage large amounts of data that a lot of people do their backups online!

Anyway, it's an interesting article to read and a lovely topic to ponder on.

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