Global Economics

Microsoft Helps Archives Save the Past


Joining with Britain's National Archive, the software maker is preserving and archiving digital material and making it more easily accessible

The National Archive and Microsoft are working to preserve important digital material and make it accessible for future generations.

Microsoft has provided the National Archive with its Virtual PC 2007 software which allows previous versions of Windows and Office to be used side by side on a single PC.

This means digital material produced on a variety of old Microsoft systems - such as Windows 3.1, 95 - can be accessed on the same machine.

One of the major challenges for archiving digital material is older material becoming inaccessible as the software they were created on becomes obsolete.

At the announcement of the tie-up, Gordon Frazer, managing director of Microsoft UK, said: "There is a real danger of creating a new digital dark age."

The National Archive is the UK government's official archive and contains around 900 years of historical material. It estimates to have 580 terabytes of data on formats no longer commercially available.

Natalie Ceeney, chief executive of the National Archive, said: "Public accountability is enshrined in the way we work. We can't afford to let today's digital assets disappear."

She added: "We cannot tackle this issue alone. We don't claim to be leading edge technologists and that's where Microsoft comes in."

Using the technology, the National Archive will also be able to convert material into open file formats which can be accessed via more current software.

As part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the National Archive and Microsoft, there will be further collaboration around digital preservation.

Microsoft has already shown commitment to this with the Open XML file format - used on its latest software - which allows data in documents to be unlocked to be archived and restructured in new ways.

Frazer said: "XML has become the lingua franca of the digital age."

Another result of the MOU is that Microsoft will work with the National Archive to make sure future products will be developed with digital preservation in mind.

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