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Friday, 15 February 2013

In praise of Quick View Plus

I just wanted to sing the praises of a great little bit of software that we have been using here to help us recover old files.

Quick View Plus is a simple tool for viewing lots of different file formats. As we have been working through boxes of old floppy disks we have found many files that we can read in modern software that we have installed on our PCs (old versions of Word Perfect for example) but many more that we can not view. Rather than purchasing and installing lots of different bits of software to read all of our obsolete Paradox databases and Microsoft Works spreadsheets from the 1990's it has proved to be far more efficient just to purchase a single copy of Quick View Plus Standard Edition. This software allows you to view the contents of over 300 different file formats (often with many different versions of each format) and is a really useful tool for anyone who needs to view or extract content from a wide range of file formats. Though it is purely a tool for viewing files (rather than migrating files), it does allow the contents of the files to be copied and then pasted into a different application.

Of one of the boxes of floppy disks from the office we had been looking at as part of our digital rescue warm-up mission, it was decided that about 300 files were worthy of rescue. The range of formats of these files (dating from between 1990 and 2004) are shown in the graph below.



File identification was carried out using Droid from the National Archives (another great little tool!). The files listed as 'Not recognised' included File Maker Pro and others with a qic extension which appeared to be some sort of backup file. We have shared some of these unrecognised formats with the Droid and Pronom team so that they can incorporate them into future versions where appropriate.

Anyway, the good news is that Quick View Plus was successful at viewing pretty much all of the files that we needed to rescue and once viewed they could be copied and saved into a modern MS Office format suitable for current staff to view and use. The next step is to find appropriate homes for the material we have rescued. What we do not want to do is copy them back on to a different sort of portable media that will become obsolete or corrupt again in another 20 years time!


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Atlas of Digital Damages

One of our 'dead'!
Last week I attended a Digital Preservation Coalition day of action on collaborative approaches to digital archiving (and file format identification in particular) jokingly subtitled 'Bring out your Dead'.

Our current work has certainly uncovered some digital media and files that could be described as 'dead' and though I didn't really have cause to bring them out on the day, one of the key things that was reinforced by many of the speakers on the day was the importance of collaboration.

Digital archiving is complex and evolving field and we can not hope to solve all of the problems we are faced with alone. Although sometimes we may struggle to find the time to actively engage with collaboration initiatives, the importance of making time to do so was highlighted and at the end of the workshop we were asked to commit to at least one of the collaborative initiatives neatly summarised on the OPF wiki page Support your digital preservation community.

Only a small step I know, but I decided that something we could easily contribute to was the Atlas of Digital Damages. This is a group on Flickr with a remit to collect "visual examples of digital preservation challenges, failed renderings, encoding damage, corrupt data...". These images all tell a story and visually highlight and describe preservation issues that many of us will face. I hope to use some of these images to illustrate future presentations.

So, I have re-registered with Flickr (it has been a long time!) and uploaded my first picture (see above). It is that easy! I feel the compact disc photographed represents a very real digital preservation challenge! I was relieved to be told today that we do hold the data on this corrupt CD (burnt less than 6 years ago) elsewhere in the office, so in this case at least, the level of digital damage is minimal.

Friday, 1 February 2013

CDs versus floppies

The digital rescue mission continues...

Here are a few words from James who is in the middle of his internship on this project and has been moving his focus away from floppy disks and on to CDs within the office:

Floppy disks - more robust than we expected!
"I am finding it very enjoyable rifling through collections of CDs and floppy disks
to try and discover what they contain, what is recoverable, what has duplicates saved elsewhere and what is important. Something that has been a big surprise to me, and I have found really interesting, was to discover that the floppy disks appear to have a greater lifespan than the CDs that superseded them. Out of the 97 floppy disks I’ve been through (most of these were from the 1990s) only one is completely corrupt. This is in contrast to the 62 CDs I have been working with (mostly from the 2000s) of which there were 4 entirely corrupt
disks. It just seems odd that the older technology outlasts the more modern."

So in our sample, the floppies have a 1% disk corruption rate whereas for the CDs it is somewhere around 6.5%. Is this typical? It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues as we move on to digital material in the strongrooms.

There is an interesting analogy from my colleagues who work on the conservation of analogue material within the archive. Apparently, the same is true of paper. Old paper is generally of better quality thus in a better state of physical preservation than more modern paper. I love it when my work on digital material finds parallels in the traditional archival experiences.

It just goes to show, they don't make things like they used to!