The Quest for a Universal Translator for Old, Obsolete Computer Files - Atlas Obscura


20 bookmarks. First posted by dsalo march 2018.


by : The quest for a universal translator for old, obsolete computer files
SundayRead  from twitter_favs
8 weeks ago by kerim
The Quest for a Universal Translator for Old, Obsolete Computer Files
retrocomputing  TBT  from twitter_favs
march 2018 by maverickny
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march 2018 by alienated
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march 2018 by sbmandal
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march 2018 by stephenfrancoeur
The Quest for a Universal Translator for Old, Obsolete Computer Files
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march 2018 by tonys
The Quest for a Universal Translator for Old, Obsolete Computer Files - Atlas Obscura -
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march 2018 by Dymphie
NOT SO VERY LONG AGO, web designers’ ambitions outstripped the infrastructure of the internet, so they had to resort to physical media to help carry their ideas. Dial-up modems were pokey, and the sluggish speed couldn’t handle large images or streaming video. “People did all sorts of projects that were too heavy for the live web,” says Tim Walsh, a digital archivist at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).

One workaround to make these projects possible was to separate a website from the web. “A simple solution was to simply burn all the the HTML, JavaScript, and other large files to a CD-ROM,” Walsh says....

Some are orphaned because they were made with software that’s now extinct. Others might have been left incompatible by years of updates. Still more may have been created using expensive, specialized, niche software—such as the programs used by special effects studios or video game designers—that’s simply not widely available. In these instances, the databases that the Centre consults might not even be able to identify the file format or the software it came from. ...

For years, many architects and other designers have used a 3-D modeling software called form·Z. The software, Walsh explains, was especially popular for rendering cutting-edge projects in the 1990s and 2000s. Each new release tends to only support files created within the last two versions, meaning that form·Z 8.5 Pro, the current version installed on CCA’s CAD workstations, can’t wrangle decades worth of files created in older versions. ...

To access these complicated files, or to launch some of the sites that lived on CD-ROMs (which may need a certain operating system, browser, or other requirements to open), a user might rig up an emulation environment. An emulator is a proxy: It recreates older hardware and software on a modern-day machine. On occasion, Walsh has made some himself.

When one CCA visitor wanted to take a look at a CD-ROM-based “multimedia website” produced in conjunction with a 1996 exhibition of work by the architect Benjamin Nicholson, Walsh needed to wind back the clock. He tracked down an old license for Windows NT and installed Netscape Navigator and an old version of Adobe Reader. This all enabled decades-old functionality on a two-year-old HP tower.

This strategy works, but it has drawbacks. “These environments are time-intensive to create, will only run on a local computer, and they typically require a lot of technical know-how to set up and use,” Walsh says. Ad hoc emulation is not for the novice or the busy....

RESEARCHERS AT YALE ARE WORKING to solve this problem by creating a kind of digital Rosetta Stone, a universal translator, through an emulation infrastructure that will live online. “A few clicks in your web browser will allow users to open files containing data that would otherwise be lost or corrupted,” said Cochrane, who is now the library’s digital preservation manager. “You’re removing the physical element of it,” says Seth Anderson, the library’s software preservation manager. “It’s a virtual computer running on a server, so it’s not tethered to a desktop.”

Instead of treating each case as a one-off, like digital triage, this team wants to create a virtual, historical computer lab that’s comprehensive and ready for anything. Do you have a CD-ROM that was once stuffed in a sleeve on the cover of a textbook? A snappy virtual machine running Windows 98 might be able to help you out. “We could create any environment that we needed,” Anderson says. The goal is to build an emulation library big enough that there’s a good fit for any potential case—with definitive, clear results. ...

To recreate environments, the team needs hard copies to work from. It’s a bit like an archaeological expedition, an excavation that produces a specimen collection that can be sorted and stored. Over the last few years, the library has been acquiring a collection of “legacy computers.” Researchers scour eBay for desktop PCs from the 1990s, neon-shelled iMacs, and other machines that have long since vanished from the market. They clean up the hard drives, leaving nothing but the original operating system. The next step is to create a disk image of hard drive, copying everything—its data, its processing systems, its quirks—to a virtual replica. “Once that’s set up, you can launch it in an emulated environment,” Anderson says....

The team interviewed 40 people—primarily folks working in archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions—for a preliminary report released last month. In those conversations, licenses emerged as “a big source of heartburn,” Butler says.
digital_preservation  archives  preservation  emulation  software  librarycamp  via:shannon_mattern 
march 2018 by Librarysue
Some of my files would be a hard challenge.
s 
march 2018 by jgordon
NOT SO VERY LONG AGO, web designers’ ambitions outstripped the infrastructure of the internet, so they had to resort to physical media to help carry their ideas. Dial-up modems were pokey, and the sluggish speed couldn’t handle large images or streaming video. “People did all sorts of projects that were too heavy for the live web,” says Tim Walsh, a digital archivist at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).

One workaround to make these projects possible was to separate a website from the web. “A simple solution was to simply burn all the the HTML, JavaScript, and other large files to a CD-ROM,” Walsh says....

Some are orphaned because they were made with software that’s now extinct. Others might have been left incompatible by years of updates. Still more may have been created using expensive, specialized, niche software—such as the programs used by special effects studios or video game designers—that’s simply not widely available. In these instances, the databases that the Centre consults might not even be able to identify the file format or the software it came from. ...

For years, many architects and other designers have used a 3-D modeling software called form·Z. The software, Walsh explains, was especially popular for rendering cutting-edge projects in the 1990s and 2000s. Each new release tends to only support files created within the last two versions, meaning that form·Z 8.5 Pro, the current version installed on CCA’s CAD workstations, can’t wrangle decades worth of files created in older versions. ...

To access these complicated files, or to launch some of the sites that lived on CD-ROMs (which may need a certain operating system, browser, or other requirements to open), a user might rig up an emulation environment. An emulator is a proxy: It recreates older hardware and software on a modern-day machine. On occasion, Walsh has made some himself.

When one CCA visitor wanted to take a look at a CD-ROM-based “multimedia website” produced in conjunction with a 1996 exhibition of work by the architect Benjamin Nicholson, Walsh needed to wind back the clock. He tracked down an old license for Windows NT and installed Netscape Navigator and an old version of Adobe Reader. This all enabled decades-old functionality on a two-year-old HP tower.

This strategy works, but it has drawbacks. “These environments are time-intensive to create, will only run on a local computer, and they typically require a lot of technical know-how to set up and use,” Walsh says. Ad hoc emulation is not for the novice or the busy....

RESEARCHERS AT YALE ARE WORKING to solve this problem by creating a kind of digital Rosetta Stone, a universal translator, through an emulation infrastructure that will live online. “A few clicks in your web browser will allow users to open files containing data that would otherwise be lost or corrupted,” said Cochrane, who is now the library’s digital preservation manager. “You’re removing the physical element of it,” says Seth Anderson, the library’s software preservation manager. “It’s a virtual computer running on a server, so it’s not tethered to a desktop.”

Instead of treating each case as a one-off, like digital triage, this team wants to create a virtual, historical computer lab that’s comprehensive and ready for anything. Do you have a CD-ROM that was once stuffed in a sleeve on the cover of a textbook? A snappy virtual machine running Windows 98 might be able to help you out. “We could create any environment that we needed,” Anderson says. The goal is to build an emulation library big enough that there’s a good fit for any potential case—with definitive, clear results. ...

To recreate environments, the team needs hard copies to work from. It’s a bit like an archaeological expedition, an excavation that produces a specimen collection that can be sorted and stored. Over the last few years, the library has been acquiring a collection of “legacy computers.” Researchers scour eBay for desktop PCs from the 1990s, neon-shelled iMacs, and other machines that have long since vanished from the market. They clean up the hard drives, leaving nothing but the original operating system. The next step is to create a disk image of hard drive, copying everything—its data, its processing systems, its quirks—to a virtual replica. “Once that’s set up, you can launch it in an emulated environment,” Anderson says....

The team interviewed 40 people—primarily folks working in archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions—for a preliminary report released last month. In those conversations, licenses emerged as “a big source of heartburn,” Butler says.
digital_preservation  archives  preservation  emulation  software 
march 2018 by shannon_mattern
The Quest for a Universal Translator for Old, Obsolete Computer Files - Atlas Obscura
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march 2018 by bfortner