Computing - it's all about the now and the next, with little thought about what went before. Good for getting things done 0.02GHz faster, but not so great for digital archives. A new European research project, however, is hoping to keep obsolete file formats readable, so what's locked up in them isn't lost forever.
Back to the Future
KEEP - Keeping emulation environments portable - aims to tackle the problem of digital rot by creating an emulator that can open file formats stretching back all the way to the 70s.
The emulator will be updatable so new file formats can be added, allowing documents that are in common use now to still be accessible in the future.
Without the emulator in place, we could risk losing access to significant parts of history simply because there are no machines around any more that can read certain files.
The project is mainly aimed at museums and other large institutions, but it could also be useful to individuals too in recovering old documents.
You may be happy storing all your family photos in JPG format now, but who knows what will exist in 20, 30 or even 100 years time? There could be a super new image compression system available that not only shrinks files without losing any quality it also makes you look better as well.
There's no guarantee that future apps will be able to read your tatty JPG files, which would make something like KEEP invaluable at rescuing your old pictures.
Retro to go
In addition to static files, the project description also mentions dynamic digital objects like websites, databases and even video games. If a by-product of the development means that people 100 years from now will get to play Jet Set Willy, then it's worth every penny of the €4m it'll cost.