Thursday, 20 March 2008

Legacy document formats

On the O'Reill XML blog, which I always read with interest (particularly in relation to the shenanigins over OOXML and ODF standardisation), Rick Jelliffe writes An Open Letter to Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Corel and others on Lodging Old File Formats with ISO. He points out that
"Corporations who were market leaders in the 1980s and 1990s for PC applications have a responsibility to make sure that documentation on their old formats are not lost. Especially for document formats before 1990, the benefits of the format as some kind of IP-embodying revenue generator will have lapsed now in 2008. However the responsibility for archiving remains.

"So I call on companies in this situation, in particular Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Corel, Computer Associates, Fujitsu, Philips, as well as the current owners of past names such as Wang, and so on, to submit your legacy binary format documentation for documents (particularly home and office documents) and media, to ISO/IEC JTC1 for acceptance as Technical Specifications.[...] Handing over the documentation to ISO care can shift the responsibility for archiving and making available old documentation from individual companies, provide good public relations, and allow old projects to be tidied up and closed."
This is in principle a Good Idea. However, ISO documents are not Open Access; the specifications Rick refers to would benefit greatly from being Open. They would form vitally important parts of our effort to preserve digital documents. Instead of being deposited in ISO, they should be regarded as part of Representation Information for those file types, and deposited in a variety (more than one, for safety's sake) of services such as PRONOM at The National Archive in the UK, the proposed Harvard/Mellon Global Digital Format Registry, the Library of Congress Digital Preservation activity or the DCC's own Registry/Repository of Representation Information.


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