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  1. #1
    5 Star Lounger
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    Jan 2011
    Seattle, WA
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    Preserving files for the generations


    Preserving files for the generations

    By Lincoln Spector

    In this digital age, we have photographs, videos, family records — perhaps even a few words of wisdom — stored on relatively fragile hard drives.
    All digital media eventually either fails or becomes obsolete, so how do you preserve important files for your grandchildren or great-grandchildren?

    The full text of this column is posted at (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.
    Last edited by Kathleen Atkins; 2013-02-20 at 19:53.

  2. #2
    New Lounger
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    Dec 2009
    Ann Arbor, MI
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    Thanks for the Excellent Article!

    Thanks for this excellent article. I hope it gets read widely. This is a topic of continuing interest to me. I have been in the computer industry for over 40 years and have seen a number of hardware and software data formats come and go. How about the Dwo Quon Fuk Luk Sau word processing program written in 6502 assembly language for an Ohio Scientific Computer? I wrote several articles using that program and printed them out with a daisy wheel printer. I recently went through the process of trying to recover a number of old articles that I had prepared using Scribe, a UNIX-based word processor we used in the middle 80's. Fortunately it is an ASCII-based system like LaTex, so at the very least the words are accessible if not the formatted version, though I did find a program that was supposed to be able to process this older format. Right now I have a stack of Digital 8 tapes of old videos of the kids that I still haven't had time to upload and process and worry that my 10-year old Sony camcorder may bite the dust before I can use it to read and upload them to my computer for safekeeping.

    I think the one data format you forgot to mention that has outlived all the formats you do is good ol' ASCII text. That will probably still be accessible to my great grandchildren. Unfortunately you can't store a lot of formatted information in ASCII, unless you use an HTML format. If you do decide to save to HTML, try to use the simplest HTML you can. style sheets, javascript and other fancy gimics will probably go by the wayside not long from now, but the original basic HTML commands should be around for at least awhile, and even if they aren't, the basic text will still be present even if the formatting may be long lost like my old Scribe files.

    One other point about cloud storage. I agree it should be considered a secondary backup. They don't guarantee that they will never lose your data. The primary advantage of cloud storage is offsite storage of files. I worry about fire, tornado, or other damage that could destroy all my files and backup data. For years, I tried to keep removable backup offsite (one copy at home and one at work), but it was too much effort to do it regularly. With cloud storage I have files in two locations at all times and I have greater piece of mind.
    -- John
    Last edited by jsauter; 2013-02-21 at 09:55.

  3. #3
    3 Star Lounger
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    Dec 2009
    Courtenay, BC
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    Great article and a good reminder for many. I've been digitizing everything as it's way more efficient storage and access and can be easily distributed - like 100 year old family photo albums that were beginning to crumble. But yes, a number of issues here. I can recall looking at how to get data off 8" floppies one time.

    My mother once wrote a small nursing reference book that was thereafter printed via copying an original. The time came to turn it into an ebook but the original was in a MS Publisher v1 format. Publisher couldn't open it. There was a plugin for PageMaker but it was too old for that too. In the archives I found some DOC files that had earlier versions of the chapters. I was thus able to assemble the bulk of the original, then go through, word by word, to make all the later corrections in the final. I had to replace the graphics from scratch. I've seen many such examples - business archives all in obscure old formats.

    I'll also mention one other format that's very common outside of N. America - the Open Document standard used by OpenOffice, Libre, Star, etc. It's designed for long term viability where MS Office formats are both proprietary and changeable. Have you ever tried opening a Word 1 doc?

    I've also spent a bunch of time researching optical media longevity as we were scanning old city property records and surveys, for example, that needed to be long lasting. It's a tricky subject as the actual media manufacturer is often masked by the packaging. And there is a huge difference in quality and longevity. Kodak stopped making its excellent discs. Until M-Discs came along, the MAM-A gold archive discs were the only ones to meet US govt archival standards. They were only available in the US through small importers, which sure says something about both the importance and ignorance of the subject. The best commonly available discs were always rebranded.

    You can download free tools that ID the discs maker. You can then get a good idea of which discs you should be copying off to newer media first. Here's a couple of sites you may find useful for this:
    (if you have Nero, it has a disc info tool)

    Also - if you've been using stick-on labels, those have been shown to dramatically reduce the lifespan of the discs. The label glue causes trouble.

    Another wrinkle I've run into - newer optical players don't always read the discs recorded by certain older common burning software. An older player will - so don't junk the disc if your new computer won't play it. You may be able to get the contents off on an older computer.

    Reminds me of the old George Carlin schtick on how our homes are just places to keep our stuff...

  4. #4
    Super Moderator CLiNT's Avatar
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    Dec 2009
    California & Arizona
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    The JPG format, as far as digital pictures go, can be counted on for some time to come.

    I think as long as one has these things on an active hard drive, and backed up too, one will be able to adapt to
    new formats as they come out. As long as you don't simply store data and forget about it you should be fine.

    When you think about doing long term storage you also have to think about maintenance too. And that also means keeping up
    with new formats and hardware as time goes on.

    The key is always more than one type of backup and format, and not least of all, maintenance, go along way to increase one's chances at longevity.
    Invest a little time and energy in a well thought out BACKUP regimen and you will have minimal down time, and headache.

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  5. #5
    WS Lounge VIP mrjimphelps's Avatar
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    I would suggest that you store stuff on a big, modern hard drive. Then about every 10 years, get another big, modern hard drive, and copy everything to it. In this way, not only are you keeping up with the latest standards, but you are refreshing (renewing) your media; and you have multiple copies, at least as long as the older ones are still compatible and in good working order.

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