Software: Classification and Preservation
2015 02 15
So begins (perhaps a little late into the semester) my adventures in independent study.
In order to finish my FOSS minor at RIT, I am doing an independent study adaptation of a pre-existing course. Because of scheduling conflicts, I cannot take it normally before I graduate, and this is the last requirement to finish out the minor.
Doing an independent study version of a class that is very much focused around
reading and group discussion is perhaps a bit suboptimal, but I have been tasked with
writing blog posts / reviews of the readings in lieu of group discussions. It will certainly be an adventure. So, here's the first one:
Software, It’s a Thing
- This article is the transcript of the opening address at the Library of Congress' Digital Preservation 2014 conference. The author addresses the complexities of software as a "thing", and the difficulties that those complexities introduce to the archival and preservation of software in general.
- It's a fantastically organized and written piece of prose. I have never given too much thought about the various forms software can take, and, while some of the forms were perhaps a stretch, it was weird to think of software as "epigraphy". It's kind of strange / terrifying to contemplate all the places one's name or data appears on various computer / software systems throughout the world.
- "... is content enough? What counts as context for all our digital content?" This is a pretty serious issue, especially with older software. Trying to play almost any older C64 / Atari 2600 game is nigh-impossible without the manual. Sure, you can dump ROMs and put them on a server without breaking a sweat, but without the associated manuals and documentation, they aren't nearly as useful or interesting.
- Reading this article made me remember to fire up my ArchiveTeam Warrior which I hadn't in a while. I might as well put all this spare RIT bandwidth to good use!
- That title is pretty bad. Granted, some of the titles I have come up with aren't fantastic, but jeeze. Honorary mention for "Preserving.exe". Yeesh.
- These weren't the author's words, but Thomas Scoville's quote about code and jazz was excruciating. Maybe it's my distaste for jazz, or maybe I haven't been able to have code "flow" as Mr. Scoville describes, but that analogy seems like grasping at very distant straws.
- The "software as clickwrap" section was so short that it seemed like an afterthought. Software distribution does seem to be going increasingly in that direction, so why not discuss it more thoroughly?
- Is software preservation actually as difficult as it is made out to be in this article, or is just a manpower / volume issue?
- Why is software a "lesser priority" for the archival / preservation community?
- Has the DMCA or other copyright restrictions significantly hindered software archival efforts?
- As someone who has been vaguely interested in software archival (and spent a fair amount of time browsing around Archive.org), this was a pretty interesting article. While I don't completely agree with everything presented, it was certainly thought provoking, and perhaps a little distressing. It's alarming to consider the future of all these server based products which likely will cease to exist in their current form at some point. A number of MMO games have disappeared, and can never be played again. It's weird to consider that possibility for a majority of the software tools I use every day.
4/5 <review increments>