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National Archives and MS strike preservation deal

Shining light on the 'digital dark age'

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The National Archives (TNA) and Microsoft have come to an arrangement to support long term access to digital documents.

Under a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Microsoft will provide TNA with a system that combines previous versions of Windows and Office to help solve problems of managing historical records based on legacy formats.

In return, TNA will contribute its experience in digital preservation as input to the company's future product development. Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that information is retained and kept accessible in the face of rapid digital and technological change, avoiding what Microsoft calls "a new digital dark age".

TNA will make use of Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007, which makes it possible to run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same computer. This will allow it to configure any combination of Windows and Office from one PC, thereby allowing access to practically any document based on legacy Microsoft file formats.

Staff and visitors at TNA will be able to view historical information based on legacy formats in the way the author intended. TNA will also be able to make these documents more accessible by converting the information to new, open file formats.

Prior to signing the agreement, TNA's chief executive Natalie Ceeney said: "We are living in a world that is a ticking timebomb with regard to digital preservation. Public accountability is enshrined in the way we work. It is essential we have longevity in information to ensure this accountability is maintained."

Explaining that most content written today is on Microsoft platforms, she added that the partnership was only the "start of a journey" but still "a phenomenal step forward in bringing digital preservation into the mainstream".

She also said that the arrangement was not about creating digital assets: "This is not an ownership challenge but a migration and accessibility challenge."

Microsoft said the partnership reflects the efforts it has made to move away from a proprietary model. The latest releases of Office use the Open XML format, which is under the independent control of Ecma – an industry association dedicated to the standardisation of ICT systems.

"Microsoft took the step to implement XML based file formats that unlock data in documents, allowing them to be archived, restructured, aggregated and re-used in new and dynamic ways," said Gordon Frazer, UK managing director and vice president of Microsoft International.

"Our MoU with TNA will go beyond this and ensure that decisions we make in future products will meet the rigorous requirements of digital preservation. It is about tackling the potential of a digital dark age and to make sure that doesn't become a reality".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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