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Software Archive

Emulators are not the only software required to ensure long-term access to some object of interest. If the archive user is interested in some object like a PDF document, he also needs a suitable application for rendering which itself cannot be executed directly but requires an environment that allows the interaction with the user on one hand side and the object stored on some digital medium on the other side. These intermediary tasks are typically handled by an operating system. Thus we have a list of secondary tools, depending on the particular view path/pathway.

The number of these objects depends on the pathway. For each complete hardware environment, one or more operating systems are needed to host the applications in question. This means that for a software archive, operating systems must be stored alongside the corresponding platform emulators. The same applies to applications required for the presentation of the different data formats. In the case of porting an emulator to a newer reference environment, it must be verified that the new emulator complies with the archive’s requirements.

The newer the environment, the higher the level of complexity and typically the number of additional components needed. We require tools like decompressors for compressed objects or virtual container creators for accessing the virtual disks, floppies or optical storage of hardware emulators. A special case is the need for hardware drivers to adapt operating systems to a defined hardware environment.

Software for rendering a text document might require specific fontsets; or video and audio players might require specific codecs for proper decoding of an object. Problems may be expected in the long term from some types of secondary objects, for example because of DRM, copy protection mechanisms, or the need for an online connection for updates. Additionally a wide range of metadata must also be stored, including manuals describing the usage of a specific tool, license strings and explanations of installation steps.

The PLANETS project produced a detailed report on these issues: "Requirements for and contents of an emulation software archive" (insert link to full document). The report concluded with these recommendations:

  • As a matter of urgency, memory institutions should begin compiling a library of software components (applications, operating systems, device drivers etc), to ensure that copies of older software are available in future.
  • A prototype software archive should be built so that we can investigate in practice the various issues discussed in this report about how such an archive should be managed.
  • Discussions should be instigated with software manufacturers and regulatory authorities, to find a solution to the legal issues around copyright and licensing of software for long-term archiving purposes.
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