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Vint Cerf: Data That's Here Today May Be Gone Tomorrow

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the tell-that-to-my-stack-of-punchcards dept.

The Internet 358

dcblogs writes "Vinton Cerf is warning that digital things created today — spreadsheets, documents, presentations as well as mountains of scientific data — may not be readable in the years and centuries ahead. Cerf illustrates the problem in a simple way. He runs Microsoft Office 2011 on Macintosh, but it cannot read a 1997 PowerPoint file. 'It doesn't know what it is,' he said. 'I'm not blaming Microsoft,' said Cerf, who is Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist. 'What I'm saying is that backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time.' He calls it a 'hard problem.'" We're at an interesting spot right now, where we're worried that the internet won't remember everything, and also that it won't forget anything.

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XML? (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about a year ago | (#43910587)

I think that given MS office and LibreOffice are in XML, it shouldn't be difficult at all to reverse engineer in the future.

Re:XML? (1, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#43910737)

The same applies to any *open* format.

Re:XML? (2)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year ago | (#43910765)

In to a usable document from scratch? Pretty hard. Ever looked at the XML of a moderately complex document?

Re:XML? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43910767)

I think that given MS office and LibreOffice are in XML, it shouldn't be difficult at all to reverse engineer in the future.

Yes, the problem is not "data" but "data in proprietary formats" ... and even that is becoming less of a problem. A converter to/from almost anything is usually just a google search away. With VMs and emulators, even proprietary binary programs are easier than ever to deal with. I can run any CP/M or C64 program on my desktop Linux computer using free emulators. This was indeed a "hard problem", but today it is mostly solved.

Can anyone identify this character set? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910959)

Still haven't found a description of the chaaracter set in which octal 222, 223, and 224 are right single quotation mark, left double quotation mark, and right double quotation mark.

Anybody know this one?

see Windows 1250 and 1251 (2)

Doug Merritt (3550) | about a year ago | (#43911143)

Windows 1250 and 1251 do, and possibly others. It sounds familiar, but my memory is fuzzy, so I just looked around. []

Re:XML? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911089)

Yes, the problem is not "data" but "data in proprietary formats" ... and even that is becoming less of a problem.

The blacks. It's their fault.

Re:XML? (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43910849)

I think that given MS office and LibreOffice are in XML, it shouldn't be difficult at all to reverse engineer in the future.

Binary formats were standard for everything up through Office 2003. Office 2007(2003 with optional converter pack and some weird bugs) could output something XML based, though I have the vague memory from the OpenDocument/Open Office XML slugfest that 2007 produced something that deviated from the theoretical ideal of OOXML in some respects, and that full conformity happened at 2010 or 2013. I might be remembering that wrong; but anything before 2003, and a lot from 2003 were definitely binary.

Maybe. (4, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | about a year ago | (#43910927)

XML doesn't magically solve everything in this regard. If there's no good documentation for the format, it's unlikely you'll be able to display everything exactly as intended. Likewise, if the format is hideously complex (see: Microsoft Office Open XML) or there's bugs in the de-facto implementation, it's going to be tricky to reverse engineer.

I'd also point out that MS Office spits out compressed XML. I believe it's based on ZIP, which is very well documented, but that's yet another hurdle to cross. And then you have to deal with the binary format of the XML itself -- ASCII, UTF8, etc.

Re:XML? (2)

belmolis (702863) | about a year ago | (#43911213)

Both have published specifications, so reverse engineering shouldn't be necessary. However, Microsoft's XML includes things that are not defined in the specification. That was one of the objections to giving it status as an open standard.

My data will be readable (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43910607)

My data will be readable because I use bog-standard formats. If I get really froggy I use HTML, and you can just strip the tags and read that.

If his data won't be readable, that's his problem. Anything you want to save for posterity, export it now.

Re:My data will be readable (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910823)

Export it? Sure. Or.... If he took that 1997 PowerPoint, and opened it with each successive Office version, and re-saved it as the latest version, he'd be fine.

I'm sure there's an automated way to do that with numerous files.

Re:My data will be readable (5, Insightful)

Bremic (2703997) | about a year ago | (#43910897)

Until HTML includes DRM and half the stuff you create ends up being unreadable.

Well, really we are probably good for anything that can be opened in a text editor for a long long while; but the point is there. Anything can be lost to data format shifts.

As someone who had to re-type a 80 page document because the company stopped using the software the document was created on, and didn't have a licence for it an no converter found online worked - I can say this does happen.

How many people are going to shell out $600 for software to open something they want to make an edit on? How many are going to just give up and find someone to rekey it, or just give it up as a loss?

With more and more systems including format locks, in 50+ years historians will likely have a lot of trouble finding out details from today. Kind of like it is now when we go to look at archival film from WWII and find it's all faded into obscurity. We have the same problems, just with different causes. Then it was lack of preservation of a medium with a limited lifespan. Now it's storing stuff in formats that will go away as they are improved upon, blocked, or just forgotten about.

Sure if your in your 20s, or even 30s, you probably haven't realized the copy of your grandfathers photos are sitting on a floppy disk in a proprietary format. But when you get older you may encounter these issues.

Re:My data will be readable (4, Informative)

Nutria (679911) | about a year ago | (#43911031)

Or NASA data from deep space probes that's stored in now-unknown formats on mag tapes from long, long, long gone manufacturers.

Re:My data will be readable (2)

starburst (63061) | about a year ago | (#43911077)

From a 2002 slashdot story:

mccalli writes :
"Thought people might find this amusing. In 1986, the UK compiled an electronic [copy of the] domesday book. They used BBC Master computers to do it, and the result was put on laserdisc. I actually used this project whilst at school. This article states that nothing can now read these merely 15-year old discs. The original, written approx. 1086, is still doing fine thank you very much."
Sounds like a good candidate for Bruce Sterling's Dead Media Project. (Speaking of Sterling, the "graying cyberpunk" has an interesting article in the Austin Chronicle on the upcoming SXSW Interactive conference called "Information Wants to be Worthless" -- thanks to reader ag3n7.)

Re:My data will be readable (2)

ganjadude (952775) | about a year ago | (#43911171)

why didnt you OCR and then make the edits? There are numerous OCR options that would have fit that need no?

What's a Macintosh (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910611)

What's a Macintosh?

What ever it is, I bet if he used LaTeX+Beamer he wouldn't have this problem. Whether it was authored in 1997 or 2011, it almost certainly would still work on a "Macintosh". Maybe he could learn a thing or two from Donald Knuth and Leslie Lamport, and stop playing around with the rugrats at Google.

So? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910615)

As if this matters? Seriously, go outside, take a walk, ride a bike, look at a tree, pet a dog, eat somewhere you've never been before. No one will give a shit about some spreadsheet in a hundred years! When's the last time *you* looked at a spreadsheet from a hundred years ago? Yeah, I figured. And if your job is looking at hundred year old spreadsheets, well there's your answer: if it were important, we'd print them out.

This digital hoarding under the guise of a somber warning is as much a mental illness as the crazy old lady with her figurines.

Re:So? (5, Insightful)

MrBandersnatch (544818) | about a year ago | (#43910649)

I think you will find that there's a little known branch of academia called "history" which sometimes takes a curious interest in even the most trivial of past information.....

Re:So? (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43910891)

I think you will find that there's a little known branch of academia called "history" which sometimes takes a curious interest in even the most trivial of past information.....

Even if you don't care about the historians, I'm sure the lucky people who have the pleasure of handling property deeds at your local governance hive can tell you a story from within the last week or two about needing to pull some rather seriously dusty documents to allow a present-day transaction to go through without incident.

Many data will, indeed, be of no interest at all, or the same historical interest that neolithic refuse dumps are; but data in the nontrivial-number-of-decades range are still live in more than a few contexts.

Re:So? (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#43910675)

Man, fuck the future (that's right you historians-not-yet-born). They have all the flying cars and meal-in-a-pill's and immortality clinics and shit. The hell have they done for us to deserve our sympathy? If that means we can make them have to work that much harder to see how life was now, I say do it.

Now back to my zombie virus work. Anybody got a decent time capsule for me to use?

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910825)

Man, don't be like that. If we're nice to the future, they might give us time machines!

Re:So? (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about a year ago | (#43911197)


emulation / virtualization (2)

smash (1351) | about a year ago | (#43910619)

Support emulatorVM developers! Encapsulate your entire machine in a VM and you can run the entire software stack if necessary. Anything you need convenient access to, export to CSV, XML or some other standard format.

Re:emulation / virtualization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910727)

It's called TeX. It's a virtual machine for document generation. Originally from the 1970s, it's the only VM* (as well as complete authoring and publishing tool) that will be around after VMWare, Linux, and Windows are long forgotten, and will still work _natively_ on whatever platform predominates. Heck, it's already outlasted the "Macintosh", and it's even managed the transition to the WWW better than everything else:

* Well, that and whatever IBM uses on their mainframes.

Re:emulation / virtualization (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about a year ago | (#43910739)

and when Unicode and ASCII are replaced?

Re:emulation / virtualization (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43910907)

There's a pretty good chance LaTeX will still support them. There's a reason the TeX distribution is like 2 Gigs.....

Re:emulation / virtualization (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43910943)

Unicodes is a bit sprawling; but ASCII is only 128 characters(unless dealing with the wonderful world of nonstandardized non-latin extensions or ad-hoc 8-bit extensions-of-convenience is your problem, in which case I'd advise shirking your duties and drinking heavily), making preserving the whole thing even by chiselling it into stone monuments or other archaic methods potentially viable.

Re:emulation / virtualization (2)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#43911123)

Honestly, reverse engineering ACII plain text files would be trivial. Not to the average person, but to somebody with a bit of background:
A) We have software that can use something called frequency analysis to decipher something encoded that has a 1-1 correspondence so something we know (ie the english alphabet).

B) Ignoring software, frequency analysis is something that could be (and before the days of computers, was) done by hand. Hell, some things could be picked out by eye. For one, all files would have a particular byte character that appears near the end of every (well formed) text file, as well as often appearing periodically through the average file. A key indicator of being a newline/carriage return. Also in the bulk of most documents the new line is followed by a particular other character that also appears in a periodic manner. Being the period. And then another character appearing often every so often (on average around 5-6 characters), a good candidate for the space character. I and A also being somewhat easy to pick out (the whole upper/lower case making it a bit harder, but still doable). With a bit more dedication, you can start guessing common words, such as a common letter followed by a less common letter followed by a very common letter ('the' sounds like a good candidate). And then to figure the rest out, compare the average frequencies of characters across many documents to the average frequencies of letters and punctuation in documents we already know. A decent undergrad senior in computer science could write a program to do this. Hell, I took a sophomore level math class that went over this.

Re:emulation / virtualization (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year ago | (#43910779)

How do you encapsulate the VM so it will still work 20 years in the future?

Re:emulation / virtualization (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910815)

You're very clever, young man, very clever - but it's VMs all the way down!

We should have listened (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910633)

We're in a difficult spot right now because for years we ignored the warnings about 'proprietary file formats'.

I'm not blaming Microsoft either. We let Microsoft do this to us of our own free ignorance.

Re:We should have listened (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about a year ago | (#43910853)

what's this "we" shit all my files are odt, ods, html, tex or txt files. they will be just as accessible in 100 years as they are now.

Re:We should have listened (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | about a year ago | (#43910909)

Without developers maintaining editors/viewers, open formats are only slightly more usable than proprietary ones. 100 years is a really long time from now as far as technology goes. I wouldn't be so quick to say that open formats will still be easily accessible.

Re:We should have listened (1)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | about a year ago | (#43911145)

And we're not doing it now with Apple products?

Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (5, Insightful)

Narcocide (102829) | about a year ago | (#43910655)

Yes, you're right I have this ASCII text file created in 1997 and I can't find anything to read it...


Stop gargling Microsoft's balls so much and wipe off your chin. Proprietary data formats are THE PROBLEM. Stop trying to redirect public discourse with this thinly veiled bullshit.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (4, Informative)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#43910749)

Odds are that you don't need to convince Vint Cerf or Google in general about the advantages of open formats.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910893)

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about a year ago | (#43911005)

Yes, the Talk XMPP shutdown and Google Reader are a little disturbing. We're as far as we are with the ubiquity of the internet because of open formats enabling intercommunication and competition between products and services by different providers. That seems to be going away again in favour of platform lock-in with things like iMessage, FaceTime, etc. Google's Hangouts are at least cross platform, but that's really only a mild improvement. You still need to use Google's implementation. I'm just happy I can still use the stuff under Linux for the most part. I'm a little worried about the future, as short sighted greed seems to have taken over.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about a year ago | (#43910917)

Yes, you're right and maybe this is the part I am having trouble coming to grips with. He seems like the last guy who should be spouting this line of rubbish. I feel like I'm in a bad B-rate horror movie and the body snatchers just got to the President...

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year ago | (#43910797)

But your EBCDIC documents are absolute rubbish now and the tools to convert them aren't commonplace any more.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (2)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#43910845)

Just Googled "ebcdic to ascii converter"

About 123,000 results.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

ImperialSardaukar (2904421) | about a year ago | (#43910913)

122,999 of those are empty pages full of malware, or porn (often, both).

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910915)

Not only that, but there were several different EBCDICs.

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43910957)

But your EBCDIC documents are absolute rubbish now and the tools to convert them aren't commonplace any more.

How deep are your pockets?

*IBM Consulting*

apt-cache search EBCDIC (1)

Burz (138833) | about a year ago | (#43911179)

Yields 4 results in Ubuntu. You can search reputable open source archives on the web, too.

How deep are your pockets?

*IBM Consulting*

Um, really???

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911091)

But your EBCDIC documents are absolute rubbish now and the tools to convert them aren't commonplace any more.

$ printf "\xC5\xC2\xC3\xC4\xC9\xC3\x25" | iconv -f ebcdic-us -t ascii
$ dpkg -S `which iconv`
libc-bin: /usr/bin/iconv
$ apt-cache show libc-bin | grep -e Essential -e Priority
Essential: yes
Priority: required

So we got a program that can convert from EBCDIC-US to ASCII (or UTF-8 or whatever you want) and that program is in an Essential/Required package on any Debian-based system and for some reason you say that "aren't commonplace"?

Are you on crack?

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911199)

Are you on crack?

Judge Koh, is that you?

Re:Yes, backwards compatibility, blah blah blah... (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year ago | (#43911103)

...everything except that Zip Drive I saved it on.

We have an app for that (1)

uberbrainchild (2860711) | about a year ago | (#43910659)

If there is a demand to open up and view a certain file type there will always be someone to create an app or website which will either open up the file or convert it to a more compatible format. There are already services out there that convert word to pdf for example oh and I just found an iPhone app for converting files, yay!

Re:We have an app for that (1)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | about a year ago | (#43911135)

By the time YOU care to convert a file and can't... there's no app, and NOBODY but you gives a damn about that file you got.

technology human (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910691)

I think the technology itself will eventually find a way to trace it own history... then it will be readable again for old hobos like you

DRM and the digital black hole (4, Interesting)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about a year ago | (#43910709)

A perfect example of this is basically the issue of old video games. (I may as well bring this up because it's going to come up)

Recently, the Internet Archive stored a whole pile of TOSEC collections of games from various old systems (thanks to their DCMA exemption of being an archival repository so that they can legally do this). Data and information that would have otherwise been completely lost into a digital black hole, if it weren't for the fans of the system, and the dedicated teams of people collecting and amassing this software as a hobby.... in breach of copyright.

The problem with DRM is that without dedicated crackers and pirates, unless the original rights holders are around long enough to resell old titles for that long (which most aren't), old games will simply disappear into a digital copyright black hole and never be seen again. This happens once the computer/console system system is old, not sold anymore, and forgotten about, and the media degrades and isn't backed up in some form (in breach of EULA). If people aren't able to collect the software and hang on to it, preserving/duplicating the media while still in copyright, it's going to vanish. Culturally important games of significance will be lost forever, and that, if anything is as much a crime as it is to pirate software in the first place.
It's only due to the efforts of an army of swappers/crackers, etc, that most of the old games on old systems were even preserved.

The steam model on PC is quite good though as it makes a few compromises where you can actually make backups and go offline if you want.
For old computers and consoles however, this doesn't apply,.... and with some more restrictive attempts to squash the used game market, and force internet-always-connected authentication on upcoming consoles to even play the game... one has to wonder if the game companies deliberately want to squish all traces of their old work, let it disappear into the ether, and to resell you this year's football game which is just like last year's. I fear that this is where we are headed (if we aren't there already)

Re:DRM and the digital black hole (4, Interesting)

jeffasselin (566598) | about a year ago | (#43910771)

What about online-only games? Will historians in 100 years be able to play WoW and see what the game was like?

Re:DRM and the digital black hole (2)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about a year ago | (#43910827)

Luckily for them, no.

Re:DRM and the digital black hole (2)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#43911149)

Nor will they be able to join in World War II to see what that was like. However there is more recorded footage of WoW than WWII for future historians to study.

Print Everything! (1)

dohzer (867770) | about a year ago | (#43910715)

Print Everything!
Problem solved.

Except spoken word changes too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911033)

Even language changes over a few hundred years or so. Might not be a problem for some things like technical documents, but in terms of presenting information of cultural significance most of it still gets lost with time. Slang, flowery speech, idioms, references to current events, jokes, etc., a lot of it looses it's "zing" after around 50 years or so if not within a single generation. There may be a few notable exceptions to this (some classical works are still funny, like much of the Canterbury Tales), but even then you sometimes need a dictionary or thesaurus to get the jokes or at least the general gist of them.

"Files that Last" (1)

ddyer-bennet (222311) | about a year ago | (#43910719)

Saw info on a book on this topic today, in fact: [] . Looks interesting so far.

Don't forget DRM (4, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | about a year ago | (#43910721)

Were living in what could well be a future dark age for archeologists / historians. Hardly anything is put into a nice hard format (stone is incredibly rare and metal gets stolen) for someone to find. What's left suffers from incompatible file formats, acid based paper that decomposes, bit rot, cryptography, incompatible technology for data storage and worst of all DRM. With DRM you have active measures that try to prevent something from being usable.

In the old days people stopped use with armed guards, obfuscation and primitive crypto. Today we have servers that are required for operational functionality for many products. With the advent of the cloud you have reasons for storing things where you have a dependency on a third party. How many services that are cloud / server based have come about and gone tits up?

Even having a large well known brand name doesn't protect you from having a server shut down. Just think of Microsoft's play4sure service that lasted less than a decade. Having a license and a physical disk isn't that helpful when the DRM requires an authentication server that doesn't exist. With the movement to put more and more DRM into the cloud or with SSL certificates (again dependent upon servers and naturally time bombed) this is going to be a problem that will only grow worse.

Learning to break DRM is far more critical than file formats which require nothing more than a conversion tool.

Re:Don't forget DRM (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43910951)

Learning to break DRM is far more critical than file formats which require nothing more than a conversion tool.

That is utterly a waste of time. It makes me sick to think of how much good effort is wasted jailbreaking the iPhone, when Apple could merely write a few lines of code and none of that would have been necessary. The entire jailbreak community around Apple is compensating for a few lines of code.

I say that with complete respect for the jailbreakers, but it could be so much better.......

Re:Don't forget DRM (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911233)

Do you need me to call the waaahmbulance?

*sigh* (2)

MrBandersnatch (544818) | about a year ago | (#43910729)

Digital archival is one of the HARD problems. Over the last 40 years we have already lost more cultural artifacts that were created for the entirety of human history. A great deal of that is useless garbage of course but the original moon landing tape? 1000s of government emails reavealing exactly what was going on at pivotal times in history?

The truth is, we need systems for hardcopy; digital is too tranient; emulators are a useful stop gap measure but dont protect againt the kinds of catastropic failures that we will likely see over the longer time frame; and we need indexing because someone at somepoint will want to wade through our digital ditritus.

real problem is: FEATURE CREEP (2)

bussdriver (620565) | about a year ago | (#43911207)

I've been part of archival problem planning. We went with DVD. now I am not there, I suspect they are thinking DVD sucks and are moving "forward" when the DVD was more than good enough and those plastic discs will last a century. mpeg-2 files will have open source decoders. Now physical readers will still be a problem... the only solution is to wait as long as possible and then switch to the next long lasting format - but not necessarily the newest one at that time. (which is why moving to blueray is a waste of money.)

The biggest problem with other formats is the FORMAT; even with something like open office documents, the ODF format will have revisions and new features added and tweaks to the format. version 2, 3 etc. The features and changes that promote the creation of more and more formats is the biggest problem. Just like my above DVD video problem- if you go beyond your needs then you are complicating things with more and more formats.

TEXT? sucks. we need WORD! Word 1.0? the app sucks... we need WORD 20! (and all versions in between to migrate the old labor to deal with conversion issues...)

Perhaps we need ARCHIVAL formats; like PDF, which has done besides the stupid additions Adobe has been making to it. Or just TEXT export... a less bloated output only format without the feature BS problems.

Thankfully, email remains the same... sort of. although storage of the emails differs greatly; if you want to archive emails you need to pick a close-to-the-source method (and simple storage filesystem-- good luck reading that NTFS formatted disk image in 30 years.)

I dont have this problem (0)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year ago | (#43910743)

with office 2007 pro, maybe if your were not using the student license you would have power-point as well

What matters? (0)

Timothy Burgher (2941691) | about a year ago | (#43910747)

What really matters besides photographs? I back mine up on a number of offsite solutions that I control ( hard drives ) and the re- backup every year on slightly newer hardware. I also rotate through a variety of online cloud solutions and all that stuff to make sure I am backed up on whatever is the current popular services. Okay I realize more than photographs matter bit that's what matters to me. I don't see it being a huge issue.

Re:What matters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910863)

I also tend to think that for historians etc the problem will actually be information overload rather than shortage. Before the 19th Century, the histoircal record can be remarkably scanty. Now there is vast amounts of data being generated about just about everyone. Photos, however, are a problem. Your solution only works while you're around to do the business. Unless one of your children takes up the task, images of you and yours could disappear very quickly, apart from your passport and driver's licence photos. Meanwhile i have a postcard-type photo of my grandmother as a 14-year old taken in the mid-19th Century that has survived quite happily in various shoe boxes.

Re:What matters? (1)

codepigeon (1202896) | about a year ago | (#43910945)

Ok, so how do you retrieve your photos that you stored on that 8inch floppy disk... 10 years from now?

That is a gross exageration but is an anaolgy to the point of the article. Without proper protections, all the information, notes, white papers, studies, etc will be useless if there doesn't exist technology that can read it.

In a worst case scenario how would humankind rebuild and not forget what was previously learned (e.g. dark ages we already experienced).

Re:What matters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910989)

What really matters besides photographs?.

Nothing matters.

Not you, not your photographs, not your children,
nor their grandchildren.

If you were intelligent in any sense that matters you would
already know this.

Vint Cerf jumped the shark (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910753)

Vint Cerf jumped the shark a long time ago - when ICANN became more of a money making venture than something to make the Internet better.

I've got email from the 1990s I can still read today.
The gifs and jpgs from back then are still viewable today, and will likely to be viewable in 20 years.

You have to keep migrating data off your old storage media _hardware_. And that can be a problem if you don't actually have enough bandwidth for your archive size.

He's mistaken (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910783)

I have plenty of old powerpoint 97 presentations ( and 98 since there was no 97 for mac ) and they work just fine with Office 2011.

Maybe if he had some plugins or something that were OS 9 or OS X PPC specific he couldn't load it?

Anyway who cares... fire up SheepShaver in a virtual machine or OS X 10.4 in Virtualbox and launch it from there.
I think he's making a mountain out of a mole hill here... That I can download any Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 product ever made and run it on anything from my Mac to my PC to my Android phone tells me that we're not at risk of losing anything any time soon.

Also, why didn't he write it in LaTeX like he should have in the first place? :P

Re:He's mistaken (1)

yuhong (1378501) | about a year ago | (#43910985)

I think the user was either using PowerPoint 4.0 for Mac or did not upgrade to Office 97 immediately.

Re:He's mistaken (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43911009)

Quite likely. I had some old Word for Mac documents of scientific papers I wrote in the 90s, and the only way I was able to recover them a few years ago was to install a Windows 3.1-era copy of Word for Windows.

Re:He's mistaken (2)

yuhong (1378501) | about a year ago | (#43911047)

Have you tried disabling the file blocks [] first? At least Word for Mac 4.x and 5.x can be read this way.

This is news? Nope. Not new... (2)

flogger (524072) | about a year ago | (#43910791)

This has been true of all technology in the past and will continue into the future. Just look at film. How many preserved films from 1915 are still around? Just the ones that were recorded into a new format of film, then a newer format of film, then into a VHS, then into a LaserDisc, then a DVD, then a BlueRay... (Metropolis, I am looking at you.)

Within arms reach, I have Floppy drives that contain files created in AMI Pro work processors.... WHen I say Floppy, I am talking about the 5 1/4 inch floppies.
Technology hardware and software is not stagnant... It will always continue to develop and progress (ignore windows 8). Data that is worth keeping will get converted. Data that isn't will get left behind. I would not be surprised that in about 25 years, there will be "classic" software as there is Classic literature...

Too much typing.. going back to drinking.....

Tax Records (2)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#43910811)

The IRS wants to audit me, going back several years. I kept the records as required but they are unreadable now.

Thanks Microsoft!

Re:Tax Records (1)

yuhong (1378501) | about a year ago | (#43910875)

If it is Word/Excel, try disabling the file blocks using the registry or in 2010 or later using the UI in the Trust Center.
See []

LOL! (0)

Narcocide (102829) | about a year ago | (#43910887)

+1 Underrated.

One would think (1)

no-body (127863) | about a year ago | (#43910881)

That people in the far future would be getting smarter to accomplish this - probably a tossup - and apart from it, it's very questionable if a far future for humanity even exists, the way "humanity" is behaving this days/years/decades/centuries/millenia....

Maybe there are smarter robots by then babysitting...

Github Flavored Markdown (1)

HalcyonBlue (596712) | about a year ago | (#43910911)

I use Github Flavored Markdown. Thousands of years in the future, archaeologists will no doubt work furiously to decode my etchings upon a stone tablet, which will read: "# IF YOU CAN READ THIS YOU'RE A GEEK #" .

Another argument... (1)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about a year ago | (#43910931)

For open source. Save your files in open and/or openly defined, standardized formats and there will always be software that can deal with it.

But I guess it's difficult for people to hear you explain that to them with their head up their ass.

Re:Another argument... (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year ago | (#43910995)

Argument for open standards, yes. Open source, no. You don't need open source for open standards. And open source does not necessarily mean open standards.

Google hire me, I solved this problem in 3 seconds (1)

dicobalt (1536225) | about a year ago | (#43910939)

I would solve this by installing a Windows XP VM with a copy of Office XP. Now that I solved Google's hard problem they must now see I am qualified to work there. Google is on a FUD rampage of which the likes I haven't seen since the great Microsoft FUD storms.

Who is this Cerf noob ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910941)

Doesn't he know about the magic of the cloud
that Apple, Photobucket, Flickr, and others who cannot be trusted
any further than they can be tossed by a trebuchet
have promised us ?

On the PowerPoint 4.0/95 converters... (4, Insightful)

yuhong (1378501) | about a year ago | (#43910965)

MS removed the PowerPoint 4.0/95 converters completely with Office 2007 for Windows and later, and disabled them by default in Office 2003 SP3 [] . And the PowerPoint 4.0 converter (but not 95) was disabled by default instead of fixed [] with MS09-017.

On the Mac, they removed then even earlier, when they ported Office to Carbon [] .

IMO it would be a good idea for MS to package PP4X32 and PP7X32 from PowerPoint 2003 separately, along with a utility to call the converters of course.

Uh, hello? (4, Funny)

DogDude (805747) | about a year ago | (#43910979)

For a supposedly smart guy, he seems a bit silly:

He could've just downloaded MS's Powerpoint 97 viewer []

Re:Uh, hello? (0, Flamebait)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#43911059)

I to am marveling at how dumb his concern is given the fact that you can pretty much convert any file format in existence to any other file format in existence with any number of free conversion applications that the internet is riddled with... and he's talking about MICROSOFT file formats. You could simply open the file in Google Docs for Christs sake. I wouldn't be surprised if Firefox could open it natively either.

Re:Uh, hello? (-1)

Zeio (325157) | about a year ago | (#43911219)

I wish I got paid by a huge company to make vacuous motherhood statements. He also talks about interplanetary inter-networking like its a widespread problem.

I know people who worked with this guy back in the day when the things he got done done when he made a name for himself. Let's say he is good at making a name for himself and if it wasnt for the fact he stood on the shoulders of giants to get that name he wouldnt be anywhere today. In other words he is good at taking credit. Given the junk he has done lately, its not hard to see he doesnt do the work, just talks smack.

libreoffice will open it ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43910987)

If not, file a bug and send in the document. The power of freedom ...

libreoffice will open it ! (1)

Michael Meeks (2941723) | about a year ago | (#43910991)

If not, file a bug and send in the document. The power of freedom ...

Wasn't this solved ages ago? (1)

samantha (68231) | about a year ago | (#43911037)

I remember over two decades ago there was talk of making data objects, that is data that new how to present an object interface to get at its information. Data self contain its own reader in some ubiquitous language. But wait, we never got a ubiquitous language. Perhaps javascript today? But if you want to solve this problem then this is how to solve it. Or perhaps you could just package a converter to convert format XYZ to BSON as being good enough or at least better than today's breakage.

One thing that really burns me is having my information that I created / entered / caused to be locked up in some proprietary opaque format, especially if owned by one and only one app.

I have legible pictures over 150 years old (2)

the_rajah (749499) | about a year ago | (#43911051)

Some are glass plate Daguerreotypes. Somehow, I am not too confident that my digital pictures will be legible 150 years from now, unless I make a good quality print on archival paper. Digital files are too easily corrupted and made totally useless. Media formats will change. 8" floppies anyone?

A Moot Red Herring (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911071)

As long as the decription of the file format is preserved -- and this can still be done with paper documents -- then we can simply translate or convert the old information into new forms or formats. Nothing ever need be lost.

The concern is only illusory.

No different than cars (4, Interesting)

HockeyPuck (141947) | about a year ago | (#43911109)

We're still able to restore cars from the 80s and earlier as the cars were fully mechanical or hydraulic. No computers.

Fast forward to 20yrs from now, nobody's going to be carrying the computer boards for a 2004 Toyota Pruis or a 2013 Tesla.

However, you'll still be able to restore your grandfather's '57 Chevy...

Code should accompany data (4, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | about a year ago | (#43911113)

I presented a solution [] to this long-standing problem last year to the Denver HTML5 Meetup.

Code should never be separated from data. This is possible with HTML5, JavaScript, and open source.

In the presentation, I steal and repurpose Hofstadter [] 's analogy of DNA to an LP vinyl record, which is an information bearer, but useless without its information retriever (the record player). Like the cell of an animal, which contains both DNA and the means to "play" it, I ask why not the same with software?

My maxim is: data should always carry the code with it to play itself. It was inspired from the field I've spent 50% of my career in: non-destructive testing where, for example, X-Rays and ultrasounds are performed on safety-critical industrial parts with 50-year service lives. If one of those parts fails and kills someone, you're going to want to go back into the old data and find the earliest indication of the flaw or fault and reinspect every other part in the world like it that is still in service. And maybe you need to go back 50 years. Under such a context, not providing the code with the data could be considered an act of gross neglect.

In my presentation, I use the 1990's era trick of embedding XSL into an XML file, with the addition of the XSL now being able to use HTML5/JavaScript. Sadly, I've only gotten it work with Firefox -- the other browsers consider it a security violation.

Latex (0)

mnajem (2874111) | about a year ago | (#43911193)

some said use Latex or VIM/Notepad plain ASCII

The Print Button (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43911209)

Use it. We're way too obsessed with saving everything. If it's not worth paper and ink, we won't miss it in 100 years.

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