Re: Why we'll never be paperless

Subject: Re: Why we'll never be paperless
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 1995 14:00:15 EST

Richard Lippincott <rlippinc -at- BEV -dot- ETN -dot- COM> writes:

>The problem isn't always the durability of the file, it's the durability of
>the equipment to read that file.
...
>I've got a load of historical files on 3.5" floppies, formatted to run on my
>1989 vintage Brother word processor. That machine is getting cranky, and there
>is no replacement. (Newer generation Brother products don't read these disks.)
>I can fit the disks in a PC, and the data is on the disk, but it is unreadable
>in PC, Mac, or even UNIX formats. When that word processor quits, the data is
>lost.

I've run into similar problems, both when I moved from an Atari ST to
an IBM computer, and when my parents moved from an old CP/M system
to DOS. For the Atari I used the simple low-tech solution of
transmitting the files as ASCII over the modem to a friend. For the
CP/M my parents found some software for the PC that allowed them to
read CP/M formatted disks.

While these _are_ genuine problems, I expect them to get easier to
solve with time, rather than harder. As standards emerge and solidify,
data exchange becomes less problematic, and so moving from one hardware
platform to another does not affect the data. Unlike books, electronic
text is only loosely tied to a particular platform (if it's a straight
ASCII file, such as an SGML document, then it's platform-independent).
If you have any files from DOS 1.1, they will work on OS/2 3.0.
Backwards-compatibility, and data portability, are key issues: but
they are getting solved. Your own data is a victim of the standards
war, as was my ST and CP/M data. But with increased connectivity
and standardization of base formats, data becomes completely independent
of hardware platform, and thus has a potentially infinite lifespan.

>Good thing the 80-year old stock certificate that was also stuck in the
>scrapbook was paper, not electronic......

If it had been electronic, it presumably would have been on file with
a bank somewhere as well. Which means your claim to the certificate
would not have depended on a single, perishable sheet of vegetable fibre.

Imagine if the library at Alexandria had been backed up at the
University of Toronto!

>Rick Lippincott
>Eaton Semiconductor
>Beverly, MA
>rlippinc -at- bev -dot- etn -dot- com


Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.


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