The precarious state of classic software and hardware preservation

Paul Koning paulkoning at
Sat Nov 20 12:46:00 CST 2021

> On Nov 20, 2021, at 7:56 AM, Bill Gunshannon via cctalk <cctalk at> wrote:
> On 11/19/21 9:33 PM, Steve Malikoff via cctalk wrote:
>> Michael asked
>>> What are we, as a community, to do to fix this and make sure that our
>>> history stays peserved and isn't one bad day away from vanishing.
>> Whenever some new vintage computing page appears I go to and submit the
>> URL to them for the wayback machine. Often they've crawled it already, but not always
>> so I think it does help.
> And what happens when you wake  up one morning to find is
> gone, too?
> I remember hearing how the web was going to make everything perpetual.
> And yet the list of things that have disappeared just gets longer and
> longer.

The web can make things perpetual if they are stored redundantly and in a distributed fashion.  But anything centralized is just as vulnerable as any centralized copy ever was, whether from risk of fire or flood, or abandonment.  And in the case of digital data the added complication is the loss of the necessary technology.

The Long Now Foundation has done some good thinking about this; some others have as well.  There's a long-lived software achival concept with "Rosetta" in its name that might be worth more attention.

One of the best reasons why GIT is good is that everyone has a full record.  With Subversion of CVS, you just have the one revision you have currently checked out, but GIT gives you (as the command indicates) a full clone of the entire repository.  So suppose that, say, GitHub suddenly goes belly up -- for any item in their collection that anyone anywhere has cloned, nothing is lost.  The same goes for any other project that uses GIT, such as some of what the Free Software Foundation keeps.

I'd say more of us need to be more paranoid about mirroring stuff.  Is there an mirror?  I don't know.  There are bitsavers mirrors, which is a good thing to know, but not all classic computer stuff is in bitsavers.  What about Wikipedia?  There's Infogalactic, but that's a fork, not a mirror.


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