The precarious state of classic software and hardware preservation

Paul Koning paulkoning at
Wed Nov 24 12:51:39 CST 2021

> On Nov 24, 2021, at 11:18 AM, Chuck Guzis via cctalk <cctalk at> wrote:
> On 11/24/21 6:42 AM, John Herron via cctalk wrote:
>> I can speak for state government but not fed (this was 20 years ago). It
>> was an annoying buzz kill that we had to destroy old equipment, and deface
>> documentation and software so it would be unusable from dumpster divers.
>> Some pallets of hardware would get "recycled" by department of corrections
>> (prisoners) but there wasn't any thought of archiving. Especially once
>> bills came out to enable requesting of data. That resulted in policies to
>> purge data older than x years and email after 1.
> Sometimes it's corporate policy.
> ...
> I don't know what corporate policy was with company-owned software, but
> it could well have been similar.

Could be.  The government case sounds more like an attempt to render the public records laws ineffective by destroying records before they can be requisitioned.

My corporate experience suggests that the loss of software materials is most likely just lack of interest, or lack of an explicit archiving policy.

Consider DEC: the software projects I worked on had their internal source code storage, and backups of same.  At some point they added some flavor of source control machinery, once those became available and popular.  But while customer kits (binary kits) were sent to the Software Distribution Center for multiplication and distribution, I never saw any indication that the corresponding source code state was captured and saved, let alone archived in some central archive.  So, for example, while the RSTS team had the RSTS sources, they didn't exist (in any planned form) elsewhere that I know of, nor did a full record of older releases exist anywhere.

And when projects are closed down, their resources would tend to just disappear.


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