The precarious state of classic software and hardware preservation

Lee Courtney leec2124 at
Wed Nov 24 16:52:53 CST 2021

There is at least one major semiconductor company that has (had?) an
internal group tasked with recovering (HW designs/software/firmware) IP off
of "obsolete" media - reel tape, paper tape, floppy discs, other, and
preserving for internal use. Was a substantial effort, meaning dedicated
people, $$$, and R&D resources. There were many motivations for this
recovery work, One was use of older, but still technically viable,
processor IP that could be migrated to newer process nodes.

I worked on an unrelated project where we actually used an "older archived"
processor design, updated to contemporary node technology, taped out, and
released a product. Initially for internal customers. Another team took and
released a processor core product externally. A very cool project, probably
one of the most interesting in my career.

I did make attempts to cross-pollinate this internal corporate group with
CHM, and they were very interested in talking with CHM. But, by then CHM
had fully morphed into a social club for the glitterati and elite of
Silicon Valley, and was no longer interested in restoration and
preservation heavy lifting. Too bad, they were geographically close and
there could have been some very fruitful collaboration for both parties. In
retrospect I suspect LCM would have been a more fruitful introduction. Oh
well, coulda, soulda, woulda... ;-)

Lee Courtney

On Wed, Nov 24, 2021 at 10:51 AM Paul Koning via cctalk <
cctalk at> wrote:

> > 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.
>         paul

Lee Courtney
+1-650-704-3934 cell

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