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Programming IT Technology

Software Archaeology 434

Posted by timothy
from the keeping-bits-unburied dept.
Plug1 writes "Salon (day pass needed) has an article about preserving software for historical purposes. It discusses source code archiving, and the effect the DMCA is having on attempts to catalog and analyze legacy code. It will be a shame if in the future a wealth of information is locked away because knoweldge of the underlying technology is lost."
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Software Archaeology

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  • by danormsby (529805)
    10 print "Hello World" 20 goto 10 Those were the days....
  • by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:53AM (#6571141)
    That the DMCA DOES NOT APPLY outside the USA. However, hardware Digital Restriction Management DOES.

    I really dont want strong crypto keeping out of stuff that I OWN, or My CONTENT.

    I'td be a neat experiemnt to create a Linux driver that emulates TCPA chips so that stupid software thinks you're auth'ed.
    • Isn't TCPA something you can disable in the bios, which you could protect? I thought it was more of a tool to prevent random users from running stuff, not the machine owners.
      • It's a signature/encryption mechanism. Wait till MS requires it ON. They could even make it so the whole fucking partition is encrypted by a software key that YOU CANT GET.

        And once MS requires it, how's Linux going to fit in there? I'd figure that MS TCPA computers would have to be signed to even speak to other MS machines. We cant have traffic going out of the network that isnt validated for internal traffic.
    • by Lazar Dobrescu (601397) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:10PM (#6571320)
      This is not the only problem the article addresses though. As it is now, there are already tons of old file formats for which the software needed to read it is nearly impossible(or totally impossible) to find. Documents written in those file formats could contain useful, or at the least interesting content, but we can't get to that content.

      We are talking here about file formats 30 years old, or even less. Try to imagine what will happen in 200 years. Most of our history will be written to electronic media, and for people that will live in 200 years, the file format used for that media will very probably be undecipherable.

      What is the solution? Some say that we need to convert all documents in a more recent file format every x years. That will really become a pain in the ass as the number of archives go higher and higher.

      Another trick could be to describe in whole the file format used and attach that description to every file. That, of course, brings up the problem of what file format to use for that description... (will even plain ascii files still exist in 200 years? Maybe not, but I think it is reasonnable to expect that people will at least still have an idea of how to read them...)

      Comparing this to the problem faced for dead languages gives a good idea of the repercussions... There is already countless documents written in very old ages that we cannot decipher because the language used to write it is loss. People are working all their lives trying to understand a dead language. But with computers, we're not talking about something that happened 4000 years ago, but 30 years ago... That means that in the course of your lifetime, You could see obsolete file formats 3 times!

      Someone will need to find a solution for this, and preferably before the problem happens for real...

      • Alright fine, I'll handle it. Just need everyone in the word to donate their time, money, and energy to making ME live forever. From there I'll be able to answer any format questions for future generations. I promise to make sure I remember everything...
      • by Ominous Coward (106252) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:40PM (#6571581)
        What we need to do is have a large book that describes all of the file formats. ASCII encoding, JPEG encoding, etc.

        The real worry I'd have is how someone will be able to get the stuff off of the media if the directory and interface standards change. Will their advanced computers even be able to read the disk to see that goatse.jpg is on that disk? Even if they had the algorithm to decode the image, they might not see it's there.
      • by DiscoDave_25 (692069) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @01:57PM (#6572275)
        It's not just the file format that will be the problem (although MS aren't helping in that respect) but simply ensuring that the media that the file is written on can be read. Physical media degrade and the hardware to read them become obselete. An example of this was the BBCs Doomsday disk which contained a huge amount of information (for those days) on a laser disk that is today virtually unreadable. Thankfully this has been recently transferred onto DVD before ALL the readers died but just because someone can understand HOW to read a file doesn't mean they'll be able to access it in the first place.
      • by RMH101 (636144)
        I work in data capture for a pharma company. We're required by law to keep *RAW DATA* for the patentable lifetime of a drug, which could be 40 years in some cases. Doesn't sound too bad, but our raw data needs our application to browse it. That application needs our infrastructure - which is huge - it doesn't work as a standalone. That infrastructure only works on a particular set of hardware. There isn't an easy answer. We could say we'd bodge it and export to XML, but what about those ECG graphical t
    • Due to things such as the WTO, and other international organizations trying to form a one world order..

      Things such as the DMCA will become global. To the least common denominator..

      Or at least if you want to trade with everyone else on the planet, so its a pesduo enactment.....
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:28PM (#6571479) Journal
      Repeat after me:

      TCPA hardware is not the same as DRM, and is not evil

      The TCPA hardware specifies a cryptography co-processor on the mainboard. This can be used for DRM, but it can also be used for offloading things like SSL from the CPU. Emulating the hardware would be no good. Under *NIX, it would just be mounted at /dev/crypto (or something), and emulated if the hardware were not availible. It is the software which manages DRM.

    • wow, clever how you thought to change rights management to restriction management. That's almost as cool as calling Microsoft, Micro$oft.
  • by Yohahn (8680) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:54AM (#6571151) Homepage
    This would explain the pyramids, if in the past IP laws of ancient cultures prevented sharing of ideas.

    • by KalvinB (205500) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:20PM (#6571410) Homepage
      There's also the problem of grave robbers and that whole burning of the great library thing.

      The Egyptians could very well have written down the instructions for building them. There have been numerous opportunities for that information to be have been destroyed. Or they may have viewed their construction as too sacred and only passed down information on a need to know basis.

      Our problem is that we charge for rocks and lack the motivation. We just assume we couldn't build such things as they did but never really bother to try.

      Ben
      • This is another example of why centralized storage of knoledge is bad.

        Linus got it right when he said not to have a backup, simply let other people mirror your work. :)

        Of course, this makes a free market for what information gets preserved. It is interesting that free information has a greater chance of survival of a large worldwide disaster than propreitary information.
      • What's really amazing about the pyramids is not really their size so much as the fact that they're nearly perfectly square, to within under 1% error. Also, that they're aligned North-South nearly perfectly as well. The ancients were much more clever than we typically give credit.
    • Actualy I have detailed plans on how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. The only problem is that all of my files are on 8" disks writen with Super Text for the TRS-80.
  • by havaloc (50551) * on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:54AM (#6571156) Homepage
    Who could ever forget the awesome software company Central Point Software? Their PC Tools and famous Copy2PC were high quality, and very useful products. Anyone that was anybody had Copy2PC, a program that could copy nearly ANY copy protected floppy disk. They even came out with a floppy controller that did the same thing.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    July 30, 2003 | For Grady Booch, the nightmare goes something like this: Deep in the future, a team of archaeologists stumble onto a rare cache of 20th century art, a major assortment of works thought lost to the ravages of time. http://cm.mps.salon.com/mps/desk/nav/salonlogo.gi f http://cm.mps.salon.com/mps/desk/nav/salonlogo.gif

    The only problem, of course, is that they don't know it. All the images are recorded in an obsolete digital format, JPEG, and nobody knows how to unscramble the data. As a r
    • by mozumder (178398) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:18PM (#6571398)
      You know, it really isn't fair-use to repost an entire article from another website site.
      • You know, it really isn't fair-use to repost an entire article from another website site

        Yes, and jaywalking is illegal, too.
        • by Andrew Leonard (4372) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:37PM (#6571563) Homepage
          At least with jay-walking, no matter how many times you do it, the road will still be there. But if you post the full text of Salon stories without either subscribing or getting the FREE day-pass, eventually we will no longer be able to pay fine writers like Sam Williams and Rachel Chalmers to write the stories that Slashdot readers like to read.
          • Y'know, two days in a row I've tried to use Salon's day-pass. I really have. I get nothing but a redirect to the request to subscribe.

            I don't like the idea of reposting an entire article on Slashdot, either, but there's no other way for some of us to read what's being talked about.
          • I like the Salon format. Read the intro, and if it's interesting, sit through an ad for the rest. Unfortunately, that ad wouldn't work in my browser (an old Mozilla with some features turned off). Then I saw the full text here at /. and had 2 thoughts: 1) This is not good. and 2) Great I can read it. [in that order actually] In my case, I don't feel bad because I couldn't get to the full article on Salon. In general, I'd have to agree that it's not right.

            What if the software acheologists don't have the req

      • You know, it really isn't fair to make them pay for their additional bandwidth when we could easily repost the article text here and save them a couple of bills.

        It's not like anyone here follows ad-links anyways.
        • Hey, here's an idea: why not ask Salon, or the article's author, which they would prefer?
          • One things a true geek does well is the least amount of effort for the maximum benefit. Now I COULD ask their permission which involves email, typing, public key swapping, consultation of a IP lawyer, a few RFC's and a new XML DTD to ensure proper implementation of your idea... or I could cut and paste the article and expend no further thought on my already taxed brain.

            While your idea may have ethical merit, that too takes precious time and energy for a proper cost/benefit analysis and a few philosphy pro
    • by mblase (200735) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @01:01PM (#6571797)
      After all, in five years Salon.com may be gone from the web, and since neither Google nor the Internet Archive have a paid subscription, this story will be forever lost to the ages.

      So kudos for reposting this valuable information to Slashdot! Without the efforts of others like you, internet surfers in generations to come might never understand the importance of, well, the efforts of others like you.
    • by Andrew Leonard (4372) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @02:45PM (#6572743) Homepage
      I am informed that earlier today the daypass option was broken. My apologies.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:56AM (#6571177)
    If you're going to preserve software, doesn't it make sense to preserve the hardware to run it on as well? Emulation is less than perfect.
    • Rather than preserving the hardware, if access to hardware specs., emulation, and binary decompilation are available, this is a much better strategy for long term preservation of the software. Would it even be possible to reverse engineer some of this hardware as well? I am assuming legal issues would not be a problem as this should be government sanctioned preservation work.
    • by crazyphilman (609923) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:18PM (#6571392) Journal
      There was a great Cowboy Bebop episode in which they received an old Beta tape (keep in mind this was set in the 2070's). They found one beta player in a market, but they managed to demolish it. Then they hunted another down by descending hundreds of meters underground to a defunct "museum of technology" to snatch one of the Beta players there, but not knowing the difference between Beta and VHS, they stole the wrong one. Finally, a beta player was shipped to them in the same way as the tape and they were able to view the tape (a little too "deus ex machina" for my tastes, but still).

      It was fictional, and very tongue in cheek, but it made an interesting point. How the hell will you play your archived media if you don't have a player? And, not just a player, but support equipment as well -- a display that can connect to the player, a power supply that is the right voltage, amperage, and number of cycles, compatible cabling, etc. It could turn out to be quite a trick to get all the requirements together, just to do something as simple as play an old tape.

      Perhaps what's needed is to define a single "data archival standard", and by law require that it be backwards compatible with version 1 of the standard, forever. Then, convert all current data to the version 1 standard, once and for all. We have a good candidate right now: DVD-RW and CD-RW. Preserve those standards, so that all future disk players can at a minimum play current-day CD's and DVD's, and we might be ok. Of course, you'd have to use archival-quality CD's and DVDs, because the cheap ones only last five years (the good ones last a hundred or more, they've got extra coatings to prevent degradation, etc).

      Why not? Current DVD players already accept CDs. Just take the current DVD writer as a standard and design all new devices to be backwards compatible (on physical size, too -- i.e. a current, standard-size CD should be usable).

  • Heh... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sir Haxalot (693401) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:57AM (#6571182)
    I can hardly see DOS or the like being useful in the future, can you?
    • Sure, for playing Gorilla [classicgaming.com].
    • Re:Heh... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by __past__ (542467)
      DOS is still useful now, for a limited problem domain, but that's not the point.

      Software development as an art/craft/science/whatever you think it is has evolved rapidly. There are "fashions" in code - try reading 20 year old C code: the language itself hasn't really changed much, but you will immediatly notice the differerence. People have tried things that failed, and have found interesting solutions that are now forgotten. This will all be lost.

      What would literature be like if we hadn't accesss to th

  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @11:59AM (#6571195) Journal
    If the problem is that knoweldge of the underlying foundations of technology is being lost it is because of the concept of abstraction, of which .Net is the latest and greatest incarnation.

    It really all started when some engineers decided that machine code was too hard and invented assembler. Nowadays it's not even necessary to know what a bit is or how an ALU works to make programs. Just point and click and you've got yourself a brand spanking new database app courtesy of VB.

    No one ought to knock VB because it really is the best tool for what it does, but it also lowers the barrier to entry for would-be programmers. This can only lead to worse programs.

    The most fundamental concept in computer science is logic, not algorithms (or worse programming languages). If a 'programmer' hasn't written a program in a low level language like C or assembler, the hiring manager should beware. Without hands-on experience with the fundamentals of computer science that person is lacking at the most basic level, regardless of whether he knows 1 language or 50 languages. He is handicapped.

    It's a good thing to abstract, but it's also important to remember and study the bases of our science.
    • No one ought to knock VB because it really is the best tool for what it does, but it also lowers the barrier to entry for would-be programmers. This can only lead to worse programs.

      This is coming from someone who started in assembler and has been programming for over 20years now (primarily various assembly, C, C++), but I completely disagree with that statement. It's all in the context. Applications are about solving problems and if VB is the best tool for a particular problem, then it and the programm
    • by Kaa (21510) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:40PM (#6571590) Homepage
      The most fundamental concept in computer science is logic, not algorithms (or worse programming languages). If a 'programmer' hasn't written a program in a low level language like C or assembler, the hiring manager should beware. Without hands-on experience with the fundamentals of computer science that person is lacking at the most basic level, regardless of whether he knows 1 language or 50 languages. He is handicapped.

      Bullshit.

      "Computer science is about computers in the same way astronomy is about telescopes" --Edsgar Dijkstra

      Programming isn't about knowing how to twiddle bits in registers or even how to leverage strengths of a particular processor.

      Programming is about dealing with complex problems which can be solved by manipulation of information. I would say the the quality a programmer needs most of all is not logic or math, but just the ability to hold and manipulate large and complicated structures inside his head. And no, it doesn't have anything to do with assembler, low-level languages, ALUs, bits, etc. etc.

      • I would say the the quality a programmer needs most of all is not logic or math, but just the ability to hold and manipulate large and complicated structures inside his head.
        ...and without the logic and math and technical skills to properly implement such a thing, you end up with slow, buggy-by-design code, which ends up costing more to maintain and is a big waste of time. I would never hire someone who has only worked in VB and Java, for example.
    • Bah. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mblase (200735)
      Without hands-on experience with the fundamentals of computer science that person is lacking at the most basic level

      That's like saying that a journalist is lacking in his ability to write if he's not fully competent in Latin. Just because someone doesn't know how to allocate memory doesn't mean he can't code in a language that does it for him automatically.
  • by UncleBiggims (526644) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:00PM (#6571210)
    Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Archive
  • Isn't music software for your hardware music player? Can we now archive MP3s without fear?
    • No, its data that thebuilt in player uses. In ost cases the software is hardcoded into the hardware, so it can not be easily changed. The point still remains, however that the mp3 is not software, but rather data that is fed to the software.
  • by zapp (201236) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:03PM (#6571251)
    Unless I am mistaken Salon, like most websites trying to make some money, is having financial problems.

    They changed to a registration/fee based model, but allowed 1 day passes for whatever reason.

    Nothing can hurt them more than being slashdotted by a bunch of people using a day pass.

    someone has already copied the contents of the article into a comment which is good because it saves them bandwidth, but ... without their permission isn't that plagiarism?

    This is why things like the DMCA and DRM come about - people thoughtlessly violating other people's copyrights/etc, and/or taking their services for granted.

    I'm no better than anyone else, I do the same thing.

    I guess my point is: either support the people who provide services you enjoy (music, video, news, web content, porn, whatever), or quit complaining when they finally start defending themselves.

    • Plaigarism would be if he copied the article, and claimed it was his own. However, this could constitute copyright infringement. I'm not sure how it works. You're allowed to copy sections(small?) from a book and put them in an essay, as long as you specify where they came from. Why would you not be allowed to post something from somewhere else as long as you specified where it came from?
      • You can copy very small sections from a book or article, with attribution, because that is fair use. Copying the whole book or article is copyright infringement.

        Copying an entire article from another web site is also copyright infringement, unless of course the copyright terms of the article permit it.

        Salon probably makes some money per page view. They want you to look at their web site, not copy text off of it. Copying an entire article is almost certainly copyright infringement, and makes whoever doe
        • What about when I print off an interesting article and tape it outside my cube? Is that infringement?
    • Wouldn't they want the link?

      Assuming that the people goto the site to read the article (as opposed to reading it here from the comment in which the whole article was posted) it would drive up the number of ads served which would be a good thing. I would think
  • Fair Use (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yorkrj (658277)
    This probably falls under the category of fair use.

    If it doesn't then there is still the matter of the government (the US at least) being able to do whatever it pleases with copywrited material. In this case the government's authority to copy what it wants is a good thing.

    The Library of Congress is already making archival coppies of copywrited music and it is going to continue this dispite any hypothetical protestations of the RIAA. Why, because it is deemed neccessary for the preservation of culture.
  • by CaffeinatedMouse (690561) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:10PM (#6571325)
    So, I should be saving the 200 lbs of DEC VMS manuals, Our old VAX, all the tapes, and keep our TU-85 tape drive under service contract? How much is this all worth. Do you have any idea how much it costs to keep that hardware running? If you want to keep the code, what is the point if you don't have hardware to run it on, unless you're going to develop some emulator. Don't get me wrong I think it's a horrible shame that all those hours of engineering to develop the hardware and software is finally being trashed. There are some amazingly great ideas that were used to make that stuff. But at what cost do you preserve it?
    • On my last move I had to "retire" a couple of 11/725s and most of my "wall of orange". It was a sad day, but I had moved those heavy monsters far too many times and there just wasn't room this last time. One worked, the other was parts, had DECnet and a coax ethernet, not to mention dual tape drives and a removable platter (I think it was 26 meg ramovable, and 26 meg internal, it's been a while).

      Your right, those things cost money to keep them going. And for what? A novelty? These things were doing any wor
  • It will be a shame if in the future a wealth of information is locked away because knoweldge of the underlying technology is lost."

    Particularly since the expressed intention of copyright is to give protection to creaters for a limited time (and then have the work pass into public ownership), from article 1 of the U.S. Constitution:

    To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

  • by smitty_one_each (243267) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:14PM (#6571362) Homepage Journal
    It'll just beget a new academic field: Nerdiology.
    Consider conferences on Geek Culture someday, where Prof. Bipperton Fusslebeak delivers a sad, acedmic commentary on contemporary culture:
    "An Analysis of the Correlation between Increased Use of Open Source Software, and Slashdot Posts Centered Around Deviant Sexual Behaviors in the Post-.Com Era".
  • by fobbman (131816) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:15PM (#6571374) Homepage
    "The only problem, of course, is that they don't know it. All the images are recorded in an obsolete digital format, JPEG, and nobody knows how to unscramble the data."

    I'm doing my part to make sure that the porn images of the Internet don't meet this similar fate. I have recorded my voice describing each of the images in my collection, and encoded it into the open-source OGG format. Much of the recording has consisted of little more than "Mmmmmmmmmmm, yeah baby", but I think that speaks volumes.

  • by phaln (579585) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:21PM (#6571417) Homepage
    ...places like The Underdogs are so crucially important, at least on the gaming side of things. They're a truly indispensable repository of old games you can't find anywhere anymore, for Mac and PC alike.
  • Haunt (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ian Lance Taylor (18693) <ian@airs.com> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:22PM (#6571434) Homepage
    When I was in high school I used to play a game called Haunt. It was like Adventure and Zork, but much wackier.

    I went looking for it again a couple of years ago, but it has been lost. It was written in a language which no longer exists: OPS-4. Even the original source code has disappeared. All that is left is a partial port, to another language which no longer exists (OPS-5). Here is a brief description by the author [umich.edu].

    Looking at the source code for the partial port gives some of the feel of the game:

    The cube tastes like sugar. You are suddenly surrounded by

    a herd of moose. They start talking to you about a moose-load of things.
    One walks over to you and whispers, 'Fa Lowe, why her?'
    You find yourself staring at your toes
    for a long time, and enjoying it.

    The lights dim. A massive door on the east wall

    opens revealing a bank of computers, generators, and misc.
    electronic gear. The generators start to scream.
    The lights dim more. Suddenly sparks start to fly from the
    equipment. The body on the table starts to jerk around.

    As suddenly as it started, the generators turn off, the
    wall closes. And everything returns to normal.....
    Then the body rises, removes its sheet and it is a monster.

    The monster approaches you and says 'Trick or Treat'

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:25PM (#6571455)
    A number of years ago Scientific American had a article lamenting the loss of intellectual assets with the inevitable degradation of old software, documentation, media, computers, and the like. Yet the same issue had another article on changes in the canned-goods industry (the rise of new canning technologies). While the first article bitterly mourned the loss of software-related knowledge and assets, the second article made no such mention of the corresponding loss of canning-related knowledge and assets.

    Why is obsolete software technology worth preserving where obsolete manufacturing technologies are not? In a 100 years, will we really need access to the billions of JPEGs that were spewed out by digital cameras everywhere? I am not arguing for ignoring history (even though those that learn from history are also doomed to repeat it), but I am wondering about the double-standard. What realms of human knowledge and invention are worth saving, and which are not?

    BTW, for the record, I still have old documents and applications from my Mac 128k and I might even have a paper tape copy of a old APL program that I wrote 25 years ago. But then I am a certified packrat.
    • by jafac (1449) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @02:25PM (#6572551) Homepage
      That same SciAm article mentioned the impending loss of archived data from NASA, data collected from satellites launched at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

      Some of this data is useless, today. In the future, someone might find it useful. Do we allow this data to degrade, and then possibly launch a new satellite to collect new data (if that's even possible, in some cases, it's not - how do you gather climate data from the 1970's?).

      The main problem is the tape backup companies no longer support the old tape drives, and new tape drives don't support the old tapes and tape formats.

      Funny thing is, 5 years ago, I was there with everyone else saying that we should put this data on CD ROM, because that format will never, ever, ever go away. Now, I'm not so sure - if they ever straighten out the DVD standard, I can see a future, 10 years from now, when you won't be able to buy a new device that can read a CD ROM.
  • A joke (Score:5, Funny)

    by KillerHamster (645942) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:25PM (#6571456) Homepage
    This article reminds me of a joke one of my CS professors told us (I hope I remember it right):

    The year was 2015. Joe, a programmer, was getting up in years and decided he wanted to have his body frozen after he died. He made the arrangements, and when the time came, he was frozen and placed in a government facility. Time passed, and he was forgotten.

    Jump ahead a few centuries... suddenly Joe finds himself conscious again! He is on a lab table surrounded by strange looking people in uniforms. Their leader, speaking through a translator, welcomes Joe back to life.

    Joe is amazed! There are so many questions he wants to ask, but first he says, "Why did you bring me back to life?"

    The leader answers, "Well, the year is 9999. Y10k is coming up, and your file says you know Cobol."
  • Aha! (Score:3, Funny)

    by cK-Gunslinger (443452) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:26PM (#6571459) Journal
    I was wondering how they were going to use an aged Harrison Ford in the next Indiana movie! Obviously, he will have become a "software archeologist," and thus never have to leave his cubicle.

    *snaps whip*
    "Fetch me another Mountain Dew, Shorty!"
  • by poptones (653660) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:31PM (#6571513) Journal
    In one part of the article they mention losing "structure" of programs and talk about source code, then they talk about "losing" old code like the original DOS - for which, so far as I know, there is no publically available archive of source code. So too of Lotus 123, another piece of code mentioned in the article. this is just more fatalistic nonsense people spew when criticising the DMCA. Yeah, it's a bad law, but this nonsense about "losing old works" is just that.

    If you have the source code for something then you have no cause to fear the DMCA, since you don't need to decrypt it. And if you don't have the source code, where is the value? Is there really any value in running lotus 123 for the Apple//? Perhaps if you have an Apple//, but so what? You cannot "fly over the code" from any height (as was mentioned in the article) because you don't have any code to fly over. You have an executable, and the "structure" there is quite different than looking at source code.

    If you want source code for DOS, hit freedos.org and download it. It's not Microsoft's source, but so what? It does the very same job and, in many cases, it's superior to the original. Works that have value will be replicated and emulated; works thta have no value simply have no value - where is the need (or logic) in "preserving" them?

  • by Mr_Silver (213637) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:34PM (#6571539)
    I don't think the format issue is that big a problem. A large number of closed formats have been reverse engineered to a point where you can extrapolate the pertinant information. Your biggest problem is availability of the hardware.

    Take the Doomsday Project (in the UK) as an example. An Acorm Archimedies lazerdisc full of content relating to life in the 20th century. The problem came when they wanted to get the data off .. and couldn't easily find a compatible lazerdisc reader.

    Of course, the format of the data is an issue. But if you can't get the data off the media, then the format of it isn't going to matter in the slightest.

  • by Alkarismi (48631) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:37PM (#6571561) Homepage
    One of my favourite bits in 'All Tomorrow's Parties' (If memory serves - it's a while since I read Gibson) is where the computer shop keeper explains that 'real bright people' building computer systems like to buy stuff from our era.
    He goes on to explain that they use these 'ancient' systems to understand and gain insight into current systems, adding that nothing really changes, just gets added to (and that noone really understands the full system).
    I believe Gibsons insight will be proven real, and that Software Archaeology is *essential* for the future DMCA or no DMCA.
    The alternative is stagnation in the evolution of computer systems. This cannot happen, although it might in America ;)
    The part/parts of the World that don't succumb to DMCA fever will become the new tech leaders (and probably a great immigration target for us lot!)
  • Those building community sites around Coin-ops are being told to take down service manuals and the like off their websites.

    Fine if the manuals are still printed and available, however such manuals are hardly a big money spinner for the companies involved.
    • Actually, that's not quite what's happening.

      ISDA spiders are trolling around and seeing a ftp/web site with "video game" in the text and offering files like pacman.zip and streetfighter2.zip for download.

      C&D notices are automatically being sent, none of it has to do with the DMCA, but with regular old copyright law, since the ISDA assumes the games are being put up for download.

      Whatshisface (who had the big manual site and shut it down) just couldnt be bothered to explain to anyone at the ISDA what f
  • It will be a shame if in the future a wealth of information is locked away because knoweldge of the underlying technology is lost

    Isn't that the basis for just about every post-apocalypse story out there? It's scary to think that we are already seeing signs of it.

    Even fictional characters think the DMCA is evil!
    .
  • archive.org (Score:3, Informative)

    by dmnic (452122) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:44PM (#6571628)
    they have a section for software where they are getting old software from the likes of Macromedia and others for preservation. havent seen any source-code listed, but its still a good service for history
  • Reverse engineering (Score:2, Interesting)

    by caluml (551744)
    If people can reverse-engineer Microsofts file formats without help, why wouldn't they be able to work out a jpeg, or and mp3?
  • What, Me Pedantic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tds67 (670584) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:51PM (#6571689)
    As a result, the hard disk containing said artwork spends its days not in a museum but as a coffee coaster in some college professor's crowded office.

    "It might seem silly now but put yourself 1,000 years in the future," says Booch, chief scientist at IBM's Rational Software subsidiary. "It's not too hard to imagine."

    This assumes that (a) humans will still be drinking coffee 1,000 years from now, (b) we will still have college professors and (c) they will still have need of drink coasters.

    I believe that 1,000 years from now we will consume our caffeine in pill form only, be schooled by robots and will obtain our liquids from intravenous bags.

  • Bloatware (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yintercept (517362) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:56PM (#6571757) Homepage Journal
    Microsoft is already doing this. Each version of a new MS operating system and office product generally includes a pretty much unedited copy of the previous copy of all prior editions of the software. So they are preserving history.

    Each new version, the software gets bigger and bigger and biggers. It is an archealogical wonder in itself. Another name for this coding style is called bloat. Linux has many of the same things going on.

    This argument about the need to preserve prior formats has been around for quite awhile. The truth of the matter is that software is largely an evolutionary process. Most file formats build upon the past, so there is a tendency for software to naturally preserve its path.

    Of course, for Grady Booch, who wants to be reconized as an intellectual giant a thousand years from now, the main question is if his name will invoke the same awe as say Euclid and Archimedes. He is, after all, one of the trinity of OO modeling approaches.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @12:58PM (#6571765) Homepage
    This is a good argument for mandatory source code deposit. To get a copyright on code, you should have to deposit a copy of the source with the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has the authority to require this, but currently they only require a printout of the first ten and last ten pages, because they didn't want to store all the paper. That should change.
  • by shoppa (464619) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @01:17PM (#6571924)
    I know it's far easier to complain about the situation rather than do something about it. But there are groups doing something about it:
    1. The PDP-11 Unix Preservation Society [tuhs.org]
    2. The PDP-10 software archive [trailing-edge.com]
    3. SIMH Simulators for classic hardware [trailing-edge.com]
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @01:18PM (#6571931)
    The difficulty of future generations being able to deipher our data without a guide is high but not impossible. The best example is hieroglyphics. Until the discovery of the Rosetta stone, Egyptian hieroglyphics were impossible to read. After, it was so much easier. On the other hand, there is no Rosetta stone for Mayan glyphs. Although it has taken longer to decipher, slowly the Mayan symbols are being translated. It took 100 years longer, but it is being done.
  • Eyeglasses (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jafac (1449) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @02:18PM (#6572491) Homepage
    For hundreds of years, after the science of creating corrective eye lenses was invented in Venice, Italy, the process of grinding and shaping the lenses was kept a very profitable secret. People who could not afford to pay for this very expensive Intellectual Property generally just went without. Sure. You could get magnifying lenses, but not lenses that corrected for nearsightedness.

    Those of you of moderate to low income (I'm talking. . . making less than 7 figures per year, to put it in perspective with pre-reniassance nobility), who require corrective eye lenses, imagine yourself unable to beg, borrow, or steal a pair of glasses for yourself. Even crude ones.

    Eventually, the secret got out, and now we have a global multi-billion dollar industry.

    In other words, the very concept of IP is just plain evil.
  • by PeteyG (203921) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @02:50PM (#6572804) Homepage Journal
    I am not worried about today's file formats from becoming lost to people 200 hundred years from now. In the future, when someone downloads version 32.2.0 of the kernel, they will have an option to include modules that add support to all applications for ancient file formats, really old file formats, and old file formats. Each one could take up a few hundred megabytes... but on the hardware of the future, that'll be like 640k today.

    The only thing we need to do is maintain our compliance to standards! Because barring the end of the world, HTML and other standards will never die. They'll just get turned into kernel options with a default of NO.
  • by spun (1352) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {yranoituloverevol}> on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @04:07PM (#6573581) Journal
    I have some old AutoCAD 3 files from high school, a hopelessly optimistic design for an automatic vacuum cleaner, if I recall.

    My dad still has a program he wrote on punch cards someplace.

    That's the trouble, isn't it? Even if the data survives, the hardware to read it might not.
  • by David Leppik (158017) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @04:14PM (#6573638) Homepage
    Although the issues involved in this case are slightly different, The term 'Software Archaeology' (or at least 'Programmer Archeologist') might come from Vernor Vinge's book 'A Deepness in the Sky'.

    In that book, code-as-data is taken to an extreme, and the best programmers have the title "Programmer Archaeologist", since they spend little time writing new code; instead they look through old code to find something written for a similar situation. It isn't that old programmers are better-- it's that the software contains facts and information that are of value.

    Whereas on Star Trek someone might look through an ancient captain's log to learn about a bizarre planet/new race/weird disease/strange technology, in Vinge's book that sort of specialized information is stored in the source code for software that was written at the time to deal with the situation.
  • Dark Ages II (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeremycec (639648) on Wednesday July 30, 2003 @05:07PM (#6574100)
    Brian Bergeron gives a fairly decent treatment of the whole data loss issue in his book Dark Ages II: When the Digital Data Die [barnesandnoble.com] . Although, this could be a lot of hysteria over nothing. As I recall in Asimov's Foundation's Edge [kodu.net], Trevize comes across some ancient computers, and they just fire up and start working beautifully right away after centuries of disuse. Heheh, if only this were the case. The hard drive on the HP I got last Christmas already crapped out.

Too much of everything is just enough. -- Bob Wier

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