The Internet Archive is mostly known for archiving the web, a task the San Francisco-based nonprofit has tirelessly done since 1996, two years before Google was founded.
Not only does the Internet Archive maintain a vast library of web pages, texts, music, videos and images. It also maintains a growing library of old software. It not only has the biggest archive of old software in the world but this software is actually usable thanks to a variety of emulators.
One of the coolest aspects of this is the huge collection of old MS-DOS games. This may not mean much to you if you were born after, say, 1995 (give or take) but I recognise many of the games I used to play when my family’s PC couldn’t hold a flame to my aging iPhone 5.
Baio’s article recounts the history of the Internet Archive’s growing collection of old software. When you consider how quickly apps and file formats become obsolete in the rush to innovate, it isn’t difficult to see why this archive is so important.
It isn’t just about preserving old games for the sake of nostalgia, it is about preserving our thoughts, ideas and culture in a form that we can still access meaningfully years or decades after they were relegated to the global technological landfill.
This is also one of the reasons I remain a big believer in software such as LibreOffice. Even now, it maintains compatibility with old file formats such as WordPerfect and Quattro Pro. You’ll be lucky if Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWork can read office file formats more than a few years old.
There are times when I think a career as an archivist or librarian would have been interesting when faced with the prospect of finding ways to preserve our digital heritage for future generations.
I was excited when Google took it on itself to start archiving the world’s information. It is a monumental endeavour and not without risks. Google was embroiled in litigation for years because it started scanning books. It has done amazing work and continues to do so.