The history and legacy of the Church in the late 1990s and 2000s will be lost in 10 years because we will lack the software to open its’ data.
Check out this Microsoft KB article. It describes a (very complicated, very technical) process for reconfiguring your computer after Office 2003 Service Pack 3 quietly disables the ability to open certain older file formats. I’m certain that my grandma can follow that to access the old recipes she typed into her computer 10 years ago, aren’t you?
I’ve been warning people for a long time about the danger of relying upon proprietary software to maintain access to archived data. If you don’t control the format or the software, there’s no guarantee that you will be able to access your data in the future. Case in point: I have a number of old school files created using Lotus Word Pro 97. I still own a copy of the software, but the only Windows operating system I have is XP, and LWP97 won’t install on Windows XP. So I have files, software to read the files, and yet I can’t get access to my own data. Presumably I could pay someone to make conversion software, but why should I pay a second time to access my data?
The church has thousands of copies and fragments of manuscripts of the New Testament. We’ve retained the ability to access the physical data (paper/papyrus is universal and long-lasting) and the format (they make me study Koine Greek), so there’s little risk of that original data being lost. But for tens of thousands of sermons written every Sunday and stored in proprietary file formats, that data may be available next week and next year, but what about ten years? Twenty? Will you still be able to access CD-ROM drives or your current hard drive? Will you continue shelling out for Microsoft Office 2017, no matter what they charge you for it? If you do, will they turn off access to your old data’s file format one day without asking you?
The solution is simple: open standards.
1. Begin thinking about how you can use open source software, which doesn’t cost any money at all, to replace closed source alternatives that will only lock you into proprietary formats. For example, use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. It’s just as good as Microsoft Office for most tasks, and best of all, it’s free!
2. Save your files in ODT (OpenDocument) format, a popular open-source document format that any programmer can implement for free, so that there will always be software to open your old documents. That’s what many US states and other national governments are beginning to do.
3. Always, always keep good backups and migrate those backups to new mediums promptly so that you don’t have 5.25″ floppy disks hanging around anymore. Right now, your files should be stored on CDs and hard drives, not 3.5″ floppies, 5.25″ floppies, ZIP disks, LS120 disks, etc.