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Emulation theory says we should keep the manuals. But the assumption there is that manuals are enough to get systems working, when in reality manuals are atrocious things, badly written and unintelligible.

http://www.asktog.com/columns/017ManualWriting.html (accessed 24.12.07) has this to say about manuals:

“An amazing number of companies rationalize their way out of supplying a manual at all, then complain as loudly as anyone else about the stupid users calling customer support. A manual, since many people apparently don’t know, is made of ground-up dead tree. Those delightful little PDF files that people insist on including on their CD ROM don’t make it. First, my experience has been that Acrobat only opens around 40% of the time. (The rest of the time either it is distressed because it can’t find some infinitely important font it wants or I’ve already got as many windows open as the OS can handle.) Second, even when it does open, these electronic manuals are not only difficult to read, they are anything but portable… Some folks have found a clever way to drive people to piracy even while supplying a dead-tree manual. We now have the spectacle of major software houses, including Microsoft and Apple, turning out atrocious manuals in the full expectation that users will buy “real” manuals in the bookstore, so the users can actually figure out how to use the program. These manufacturer’s junk manuals typically display the characteristics of an edited feature spec, with no thought as to structure. (Sometimes the features are just listed in alphabetical order!) … A lot of bad manuals out there are actually good feature specs that companies have just translated from engineeringese into a human language, then shipped.”

Should we simply emulate the app? Rothenberg asks the question whether we need to run the specific software which created the record, or some similar program that can at least partially interpret it? The latter might seem sufficient but Rothenberg thinks the similar program will fall foul of obsolesence just as much as the primary one, so stick with the primary.

It occurs to me too that if your priority is authenticity then the replacement program won’t be good enough.

Rothenberg http://www.clir.org/pubs/archives/ensuring.pdf says it would be a huge mistake for the French in 1799 to have translated the Rosetta Stone, then ditched the original. Which it would have been, but that’s not an argument for emulation. It’s irrelevant. Hieroglyphs would have been cracked some other way. In terms of historical knowledge, a translation would have served just as well.

Moreover, there’s only one Rosetta Stone. We’re saving millions of digital documents, but they do not all have to be emulated, only one does (to follow that logic).

There is more to software than just the app itself and a PDF manual. You need the active support too, from the software creator’s helpdesk. This doesn’t exist for legacy applications.

It’s ok if the application was popular, but of course it may not be.

This software lives at http://www.danbricklin.com/history/vcexecutable.htm (accessed 18 Dec 07). Dan says it’s the orginal software, still copyright Lotus, for IBM that came out in 1981, though minus the copy protection. It runs on Windows so presumably that is in the DOS window? Is that a DOS emulator?

Dan’s had to include the reference cards too, in order for people to learn how to work it. Coming at it from an Excel background with no reference card is impossible.

People are familiar with the concept of a hardware museum. But it strikes me that the emulation approach is simply creating a software museum.

(Not really sure what other name to give this.) The point of many of today’s apps is that they do not exist on a computer in isolation, but are designed to work in hand with each other. So you can copy and paste data from one record into a record created by another app, depending on the best one for the job. I can create a .bmp screengrab, trim it in MS Photo Editor, decide to do finer tweaking in Adobe Photoshop, paste it into a Word document, save it as a PDF and so on. Everything uses the same clipboard protocols.

But these protocols might have changed by 2057. Our emulator is running Word 97 but we won’t be able to copy any data out of the app because the main PC doesn’t understand how to get at the data. This (I think) is what has happened with the old spreadsheet program.

(Later) actually you can paste raw data from VisiCalc ok into Excel 2000. But can you paste formulas? No! For a start the formulas are different. ie SUM=(A1:A3) in Excel is @SUM(A1…A3) in VisiCalc which won’t copy across.

(Later still) it also raises the question of what actually is the original application. I might screengrab an image for intended use in a Word document. So, is the creating application Word (the intention) or the screengrab software (which actually did the creating)? Do I emulate Word, or do I emulate the screengrab software? – I don’t think at this stage we should emulate at all.

The lesson I learned from trying out the old spreadsheet software is that it is very difficult to think oneself back into how applications worked 20 years ago. Trying to operate a spreadsheet which does not support a mouse or ctrl+v etc hotkeys is really hard. This is another problem with emulation. We are expecting our searchers fifty years from now to use an app dependent upon interface devices like a keyboard, a mouse etc, whereas the human-computer interface of 2057 might look nothing like that. Our users won’t know how to operate the application. They will have to sit down with the manual and try to learn a clunky old system, whereas 95% of the time all they want is the raw data. They possibly won’t even be able to copy the data out of the historic 2007 app and paste it into their 2057 app, anyway.

A current IT architecture is more than simply the hardware and systems themselves. It includes the in-head knowledge and experience of our DIT people too. DIT can only be expected to be trained in current apps, we cannot really expect them to be trained in 30 year old apps, any more than we would expect to keep 30 year old hardware. So this is a disadvantage of emulation: no organisation IT support.

(Later) A problem for individual organizations perhaps, but not for a digital repository?