Microsoft ‘saves’ National Archives

Britain’s National Archives, with 161bn gigs of new documents a year, has struck a deal with Microsoft to make sure older documents remain readable. But hold on – how generous is Redmond really being here?

Apparently the NA gets access to ‘previous versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating systems and Office applications’. So the deal is all about… giving the National Archives a few copies of Word 95?

Isn’t it far more likely that this deal is really about RESTRICTING the availability of old docs – by keeping them in a proprietary format, the terms of which Microsoft can change at any time. (Business has rebuffed Microsoft’s efforts to move to a monthly subscription system, but it keeps trying, and bit by bit it will succeed. A penny each time you open a Word doc? Technically possible, and commercially attractive if you own the closed format.)

There’s only one way to truly preserve documents long-term: keep them in an open format like XHTML, and make them freely available in multiple places. Any time value accumulates in a single domain – whether it’s proprietary formats, legal ownership, or a physical location – there’s an incentive to monetise it. Nothing wrong with money, but that doesn’t seem to have been the objective at the NA, so I don’t think its goals have been answered.

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