On putting old software out to pasture
Apr 7th, 2014 by Isaiah Beard

Three generations of Windows operating system versions.  Upper left: Windows 8.1, the current release from Microsoft. Upper right: Windows 7, its predecessor and likely upgrade candidate for most Windows XP users. Lower left: Windows XP, whose support from Microsoft ends today.  Lower right: the Virtualbox control panel, where each of these virtual instances are controlled off the host computer, a Mac.

Three generations of Windows operating system versions. Upper left: Windows 8.1, the current release from Microsoft. Upper right: Windows 7, its predecessor and likely upgrade candidate for most Windows XP users. Lower left: Windows XP, whose support from Microsoft ends today. Lower right: the Virtualbox control panel, where each of these virtual instances are controlled off the host computer, a Mac.

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in the lifecycle of computer software, and should be a day of concern for perhaps hundreds of millions of computer users worldwide.  April 8, 2014 is the final day that Microsoft will provide extended support for its aging Windows XP operating system.  Although Microsoft has not been providing any new features or functionality to this operating system since 2009, tomorrow’s deadline means that the company will also cease to provide important security updates to Windows XP going forward.  This potentially means that users still running the OS could be vulnerable to security risks such as viruses and malware. Although a great deal of new software titles already require a version of Windows that’s a bit more recent, it is expected that support will further decrease dramatically after tomorrow.

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Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 2: the Local Route
Sep 19th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

An External Hard Drive: the easiest method for making a quick copy of your important stuff. Photo taken by flickr user Miss Karen

All, right, so you’ve heard it over and over and again, and you know it’s true: you need to make regular backups of your stuff. But how?  What options do typical computer users have?

In the past few years, the options for preservation and backups have expanded quite a bit, giving users an enormous array of solutions to choose from.  Of course, the diverse options can be confusing: what’s the best choice for you?

The backup options out there can be grouped into two major categories: local storage and cloud storage.  Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and will appeal to different users based on where and how they use their computers.  Some of the best and most secure backup strategies make use of both solutions… a backup-of-the-backup, so to speak.  I’ll discuss that further in a later write-up.

In this article, I’ll talk about local storage.  In the next article, we’ll go into cloud-based solutions.

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Keeping Your Stuff Safe, Part 1: Why you need a Plan B
Sep 16th, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

A hard disk drive with damaged platters, caused by a head crash. The data on this drive is not recoverable.

Whether we like it or not, those of us who rely on electronics to get our work done are guaranteed one thing: a data loss event.  This means that at least once in our  lifetimes (and sometimes more than that), every one of us who uses a computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone or similar device is going to one day stare at our screens and realize that the piece of information we expected to be there, just isn’t.

It can happen any number of ways.  Sometimes, we users make a mistake and accidentally erase something we shouldn’t have… or someone else might’ve accidentally deleted something of ours that they shouldn’t have. Other times, it’s the computer’s fault: buggy software might’ve claimed to save something but didn’t, or a 10-year-old hard drive finally decided to give up the ghost.  And sometimes, acts of nature (power outage, natural disaster, or other events beyond our control) will intervene and cause vital work to be lost.

Of course, we’ve all heard it time and time again: to protect your documents, photos, drawings, artwork, and other important data, you need to have backups.  Unfortunately, while we all have heard this before and know it to be true, we don’t always follow through.  In the past it’s been tedious to do regular backups; a chore we all dread.  And so, it always falls but he wayside, and often, we get back into a backup regimen only after something bad has happened, and it’s already too late.

But take heart.  A lot has changed recently.  There ARE personal backup solutions out there that are surprisingly easy… and even automatic!  keeping your stuff safe doesn’t have to be a tedious chore anymore… as long as you’re willing to invest a little time and effort at the beginning, and in some cases a small amount of cash on an ongoing basis.

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Lessons Learned from Google’s temporary Gmail loss
Mar 1st, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

GMail kept users notified through a status page of their ongoing recovery efforts.

This past week offered up a little dose of panic to an estimated tens of thousands of users to Google’s free Gmail service, when they logged in to discover that all of their e-mail was missing.  According to Google:

We released a storage software update that introduced the unexpected bug, which caused 0.02% of Gmail users to temporarily lose access to their email. When we discovered the problem, we immediately stopped the deployment of the new software and reverted to the old version.

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Using consistent file naming conventions for digital preservation projects
Oct 21st, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

Some of our best digital preservation projects have been the direct result of collaboration; working with dozens of separate entities that all have valuable materials that they want to share with the online world.  That collaboration brings some challenges though, and one of biggest problems we’ve run into has been how people name files after they’ve created or digitized them.

For experienced computer users who store lots of valuable informartion digitally, it goes without saying that clearly naming files is extremely important.  Often, the filename is the first thing a user sees that identifies what’s in a file; the information it contains. Without any other cataloging system in place, file names become the way to figure out what’s inside the hundreds of thousands of individual files that can sit on the average persons’ desktop computer, and having countless “untitled” or ambiguously-named files can make finding the information you want nearly impossible.

Fortunately, modern computer operating systems give people a wide latitude in how they can name files.  Most people have a file naming method that works best for them, and for the most part, individual systems can work well, so long as they stay consistent and aren’t too hard for most people to easily comprehend.  However, things can get a bit more tricky when such files are destined for a digital library, online repository, or other type of internet-based storage and delivery medium.  When these types of architectures come into play, some of that wide latitude that modern computers give us in naming files can cause some complications.  Web-based content management systems aren’t always as flexible or forgiving with filenames, and can sometimes reject or even mangle files that are more liberally-named.

For this reason, it’s helpful to establish and follow a few simple ground rules when working on a digital preservation project that requires file handling.

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