Emulation and its use as a preservation resource

At the Maine Archives & Museums conference I participated in a workshop I didn’t think at first I would have much interest. But, it may have become the workshop that has a long lasting effect.
Jon Ippolito, UMO professor, gave a presentation about emulation and its use as a preservation resource.
What is emulation? I certainly had not heard of the term before. As defined by Wikipedia:
In computing, an emulator is hardware or software that enables one computer system (called the host) to behave like another computer system (called the guest). An emulator typically enables the host system to run software or use peripheral devices designed for the guest system. Emulation refers to the ability of a computer program in an electronic device to emulate (or imitate) another program or device.
Do you have a wonderful address book program from Windows 3.1 that you prefer to use? How about documents stored away using WordPerfect? Or financial records using older versions of QuickBooks or other software? Do you have documents stored on floppy disks? Do you own a Betamax machine?
Wouldn’t you like to access them?
And there is no way that modern software recognizes the file name extensions? Frustrating.
Well, users from the gaming and arts world are here to rescue you. Many gamers wanted to play all the “old-fashioned” games and the consoles of today would not play them. So, resourceful gamers wrote code to create software where you could play them. And then created more code – do you want to play the game the old-fashioned way? Or with modern gaming technology?
Software and hardware engineers recognized the achievements of the ametueurs writing codes who began creating code to open files, play games, use a Betamax machine, etc. The code is often open source.
Mr. Ippolito’s presentation was from an Apple laptop using Windows 10. Isn’t that incredible? Microsoft and Apple certainly do not want users to become cross-platform. If you want to have the graphics ability of Apple and the computing ability of Microsoft users now have the choice.
There is so much more importance to this topic. And it is beyond my technological ability to go further with this. At the end of the message I will share some important links if you want to research this further.
Mr. Ippolito was a part of a consortium who helped the Guggenheim Museum. There was an exhibition called Seeing Double “One work chosen to test emulation is Grahame Weinbren and Roberta Friedman’s video piece The Erl King (1982–85), a combination of obsolete hardware, artist-written software, and custom-made components. Heralded as one of the first works of interactive video art, The Erl King invites the viewer to control the work’s narrative structure through the use of a touch-screen monitor.” The original art installation used now obsolete technology. The first exhibition was revolutionary in its day and exhibitors wanted to recreate this important exhibition to inspire a new generation. A group of scientists were assembled to recreate that exhibition. And using emulation hardware and software they were able to emulate the exhibition.
How does this revolutionary technology have anything to do with museums and archives?
– Recreate and use documents, financial records, Betamax files, etc.
– Offers multiple preservation strategies
– Save spreadsheets as comma separated text
To my right at the next table were the curators of the large state museums. They nearly leapt out of their seats think of all the uses for their institutions. The discussion and questions this talk had for all present…. Infectious to see people’s excitement.
I hope my simplified description of emulation will inspire you to further research it and see the uses in your life.
Mr. Ippolito teaches a certificate program at the University of Maine. Two of his students now work for Maine museums and in government who gave presentations at the conference.

Written by Lee Ann Shand November 2017

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