Digital content preservation is an important and fast growing area of activity in education and research. However, whilst the seminal work often mentions the dependence between content (eg research data) and the associated tools and infrastructure (eg the software and hardware used to generate the research data) there has been much less emphasis on the software. This must be partly because the solution is less apparent than for content, and because there are complex issues with software – indeed the JISC-funded work on the Significant Properties of Software says that software is ‘forbiddingly [complex] for people who are not involved in its development but nevertheless want to maintain access to software’.
Our Software Preservation Study built on the solid conceptual basis established by past JISC-funded work. It ran from April 2010 to October 2010. Its overarching aim was to raise awareness and build capacity throughout the education and research sector to engage with preservation issues as part of the process of software development. Note that this does not imply that all software should be preserved, only that a more broadly disseminated knowledge of preservation issues amongst developers will enable teams to make more informed decisions about how much durability they may wish to build into their software.
Our outputs are being hosted on this site: http://software.ac.uk/resources/preserving-software-resources
The scope of this study was broad and includes all types of software in FE and HE. Such software includes ‘rough and ready’ code, agile developments and robustly engineered code, from different development environments, at different levels of the software stack (network, middleware, application) and for a whole range of purposes such as administration teaching and learning, research, etc. It includes non-licensed code not intended for release and closed code, but the focus is on open source software (and all licences therein). Whilst not explicitly about hardware, some software will be hardware-dependent.
The opportunity and challenge of software preservation is closely linked to both good software engineering practice and open source software initiatives. Raising awareness, starting debate and building capacity is essential for the sector to take the next steps towards improved software preservation practice.
The desired outcomes from this study were stated as:
- greater awareness and capacity of developers to engage with software preservation issues
- better decisions from developers on what software to preserve and how to approach preservation
- deeper understanding of the potential role of open source software in software preservation
- a clear direction for JISC to continue work in this area, if required
The full title of the study is Clarifying the Purpose and Benefits of Preserving Software and the original ITT is available here.
Disclaimer: These are our personal views and not necessarily the views of JISC.