|Equipment & Technical Issues|
The complex nature of digital artworks means that the risks posed by equipment are varied and many. These risks can be placed in two broad categories: failure-the inability of a component to continue working-and obsolescence-components that are no longer available, or no longer compatible with current or later software, operating systems, etc. These risks affect the different components of computer-based art in different ways.
For any digital object, be it a database or a work of art, failure of storage media is a particular concern. And unlike videotape and film, when digital media fail, they often fail without visible signs of change-and inevitably fail completely. A film can be damaged and still be shown; a videotape can lose part of its signal while still allowing the rest to be retrieved. With digital media it is generally an all-or-nothing situation. Much of this risk, however, can be mitigated by careful handling and storage. Keep these primary points in mind:
Hardware and display equipment
Since display equipment is the most visible part of a computer-based artwork--often the only visible part--its failure can be catastrophic. Careful planning can help avert this catastrophe, especially through the use of an artists' questionnaire to help better understand acceptable actions in case of equipment failure. Critical questions to ask include:
Over the past century, numerous motion picture formats have come into use, many of which quickly became obsolete. Analog videotape works have also been created using dozens of now-obsolete formats. Yet these problems pale in comparison to the dizzying array of platforms, software, file formats, and storage media used in the creation of computer-based art. Each component of a digital artwork faces serious risks from obsolescence--risks that can threaten the work almost immediately after its creation.
As any user of a personal computer knows, the different operating systems--the underlying program that controls the functions and interaction of hardware, files, and software--can cause problems even for newly-created data. These problems only multiply as time passes. Every time a new version of an operating system comes out, it may render earlier versions obsolete. More importantly, five-year old software may not play on a new operating system; an older operating system may not be usable on a new computer.
For this reason it is critical to monitor the viability of a digital work at regular intervals, including the testing, where necessary, of its compatibility with newer operating systems.
As with operating systems, frequent updates to software cause preservation headaches. Files created using an earlier version of a program often will behave differently--or not open at all. Continual monitoring of a work's viability is critical here as well.
Wherever possible, detailed records of software versions used in the creation and display of a work should be kept, as should copies of the relevant CD-ROMs or discs, manuals, etc.
An additional issue related to obsolescence is the issue of proprietary versus open-source software. Much computer-based art is created using proprietary software. The development of programs like Flash, QuickTime, or Director, is controlled by corporations with little interest in long-term preservation. Altering this software for purposes of preservation is not always possible, and in some cases, may violate copyright laws.
Increasing numbers of artists, however, are using open-source software, which allows much greater latitude in this area. Many experts in the field strongly recommend the use of open-source software when doing preservation work of this kind.
Obsolescence of storage media is a particular problem for magnetic media. In addition to facing risks from physical degradation, early storage devices such as floppy discs, Bernoulli discs, etc. can become problematic when the necessary drives become rare and difficult to access. Another problem is that the software necessary to operate these drives is often incompatible with later operating systems.
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