Preserving Old Content in New Computers

Favorite photos, VHS tapes, and games are still accessible

I’ve always been a collector, and for many years a collector of VHS tapes. Over the years a pile of classic Disney movies and favorite films accumulated; they might not be blockbusters but were enjoyed by family. And then there were computer games such as The Sims, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego, and Minecraft, which I introduced to my girls decades ago. Some of my favorites were storytelling games: Just Grandma and Me, and Battle Chess with animated chess pieces. I was sure I would show these things to my grandchildren one day. But that’s not so easy.

How could they enjoy them without VCRs and Windows XP – both long gone? Many old VHS recordings are now available as DVDs and/or through streaming, but not all of them. And what about the computer games? Most of them were not updated for newer computer systems. More popular programs, such as Sims 4 and Minecraft, became available on multiple platforms, but the bulk of old PC games and educational software could become unusable.

But today there are still ways to play some of those Windows XP games. You can buy a refurbished XP computer, or run it in a virtual machine on almost any newer computer. What do I mean by this? There are programs partially included in the operating system/computer which can run on new computers. These programs can create the look, feel, and functionality of an almost perfect Windows XP system. There are some limitations, but overall this enables them to function for several more decades which greatly pleases nostalgic enthusiasts like me.

Many of us also have old software tools we use in our work or hobbies. My wife has been using a professional program for publishing music since 1990. At the time she researched the market and chose Score software; it was then state of the art. Over the years, she became quite proficient with it and has used it extensively for her own compositions, too. The DOS-based program survived several updates, but is, unfortunately, no longer supported by current Windows operating systems. So I installed a “DOSbox” program on an offline computer so she could access old files and continue using her favorite program.

Let’s get back to those favorite VHS films you recorded decades ago. Some can be watched for free on www.youtube.com, or downloaded and archived on your computer. The nice thing is that this film is now digitized, and storing, copying, and watching it will not further deteriorate its quality (unlike a VHS). You can buy many films on DVD or as digital downloads.

In the Library of Congress they store and restore reams of old films. We are fortunate to be near their Packard Campus repository in Culpeper for sound and film; they hold regular free screenings in their theater! And of course, you can buy tools with which you can digitize/copy your VHS to a DVD, but be aware that copyrighted tapes may not allow this. Similar possibilities are available for sound and music you want to preserve. You can digitize your old vinyl records and tape recordings, and in this case no copyright will interfere when you convert the analog sound.

What about your old papers and photos? We just scanned in an album from my wife’s grandmother which detailed an extensive European tour in 1923. It contained over 100 pages of typescript, handwritten notes, and fading black and white photos. Now we may share it with our family through a dedicated Google Drive. Last year, our daughters began researching our genealogy, which necessitated finding and digitizing old paperwork (such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, and correspondence). Most anything may be digitized now to preserve, store, and share – even three dimensional things.

Decades ago I thought VHS tapes or even DVDs would last forever; now I think how long will the digital copies last. Only time will tell; I am confident digital files (like jpgs and mp3s) may change in name and format, but will remain usable. Plus, the increase of available storage space on hard drives and on the Cloud allows for potentially unlimited storage.

One problem I have experienced is keeping those digital memories organized so I may find the photo I need. My iPhone stores thousands of photos, not counting the scanned-in slides, selfies, and pics from family events, graduations, concerts, and trips. Various copies of the same photos were stored on multiple hard drives, creating duplicates and triplicates. So I bought software called “DoubleKiller Pro”  which helps me find and remove doubles. It’s time intensive, but helps reduce clutter. Software is also available to help categorize, organize, tag, and caption your photos.

Evolving technology is amazing and allows us to record quality videos and pictures almost everywhere on our cell phones. Special moments may be stored and shared easily. Instead of showing our great grandchildren yellowing color prints, they will be able to enjoy colorful video clips with sound. Just make sure you pass these files on to future generations in an organized manner; add captions inside a photo file explaining who is on each photo and what you were doing. Often the location and time are already embedded in the jpeg file.

But don’t forget backups! As I say all the time, there is no such thing as too many backups. The last thing you want is to lose precious data. A client just gave me half a dozen hard drives from her belated husband in order to extract the photos which will preserve and bring back precious memories for her and her family. Even though no-one really wants to think about this, access “keys,” such as online passwords to emails, contacts, or data storage, should be noted in a will and/or kept on a thumb drive or CD in your bank safe. The goal is to preserve memories important to you; to retrieve, enjoy and pass them on to those you love.

Klaus Fuechsel
About Klaus Fuechsel 8 Articles
Klaus Fuechsel owns the local award-winning computer repair store Dok Klaus. He and his team deal with all kinds of computer issues; data preservation is one of their top priorities. You may contact Dok Klaus via phone 540-428-2376 or visit his website.

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