While home computers of the 1980s remain a distant memory for many, a team of Victoria University staff are working on preserving the software they brought into Kiwi homes.
Dr Melanie Swalwell, a Lecturer in the School of English, Film, Theatre, and Media Studies, heads the 'NZTronix' research team. With support from the University’s Research Fund, the team is conducting a study on how early software might be preserved for posterity. For her part, Dr Swalwell has created an online database to collect information about locally developed software.
The Early New Zealand Software Database is intended to gather information about software titles that were written in New Zealand during the 1980s and 1990s. Because no records exist of what was written early on, the public is being encouraged to contribute what they know, to help build a publicly accessible database. This will help to inform decisions about future software conservation work.
"Maybe you had a friend who wrote programs and shared them with you, or you were a budding computer artist or bedroom composer. Games, demos, early digital art – these are all significant because they show the role early computer technology played, how the digital revolution started, if you like."
The database has a facility to upload content such as images, audio, video, and source code, and to stipulate how these can be used in the future.
Dr Swalwell says it is only recently that the cultural significance of early software has been recognised. "Entire parts of our digital history are in people's attics deteriorating. Already some software from the 1980s does not work. It is in danger of being lost forever if something isn't done to preserve it. That's why we're asking people to pool their knowledge and help to build a database of information."
The team are particularly interested in software written for home computers. "It doesn’t have to have been published commercially, and we're keen to receive information on amateur, as well as professional, efforts.