A sad tale of creeping data rot and general obsolescence

Hi, technological die-hards,

We all know of the dangers of digital data that becomes inaccessible due to damage (e.g. magnetic tapes and disks that decay or fade).

And the problems of data being orphaned by hardware changes – e.g. have you tried reading a 5.25″ floppy disk or a vinyl LP recently?

Or failures due to software developments…

I have been a happy user of Microsoft’s Image Composer (MIC) since it first appeared on CD 2 of Frontpage circa 1998. Whenever I had an image that needed a quick and dirty crop, resize, background removal or merging with another image I’d fire up MIC, and I’ve been delighted that it has happily worked for the past 18 years – which is 126 in dog or software years.

Since I moved to Win10, however, I’ve seen MIC start to stumble and groan when asked to do its daily deeds. It won’t any longer let me drop images onto its interface to load them; it needs to be led to network shares like a blind pony; it complains loudly about modern whippersnapper file formats that it doesn’t understand because their trousers are too low, or they have tattoos.

I have managed to take MIC out walking each day for 18 years with ever-increasing doses of ‘Compatibility Mode’ settings, and gentle handling (e.g. opening files with File > Open rather than drag and drop) but I suspect that the old dog may not survive many more Windows updates without some sort of heroic intervention, such as OS emulation. But I’d hate to see him living on life support.

To that end, I am sad to say that I have recently decided to convert all my *.mic (Image Composer’s native format) files to another format.

But not even Photoshop CS can open “the wrong kind of document” as it cruelly refers to *.mic files.

One experiment later – let the crowds rejoice! – if I use MIC to save a multi-layer (‘sprite’ in MIC terms) *.mic image to Photoshop PSD 3.0 format, Adobe Photoshop CS can read and respect the MIC ‘sprites’ as Photoshop layers! Woohoo! I won’t have to flatten the multi-sprite MIC files into one-layer images.

So, while MIC still has a pulse, I will pluck up her refugee *.mic children and whisk them to a new format that may last a little longer, so they don’t become degraded or completely unreadable.

But in the end, even Photoshop will become “What is this ‘Photoshop’ stuff, grandpa? Is that like ‘Kodak’ that we learnt about in History?” – and you will sigh and struggle to prevent the inevitable lecture about the ‘good old days’.

You may want to delve into your archives (remember to check the offline media too – disks, tapes, SIM and SD cards, old flash drives) and find those file formats that are surviving on life support and desperately needing a transplant.
Are files stored with old DRM, discontinued encryption methods, failed proprietary file formats, or require obsolete hardware drives or ports, like the original, hugely-popular, ground-breaking Sony Memory Stick?

Now I just need to do something about those Wordstar files I need to read from those 8″ floppy disks. I seem to remember that one of them proves that I invented the TCP/IP protocols…


Visit obsoletemedia.org for a disturbing view of your hardware’s future…

Further reading about media format obsolescence.

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