An interesting press announcement from The National Archives today regarding a new arrangement with Microsoft which allows TNA to take advantage of the Microsoft Virtual PC for preservation purposes.
It seems as though this may well represent a very useful way forward for dealing with stand alone or simple OLE (Object Linking & Embedding) MS Office files. Such content certainly represents a large proportion of many organisation's digital holdings so this looks like a promising development.
Of course the Microsoft Virtual PC will not provide an environment for being able to access any of the countless examples of non-MS file formats and systems that exist ranging from CAD packages to multi-media files - nor will it be an answer for how to access content stored in databases of long forgotten and unsupported formats. I've also been reliably informed that there might be some additional complexities when trying to accurately render Exchange/Outlook files, but it is a start nonetheless.
What was also interesting was the comments Natalie Ceeney made on Radio 4 today to accompany this announcement. As well as drawing on the classic cause celebre such as the varying fortunes of the Domesday Books of 1066 & 1986 she pointed out how the issues of digital prevation now mean much more to the ordinary person in the street thanks to the range of digital sources people now rely on in their every day lives. Perhaps a few crashed hard drives and lost digital photos will help get the bigger message across where previous attempts have largely failed...