Monday, September 20, 2010

Ethics of bit rot

I am finishing up a conference paper and was planning to add some old photographs to document a workflow. I had several computers since I took the photographs, and because I have my stuff on several external disks (we researchers in image processing keep running out of disk space), I was not able to find them right away.

I remembered the photographs had been taken on film, so I thought can just quickly retrieve them from my PhotoPD archive. In fact, there they were, on PhotoCD number 6232 3073 2355. Lucky me.

Or not! I slide the golden CD into my PC, fire up Photoshop, … oh, it cannot open it. Neither can Bridge. The help system in Photoshop claims the format is no longer supported. Puzzling. Photoshop is an expensive professional software program and PhotoCD is expensive professional media, coated in gold, that was sold as being an archival format promised to last for centuries.

At first I thought this is some political fight between Adobe and Kodak, so I go to Kodak's Professional Web site to download the plug-in. To my surprise, I got this page:

Kodak dropped the PhotoCD format

Let me zoom into the central part, so you can read it:

Kodak killed PhotoCD

I would understand, if at a time when professional photographers have mostly switched to digital cameras, Kodak as a commercial enterprise would discontinue the creation of new PhotoCDs. However, turning professional archives that had been sold with permanence promises of centuries into golden coasters, that is plainly unethical.

In terms of cost, maintaining a plug-in is only a small expense, because there is only a small number of professional software packages and they are updated infrequently. Do these guys realize how much damage they inflict to their brand just to save an insignificant amount of money?

I guess the lesson is that if you want to use Kodak products for your photographs, you better archive them by printing them on HP printers. At least HP appears to take image permanence seriously, as I wrote in a previous post on bit rot three years ago.


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