Do you Collect Software?

November 16th, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Pile of Floppy DisksHere's a question for my intrepid readers: Do you collect software? Operating systems, applications, computer games, or even image or sound files? If so, do you have a focus for your collection? How do you store it?

I've been collecting software for about 17 years. Much of it was once locked into deteriorating floppy disk formats, but luckily I've been able to find working disk images of those particular apps and games (say, for the Atari 800 or Apple II) created by others, so not much is at risk of being lost there.

Everything else — all my personal floppy disks, ZIP disks, CDs, and hard drives for Macs and PCs — I long ago backed up to a central file server that uses a RAID 5 array and offsite backup for extra protection. In that collection are the contents of over 30 different PC hard drives imaged and preserved "in state" for research purposes. I keep all the files in place as they were when those drives were in use, because you really never know what you'll need in the future when it comes to historical research. Many of those files have come in handy already.

I should note that if you have anything backed up on CD-R, get it off now, because I've already found CD-Rs from as recent as 2000 that I can't read anymore. They really are a terrible archival format. The best hope for long-term software preservation (in my opinion) is to maintain a live RAID array of hard drives that you maintain and update over time.

So how do you do it, and what do you collect? I'm interested to hear from you in the comments below.



16 Responses to “Do you Collect Software?”

  1. Multimedia Mike Says:

    Oh heck yeah! I'm tempted to not even get started on this topic because I fear I won't stop. :-)

    I'm interested in multimedia software (see my name and my domain). This has a broad overlap with gaming software and I have collected hundreds upon hundreds of games, usually very obscure, forgotten titles that I purchase "by the pound". I have them all in a Google spreadsheet if you'd like to see them. My favorite stuff to collect is from the 1994-1999 epoch of CD-ROM gaming.

    As an unwitting software archivist, I recognize the need to back up this data. To that end, I have brainstormed — but not yet implemented — this idea:

    http://multimedia.cx/eggs/archivists-burden/

    I also have a growing collection of cast-off multimedia creation software. I documented it here:

    http://multimedia.cx/eggs/category/software-museum/

    I would like to give it to a proper software museum, if you happen to know of any.

  2. Justin Says:

    Only recently. Been trying to get my hands on as much vintage hardware as possible, but when I see some old software, I'll grab that too ;)

  3. Orsty Says:

    I collect ROMs mainly but I do have some older OS's and I do the same with hard drive images from older machines I used to use. I'm also in the process of digitizing all my family documents like pictures and what not.

    I found that CD-Rs seem to degrade faster if exposed to florescent lights. I also noticed that it's not just CD-R's but it's the packaging as well. If you keep the old booklets and boxes it will turn a yellow color if you leave it under florescent lights. The CD's turn color too.

    Best thing I've found for original stuff is a good safe that's water and fireproof for storage.

    There isn't much you can do for floppy disks though and even hard drives, although more robust than floppy disks still degrades over time. Hard drives are also more sock sensitive so you have to be careful in handling them.

    The RAID is the best thing for storage right now.

    The only thing that could take it all out that's not malicious is lighting or some other act of God.

    A back up in multiple locations is the best solution and I have this installed in my breaker box at home to help protect my hardware.

    http://www.pattiewholesale.com/Sycom-120240-TC-200-400-Amp-Single-Phase-Resedential-Main-Panel-Protector_p_186.html

  4. Salzman Says:

    I collect software that I find particularly useful. For example, Corel Draw 7… circa 1996. And lets not forget Calypso, and an antiquated copy of mIRC.

  5. Bill T Says:

    I have beeen collecting software and systems for a long time.(since dos and games game out on cassette (Douglas Adams, anyone?)..I have a garage full of old computers and games systems, along with lots of games, apps, etc…I just can't part with any of it…always thinking, when I get some free time I will hook up the old system and play with it..probably by time I retire I will have the time…

  6. Pete Says:

    Not only do I save the software, the boxes for the software, and multiple copies of the software, I also keep and maintain the hardware capable of running it all. My girlfriend is still reeling from her introduction to DOS 3.0, Windows 3.1, and the 286 running it. I haven't seen her in some days now, might as well drown my sorrows in some Andorian ale and Star Wars before it became Episode IV.

  7. Xyzzy Says:

    So far, I've pretty much just collected (preferably in the boxes) old interactive fiction, Ultima games, memorabilia/articles/ads/interviews for both, and Apple II games/hardware. I really need to get around to hooking my IIgs up to my laptop, so I can back up some of the games before the disks become unreadable — at least one is a version that's visibly different from the archived copies online.

  8. Daniel Says:

    Networking and operating systems are my two favorite aspects of computing, so Unix (specifically Mac OS X) fits me to a T, but I am fascinated with history of Unix and Mac OS specifically, and operating systems in general, so I tend to collect them. I'm not as fanatical as Amit Singh (see http://osxbook.com/book/bonus/ancient/vpc/) but I do have several OSes, mostly free ones, installed and working in VMs.

    I am also a huge fan of Sierra games, but I wouldn't say that I collect them. I own the King's Quest and Space Quest games, and would love to have the rest of them.

    Otherwise, I don't really collect software.

    But, I totally agree with you on maintaining the archive on both RAID5 (I use a Drobo with 4 disks in it onsite) and offsite (I use CrashPlan and a Drobo with 2 disks in it for offsite backup).

  9. jdiwnab Says:

    I collect software only in that I haven't gotten rid of what I already have. I am a sucker for older games, especially obscure but high quality ones. I have a tendency not to throw out any computer stuff until it is well past broken.

    I have a lot of older 800k floppies that are getting harder to read due to lack of hardware. I recently bought an old mac just to try and migrate those first to 1.4MB floppies, then to disk images. From there they can be more easily archived and used via emulators.

    But I don't go out searching for old software. The closest I've come is re-purchasing something that I had and either lost or was damaged.

  10. MadPlanet Says:

    I guess you could say I collect games. I rarely get rid of any of new games but I NEVER sell/trade them away if I really enjoyed them. And like so many others I'm a bit of a stickler for it being complete with the box, manual, etc. Other than that I just go with the flow and often buy whatever old games (and systems) that happen to catch my interest at the moment.

    Most recently I have been re-purchasing my collection of Commodore 64 games that I originally had many years ago - at the time some were actual commercial products and some were copies but now they are all full boxed copies. I recently reobtained Telengard, Harbdall, Deadline, and Zork II for C64, and Earl Weaver Baseball for PC. I'm just waiting until I see a boxed copy of Space Taxi for sale somewhere and I'm all over it.

  11. Robert Hayes Says:

    I collect old PC database software, like Superbase, dBase, old Oracle and SQL builds, etc. It's fascinating stuff, and quite often still completely usable.

    If anybody has that kind of stuff lying around and would like to see it in a good home, drop me a line.

  12. Andrew Says:

    I don't collect much personally but am looking at doing something about the growing collection of items in the National Museum of Computer's archive…we need to get some kind of reliable server with a large amount of disk space to cover our needs, and that would even be archival-grade (which costs a pretty penny), and doesn't cover the off site part!

  13. Jim Says:

    I have some old software and OS's I have MS Office Standard copyright 1993 it's the complete set all on floppy. I'm willing to part with this or other software that I have. Anybody interested can email me at lurkyeah1@cox.net I also have a Commodore Vic-20 with many games and extras…it's really difficult to consider parting with this stuff but need to make room!

  14. LongFellow Says:

    Dos….I admit it….Yes I liked DOS a lot. I have on floppy disc and hard drive back up DOS 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 and 6.1. I am also the fortunate owner of several knock off DOS programs. Much like the one that came on Zenith SlimSport laptops. I also have a pretty good collection of Windows operating systems. 2.0, 3.0 and 3.11 Win 95 a, b and c with USB support. 98, 2000, XP full and upgrade and yeah even ME…I know….I also have on floppy a cracked version of Windows 95 upgrade so no need for a key with that one.

  15. RE Says:

    I am a longtime collector of video games, and that got me to collect vintage computers too…but to be honest, I prefer cartridge-based stuff. Disk games do not seem very desirable to collectors. I have about 200 original ms-dos games on diskettes but sometimes I feel like I`m the only one collecting that kind of stuff.

  16. Rob Says:

    Unfortunately I don't have the physical space for collecting hardware and therefore I recently had to move my software collection to a Synology NAS with RAID 5 protection, mainly OS'es, old software packages, in total about 2 TB of it. Unfortunately some of the 5.25″ floppy disks were not readable anymore. (If anyone has a copy of Le Menu 3.1 by Bartel Software, please drop me a line. It's one of the pieces that was lost and I'm not able to find it anywhere anymore)

    So once in a while do I presentations of old software at my childrens school, usually once or twice a year, depending on the classes given. They are always amazed!

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