In their efforts to come up with catchy acronyms, project managers sometimes think of wonderfully sounding names that, however, tell you too little about what is really going on. The European KEEP project is a case in point to me: KEEP stands for ‘Keeping Emulation Environments Portable’. Perhaps it is just my slow brain and/or the often fuzzy official project language, but for some reason I kept getting visions of shopping bags and briefcases …
On the occasion of the KEEP road show, which is coming to The Hague on 26-27 October (and to Zagreb, 9-11 November, Rome: 29-30 November), I asked KB colleague and KEEP participant Jeffrey van der Hoeven (at left, emulating KEEP user satisfaction) to explain it to me. Here is my version of what he told me:
The most well-known method to deal with software and hardware obsolescence is migration: you change the bits and the bytes of a digital object to make them work on a new platform. However, migration turns out to be not at all as risk-free as we would hope. Plus: it does not work for complex objects such as video games, websites, etc.. An alternative is emulation: you do not change the bits, but write software to make a new computer function as if it were an (old) computer. This means writing emulators for every possible combination (which is a lot of expensive R&D work), but if it works, there are fewer risks involved than with migration.
However, working with emulators is not for dummies. It is technically challenging work for specialists. The KEEP project developed an ‘emulation framework’ that takes care of that. It automatically selects the right emulator and configures the software required to render the object. That sounds quite handy.
Now, what about the ‘portability’? Emulators themselves are pieces of software that become obsolete over time. Therefore, KEEP is developing a KEEP ‘virtual machine’ – that will allow for execution of any software on any platform at any time.
Does this sound too good to be true? Come to The Hague (or Zagreb or Rome) and find out for yourself. Be sure to bring some old obsolete floppies with you to test the systems hands-on.