Portsmouth University researchers are building a general purpose emulator that can recognise and run all previous types of computer files, including vintage games and three-inch floppy discs.
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Other emulators exist which are specific to certain platforms or types of media, but the new version will be able to emulate media in any format.
Computer historians David Anderson and Janet Delve, and computer games expert Dan Pinchbeck at the University of Portsmouth are partners in a €4m Europe-wide attempt to "rescue" digital files from a black hole.
The European project, Keep (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable), aims to develop methods of safeguarding text, sound and image files, multimedia documents, websites, databases and videogames.
Delve said, "People do not think twice about saving files digitally, from snapshots taken on a camera phone to national or regional archives. But every digital file risks being either lost by degrading or by the technology used to 'read' it disappearing altogether.
"Former generations have left a rich supply of books, letters and documents which tell us who they were, how they lived and what they discovered. There is a very real risk that we could bequeath a blank spot in history."
Nearly €1m has been given to the Portsmouth faculty of creative and cultural industries researchers to help create software that can look back in time and capture the workings of old computers, files, software and technologies.
Other institutions involved in the Keep project include the national libraries of France, the Netherlands and Germany, and the European Game Developers Federation.