Approaching Emulation

computer clip art surrounded by logo icons for frameworks and languages
Web standards and dependencies, public domain image via Pixabay.

After much preparation and anticipation, emulation testing is just around the corner for Stanford Libraries and, by extension, Stanford University Press. We’re hopeful that serving as a host node for the EaaSI project will shed light on whether this complex process can serve the preservation needs of the interactive scholarly works we’re publishing.

Emulation as a Service began at Freiburg as a project by Klaus Rechert and has grown into the EaaSI project, which is now highly collaborative and headquartered at Yale. With the support of the Mellon and Sloan Foundations and the communication and outreach expertise of the Software Preservation Network, the EaaSI project has invited several institutions to participate as “host nodes” to install and test the system and contribute software and use cases to its growing library of emulated software and computing environments. As one of the host nodes, Stanford Libraries is investing time and resources into exploring the potential of this type of infrastructure for providing access to otherwise unusable software and digital objects in its collections. And as part of the library, Stanford University Press is hoping this experiment will hold implications for the longevity of the digital work being publishing under its own Mellon funded initiative.

The idea is that an emulated version of a project can stand in for a web publication once browser and server standards and technology evolve so far as to render the code and applications powering the original publication obsolete. But unlike a single piece of software, which might fit pretty easily into an emulated operating system, web publications rely on complex combinations of a variety of softwares and applications, from a server’s operating system to the software installed on that server to a specific version of a browser and its plugins. While the content of a publication might be fairly easy to compile, identifying all the external pieces it relies on is another task in itself. It certainly calls attention to the number of moving parts required to build one of these projects, and despite the outcome of the experimentation, we will undoubtedly continue learning a lot about the complex anatomy of the web as a publishing medium.

We hope to have our local installation up and running in the coming days and we’ll be blogging here about the Press’s progress and activities as part of the project, which continues through June 2020. But for now, if you’d like a little more background on the larger EaaSI project and the new Beta release, you can read all about it on the Software Preservation Network’s EaaSI news series.

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