Rendering Matters Report

Maintaining the ability of an organisation or user to be able to “open” or “render” a file or set of files is one of the core digital preservation challenges. The Rendering Matters Report outlines the results of research conducted at Archives New Zealand investigating whether changes are introduced to the information that is presented to users when files are rendered in different hardware and software environments. The report concludes with a set of observations about the impact of the research and provides some recommendations for future research in this area.

Information supporting this report includes

  • The survey tool used to document the rendering tests in LimeSurvey XML format and QueXML format.
  • The dataset holding the data collected during the research in OOXML and ODS formats.
We encourage members of the OPF community to review the published results in the report and investigate the data that was collected during this research. There are other ways that the data might be analysed to answer questions not addressed in the report and we would welcome attempts by others to conduct different anaylses. 

 

It would also be very beneficial to replicate this research to validate the results, and to extend the research to a larger, more diverse test set of files and environments. A survey tool was used to document the research and standardise the data collection. The tool has been made available here for others to reuse. 
It is also our intention to make avsilable those files in the test set that are unrestricted so that others can use them to verify these results, and for use in other digital preservation related research. 

 

Summary results from the research include:

 

  1. The choice of rendering environment (software) used to open or “render” an office file invariably has an impact on the information presented through that rendering. When files are rendered in environments that differ from the original then they will often present altered information to the user. In some cases the information presented can differ from the original in ways that may be considered significant.
  2. The emulated environments, with minimal testing or quality assurance, provided significantly better rendering functionality than the modern office suites. Across the different environments, 60-100% of the files rendered using the modern office suites displayed at least one change compared to 22-35% of the files rendered using the emulated hardware and original software.
  3. In general, the Microsoft Office 2007 suite functioned significantly better as a rendering tool for older office files than either the open source LibreOffice suite or Corel’s Word Perfect Office X5 suite.
  4. Given the effectiveness of modern office applications to open the office files, many files may not need to have content migrated from them at this stage as current applications can render much of the content effectively (and the content’s accessibility will not be improved by performing this migration as the same proportion of the content can currently be accessed).
  5. Users do not often include a lot of problematic attributes in their files but often include at least one. This in turn indicates a level of unpredictability and inconsistency in the occurrence of rendering issues which may make it difficult to test the results of migration actions on files like these.
The report is 73 pages long and for those who are more visually inclined, skipping to Appendix 2 is recommended as included there are visual examples of differences in the information displayed to users when files are rendered in different environments.

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