Emulators are a crucial building block in digital preservation strategies. They are supposed to bridge the widening gap between past and current digital environments. Like every other software they need to be updated from time to time if the actual environment they are running in changes. But, independent of those updates, the internal structures created for the original environments (of hard- and software) to be preserved have to be kept constant and reliable over time.
Not many emulators are digital preservation ready in the sense that they are programmed with long-term availability in mind. Dioscuri is one of the exceptions but is far from complete and not useable for the newer X86 operating systems like BSD, Linux, Windows 95 and above. QEMU fills a major gap here, as it is Open Source, has a large user community, and provides an X86 machine from the ISA beginnings to the modern variants. It can run every relevant X86 operating system and offers interfaces to be embedded into preservation frameworks for automated work flows.
In Grenoble, France, the first QEMU User Forum takes place March 18th and the OPF will be represented by Klaus Rechert of Freiburg University, who will give a talk on QEMU in digital preservation. We hope to raise awareness of the DP requirements among the technological-oriented user base of the tool and start a discussion how the DP community could contribute to the development efforts. It would be great if organizations like the OPF could help to support the QEMU development and quality ensurance. A joint effort of a number of memory institutions could result in a relevant contribution without overstraining the resources of single partners.