Tools of the trade

April 27, 2006 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Not so long ago, Oxford University Press made a very wise decision, and moved the Dictionary of National Biography online. Now, you pay a subscription and do your lookups online. You can check the DNB from anywhere in the world and you can use whatever computer system you like, as long as it connects to the internet and has some form of web browser. Some years back, you used to get a CD-ROM disc for the DNB that would include each year's updates. The software was old and written for Windows 98, and as operating systems moved forward bugs started appearing that meant that the software's days were numbered. Further to this, uptake of non-Microsoft operating systems is on the increase, and OUP was losing out on a whole market. Moving their data to the Internet was possibly the most sensible idea and the result has been obviously very successful.

Every year, we update our other tools of the trade. Applications like ABPC, ESTC and Gordon's still arrive at our shop on CD-ROM, and more often than not although the data is changing the applications themselves remain woefully in the past. Certainly, a number of them have issues on Windows XP computers and the software itself looks as antiquarian as the books and prints that they document. So, I decided to have a scout around online to see whether any of these had taken similar steps into the future.

Certainly, Gordon's Print Prices are now available through an online subscriber section and the ESTC is apparently also available online through a subscription service. The BLMC has discontinued the publication of a CDROM version altogether and we can now rely on COPAC or on the British Library Integrated Catalogue. And so we come to ABPC.

ABPC looks much like it was developed at the end of the nineteen-eighties when Windows 3.1 was still wonderful. ABPC frequently struggles to run or install under Windows XP/2000.  And ABPC still costs a fortune to update. I'm left wondering why this company hasn't caught up with the times. If it has problems with an online business model, the least they could do is rewrite their application to take better advantage of features in new operating systems. Certainly, for a free subscription to the service, I would happily take their data and develop a subscription based site for them. Let's hope they catch up with the rest of the world soon.

Meanwhile, this little review has helped highlight that we've been using older technology because we haven't followed these data-goldmines online. Its time to take full advantage and sign up for a few subscriptions. It will certainly be handy for the staff when they're at fairs or at home and working on a new catalogue. 

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