As the UK government's official archive, the National Archives contains 900 years of the nation's history.
Traditionally, these records were produced and stored on paper and physical preservation was relatively straightforward.
But the exponential growth of digital information has created new preservation challenges in that applications supporting older file formats are no longer commercially available in some instances.
"The ephemeral nature of digital information, resulting from the rapid evolution of technology, is a major challenge facing government and our society today," said Natalie Ceeney, chief executive of the National Archives.
"Unless we take action, we face the certainty of losing years of critical knowledge. It is essential that the National Archives, together with the IT industry, address the challenge now.
"Our relationship with Microsoft supports our work in digital preservation and gives us many key tools to access the legacy of government for years to come."
Microsoft will provide the National Archives with access to previous versions of its Windows operating systems and Office applications powered by Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.
Virtual PC 2007 enables multiple operating systems to run at the same time on the same computer.
This allows the National Archives to configure any combination of Windows and Office from one PC, thereby allowing access to practically any document based on legacy Microsoft file formats.
The project will enable staff and visitors at the National Archives to view historical information based on legacy formats in the way the author intended.
In addition, the National Archives will be able to improve the accessibility of these documents by converting the information to new open file formats.
"Microsoft took the step to implement XML-based file formats that unlock data in documents, allowing them to be archived, restructured, aggregated and reused in new and dynamic ways," explained Gordon Frazer, UK managing director and vice president of Microsoft International.
The National Archives currently holds 580 terabytes of data.
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