Can your office run Windows 3.1 or open documents written in Word 5? The fact that most people can't is of grave concern to the UK National Archives, the BBC reports.
Archives chief Natalie Ceeney said society faced the possibility of "losing years of critical knowledge" because modern PCs could not always open old file formats. Thus the Archives welcomed a Microsoft initiative to allow PCs to read old documents in their native formats.
At a launch event, Microsoft's UK head Gordon Frazer spoke of a looming "digital dark age."
He added: "Unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole."
The National Archives has more than 580 terabytes of data in file formats no longer commercially available.
Ms Ceeney said: "If you put paper on shelves, it's pretty certain it is going to be there in a hundred years. If you stored something on a floppy disc just three or four years ago, you'd have a hard time finding a modern computer capable of opening it. Digital information is in fact inherently far more ephemeral than paper," warned Ms Ceeney.
She added: "The pace of software and hardware developments means we are living in the world of a ticking time bomb when it comes to digital preservation. We cannot afford to let digital assets being created today disappear. We need to make information created in the digital age to be as resilient as paper."
Admitting the culprit was software companies who sought a competitive advantage through proprietary formats, Frazer said Microsoft has had a change of heart. shifted its position on file formats.
"Historically within the IT industry, the prevailing trend was for proprietary file formats. We have worked very hard to embrace open standards, specifically in the area of file formats."
While Frazer ballyhooed Microsoft's Open XML as proof of this new commitment, advocates of the truly standards-based Open Document Format questioned Microsoft's motives in creating its own standards-based format and then offering a translation tool.
Ben Laurie, director of the Open Rights Group, said: "This is a well-known, standard Microsoft move. Microsoft likes lock-ins. Typically what happens is that you end up with two or three standards."
In any case, the Archives praised Microsoft's work on the problem.
Adam Farquhar, head of e-architecture at the British Library, praised Microsoft for its adoption of more open standards. He said: "Microsoft has taken tremendous strides forward in addressing this problem. There has been a sea change in attitude."
He warned that the issue of digital preservation did not just effect National Archives and libraries. "It's everybody - from small businesses to university research groups and authors and scientists. It's a huge challenge for anyone who keeps digital information for more than 15 years because you are talking about five different technology generations."