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Examples of Obsolete File Formats?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the w/-humans-it's-memory-w/-machines-it's-data-files dept.

Data Storage 159

reedk writes "I was having a discussion with my boss about long-term archives, and we got on the topic of older files becoming un-readable by newer versions of software. Not only are those old Ami pro files unreadable by today's common word processors, but I have heard that newer version of Office can't consistently open very old versions of Office documents. With the increasing retention periods being forced by current and coming regulations, this could become a problem of compliance in the future. We want to pursue this topic, but to build support for it internally, I am looking for examples of older file formats that are no longer readable by newer version of the same software or due to the market death of the product. If true, this would lend a lot of force behind moving to products that have an open file format. Can Slashdot readers come up with examples of this, or ways they have had to get around these kinds of problems?"

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Print to/create PDF? (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440300)

Easy as that. I guess PDF/PS is common enough too stay for long, and it's possible too make all prints become PDFs.

.. but not for all kinds of data (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440331)

Allthought not usable for all kinds of data I guess, but do you expect to find a format which can handle them all? I guess that atleast as long as you stay with free software you can find out HOW the format worked. With a proprietarian(spelling..) fileformat you might be screwed.

Re:Print to/create PDF? (1)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440670)

text, no formatting. Even my apple //e could save text files. the media is usually a bigger problem than the data document.

pdf is good but make certain you have an older reader, old os and old machine to run it on.

you could always encode it with alphabits as well. just glue to 8 1/2 by 11 paper and you're set.

Re:Print to/create PDF? (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440823)

I think the author of this story is looking for reasons to get his/her boos to store stuff in PDF format.

Re:Print to/create PDF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442866)

"too" is like "also." The word you're looking for is "to." Otherwise your sentence reads as:

Easy as that. I gues PDF/PS is common enough also stay for long, and it's possible also make all prints become PDFs.

Three Magic Words... (1)

BurritoJ (75275) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440311)

Pee....
Dee....
Eff....

Re:Three Magic Words... (1)

catfoo (576397) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440376)

thats silly, your silly, PDF is great, tons of things read it, yada yada yada

Re:Three Magic Words... (1)

walt-sjc (145127) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441416)

What about EDITING a PDF file? PDF is not designed for editing. So ya, you may be able to READ it, but not CHANGE it.

Plain text is the MOST standard, but doesn't really handle modern needs (embedded images, tables, etc.)

HTML may be a little better, because formatting isn't as important as content. Of course if your source is MS Word, the HTML generated is HORRIBLE.

I think the bottom line is that there really isn't a good format that easily handles complex documents. Theoretically, XML w/ SVG should work, but with certain companies that are based in the northwest US not following standards and using proprietary extensions, this option is limited too.

The northwest (0, Troll)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441690)

but with certain companies that are based in the northwest US not following standards and using proprietary extensions

Would that be Nintendo? Or would it be the maker of the other major game console whose name doesn't have a P in it?

Re:Three Magic Words... (1)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442021)

"So ya, you may be able to READ it, but not CHANGE it."

Given that the tax forms I download every year, I consider that a blessing.

It's also nice that it's easy to convert documents such as manuals over to PDF. This is quite handy when buying second hand stuff. Okay, you can't edit a PDF (though you CAN fill out a form in PDF and save the options you've filled in. Again, PDF is a blessing for tax forms.) but there's still plenty of reason for it to hang around for quite a while.

Re:Three Magic Words... (1)

Wolfrider (856) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442834)

Acrobat 7.0 Professional will allow you to edit PDF files. You can also create fillable form fields, checkboxes, etc. in existing PDFs.

http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatpro/tryout.ht ml [adobe.com]

Re:Three Magic Words... (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444254)

Have you ever tried doing this? It's horrible. No word wrap, for instance. It's meant to be used for minor corrections, not for writing whole pages. PDF is an output format, not an editing format.

Necessary. (3, Informative)

FireFlie (850716) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440318)

For this same reason I usually suggest to people that with very long term backups (assuming the backups actually survive) try to save your data in non propriatery forms. I am not trying to make a closed source vs open source argument, however if you want to save a large batch of word documents that you will not need to access in the near future try to convert them to plaintext where you can. Not fullproof, and not applicable for the majority of situations, but there are a few things that we can assume will not happen in the near future: 1) ascii will probably not die, so plaintext is often a good idea, 2) many of the more common image formats will probably be supported in one form or another (gif, jpg), you know stuff like that.

example (2, Informative)

Hes Nikke (237581) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440330)

AppleWorks had no idea what to do with AppleWorks documents - assuming you can get a mac to read an Apple ][ floppy in the first place...

For that matter, is there anything that can read VisiCalc files?

Flame ON!

Re:example (1)

secolactico (519805) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440539)

AppleWorks had no idea what to do with AppleWorks documents - assuming you can get a mac to read an Apple ][ floppy in the first place...

Perhaps it wasn't carefully saved after all...

Re:example (2, Informative)

brwski (622056) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440859)

Well, Apple ][ AppleWorks can, if I remember correctly --- and if you can get your hands on early versions of ClarisWorks, there is little problem importing Apple ][ AppleWorks files. Then there is the late, great word proc, AppleWriter. At least it used in-line codes to make things work. Made moving to LaTeX pretty easy.

Re:example (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444417)

> if you can get your hands on early versions of ClarisWorks

If you can get your hands on early versions of ClarisWorks, they won't run on any modern system. This is *exactly* the sort of difficulty the original question was talking about. Today, if you had ancient files and needed early versions of ClarisWorks to open them, you could probably solve the problem with a few hours of hunting around on eBay for an old 68k Mac, but with every passing year this will become more and more problematic.

Ancient AppleWorks file formats are not the best example, though, for a couple of reasons. First, AppleWorks was *the* application (not just *the* word processor, but *the* application, period) for the Apple // series, and second, the Apple // series had and has an unnaturally large hobbyist community, which makes it quite a lot easier to find accurate information, obtain old versions, and so forth.

There are much better examples of formats from about the same era that were, at the time, very popular, but today are virtually impossible to open. RapidFile springs immediately to mind. PC Write. Perhaps scarrier are the formats used by ancient backup software, such as PC Backup. Your documents could have been in a format we can still open, plain ASCII text even, and yet you could be unable to retrieve them *even* if the media are still good (which is another rather scary thing...), if the backup software's backup format is obscure.

I'm curious how easy it is to open really old Lotus 123 spreadsheets with today's spreadsheet software.

PDF (1)

xwizbt (513040) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440347)

I'd shove it in a PDF. Even if you can't manage it, utilities like FileJuicer can strip the main parts out of the document.

Open up the standards (2, Interesting)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440404)

Well, if it is an open format, nothing is stopping someone from writing something to read it and convert it to something "modern". If it is a closed format, and no longer in use, then the owner really should open it up. Would it be possible to setup an escrow of (closed) file formats - automatic open if the company goes defunct or individual dies.

Also, if you know what the end result data is supposed to look like, would it be possible to start "decompiling" it? Works with binary executables (sometimes)...

Re:Open up the standards (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13441406)

The question and responses like to blame Microsoft, but certainly early versions of Word had a well-documented, open file format. I had the SDK complete with sample code. Never-the-less, old Word files are here used as an example of data that can't be retrieved.

Even if the format is open, that's not really an assurance that you can really write a file converter to properly retrieve the data, especially for significantly complex file formats.

An open source project will fare no better after everyone moves on to the next trendy replacement and their home page on sourceforge disappears. The question really has nothing to do with open source or not; just complexity and the accuracy of documentation.

Simple (2, Insightful)

jZnat (793348) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440439)

Formats that are worth using for old (and sometimes new) documents:
* RTF (quite universal)
* PDF (somewhat universal, will always have the same formatting)
* Plaintext (never becomes unreadable unless the file's character set ceases to exist somehow)

I have a hearsay hypothesis (1)

Philip K Dickhead (906971) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440480)

It might be true, I haven't demonstrated the veracity of the claim myself. It does seem to resonate with a number of my prejudices - so I think it's safe to air this as a greivance to presumably sympathetic readers.

Some of you can probably supply anecdotal evidence, No? I'd like to make broad reccomendations in the future, and hope that some of you have little else to do.

Thanks!

Re:I have a hearsay hypothesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440764)

Should we therefore conclude that a solitary question is sufficient to elaborate upon the poignant paradigm we find ourselves traversing?

Do robot sheep dream of electric shepherds?

EBCDIC and dead voters (2, Interesting)

markjugg (21992) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440452)

I once worked on a research project for a newspaper to investigate voter fraud.

To start, they used open records requests to get the details of people who recently voted, and details of those who recently died.

The goal was to find people who continued to vote after they died, which may sound funny, but is still happening [citypaper.com] .

The data the government data gave us was on magnetic reels. The data on the reels was stored in a fixed-width EBCDIC format [dynamoo.com] . Talk about a dead format!

It turned out the local college still had a working magnetic reel reader, and was able to help me get the data out of EBCDIC into ASCII, but the project was cancelled anyway.

Re:EBCDIC and dead voters (2, Informative)

Ratbert42 (452340) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440662)

The data on the reels was stored in a fixed-width EBCDIC format. Talk about a dead format!

The physical media might be near death, but I work on modern C++ code that reads and writes fixed block EBCDIC files.

Re:EBCDIC and dead voters (1)

jesup (8690) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441187)

So, if you were to have old ASCII or EBCDIC 9-track tapes, where would one go to get them read? I have some dating to the late 80's I'd love to get the data off of. For amusement, mostly.

Re:EBCDIC and dead voters (2, Interesting)

saintp (595331) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441536)

Do what the GP did: ask your local university. We still have a nine-track drive around, although it hasn't been fired up in a few years. Lots of data from the state government, ACT test reports, etc., came on 9-track tapes until just five or six years ago, so lots of universities still have them around.

Re:EBCDIC and dead voters (1)

gradbert (80505) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441656)

so what part of the financial industry do you work in?

EBCDIC is alive and well moving money around. All the credit card companies use it for the real-time and the settlement side.

fixed width stuff is easy. I have code that does variable format record with binary data too in EBCDIC. and its written in tcl (-:

Re:EBCDIC and dead voters (1)

ibm1130 (123012) | more than 9 years ago | (#13445199)

Vote Fraud....
Hmmm....
So how IS life in Chicago.

Parenthetically it looks like the law may finally be catching up with the Daley's. Not before time either.

Wordstar 3.3 (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440468)

Only kidding. I do have Wordstar 3.3 files made under CP/M that will still open though...

Engineering + smaller programs. (1)

Goalie_Ca (584234) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440489)

Smaller programs especially that we use in engineering become obsolete on a daily basis it seems. A lot of electrical/computer engineering programs especially for devices or programming these devices. Often these companies get bought out or lost forever. Then there's all the cad and simulation software. I can't even think of it all but i've come across a lot of essentially unusable stuff as a result.

Note... (2, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440494)

If true, this would lend a lot of force behind moving to products that have an open file format.

Well, yes and no. Let's say Ami Pro file format were fully documented. (I have no idea whether it is or isn't.) At what point would it be worthwhile for your company to actually write a file converter? I can certainly imagine a situation where it might be a cost-effective thing to do, but it's not the kind of thing that anyplace I've ever worked does routinely.

And from a retention point of view, I don't know if you _want_ whatever scumbag lawyer is subpoenaeing documents from you to be able to demand that you write him a converter. I'd rather be able to say "Here are our VisiCalc files. Enjoy!"

Re:Note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440606)

We recently had to write a converter for the flat file databases used by our old 4GL inventory program. We created a parser and dumped the datasets into a modern RDBMS, the only difficulty was working out how the data was indexed.
0x4d, 0x69, 0x63, 0x72, 0x6f, 0x73, 0x6f, 0x66, 0x74, 0x20, 0x66, 0x75,
0x63, 0x6b, 0x69, 0x6e, 0x67, 0x20, 0x73, 0x75, 0x63, 0x6b, 0x21, 0x0a
It was remarkably easier than we had originally anticipated.

Re:Note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13441126)

Trolling idiot. You suck...

Re:Note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442673)

Yes, it took all those precious seconds to decode...
perl -e'print chr for 0x4d, 0x69, 0x63, 0x72, 0x6f, 0x73, 0x6f, 0x66, 0x74, 0x20, 0x66, 0x75, 0x63, 0x6b, 0x69, 0x6e, 0x67, 0x20, 0x73, 0x75, 0x63, 0x6b, 0x21, 0x0a'

You wouldn't. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441426)

You'd buy a converter from a company that specialized in converters:
http://www.w3.org/Tools/Word_proc_filters.html [w3.org]

Remember, YOU want to know what you're sending to the lawyer BEFORE he does. Being surprised in Court is not a good thing.

Re:Note... (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444478)

> And from a retention point of view, I don't know if you _want_ whatever
> scumbag lawyer is subpoenaeing documents from you to be able to demand
> that you write him a converter. I'd rather be able to say "Here are our
> VisiCalc files. Enjoy!"

No, no, you can do better than that...

"Okay, these tapes contain the information you requested. These other tapes contain the in-house software that reads and writes the format that the data is in on the tapes. Now, _these_ tapes contain the in-house software that reads and writes the tapes. It all runs on TOPS-10. Enjoy! Hmmm... TOPS-10? Oh, we no longer have that, our site license ran out. You'll have to ask DEC."

I can still use an old DOS program (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440527)

To read TI-99/4A written Display Variable 80 (aka DV80) files- in which all of my early experiments with machine language and my high school word processing papers are saved in. But- and this is a big but- I've got to find a 5.25", 360k drive to do it. So I've kept a few around- I doubt I could still find them new.

Whenever possible, I convert those to plain text- and store them on CDs.

LOADS AND LOADS OF MAN-JUICE (1)

Albert Pussyjuice (675113) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440766)

Yeah - great ideas and all but I've been secretly masturbating and ejaculating the offending substance onto your backup CDs. I guarantee there's going to be some data rot going on there.

I apologize for my behavior but I just can't help it. I HAVE TO JACK-OFF ONTO COMPACT DISCS!!! [Moving to Blu-Ray soon though, fuck DVD]

God Bless!

Re:I can still use an old DOS program (1)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443900)

thats fuinny cos your CD's will last less time than the TI/99

That's only part of the problem... (1)

WarPresident (754535) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440556)

What about the storage media [chin.gc.ca] itself? I believe that the latest technology used in long-term durable media, in an easy-to-read format (at least for the moment), is quite old [guardian.co.uk] .

DARPA requirements to solve this (3, Informative)

dbrossard (911407) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440589)

A Boss I used to have that worked on many DARPA sponsored projects used to have to archive ALL data related to those projects. In order to this, not only did we have to archive the data itself, we had to archive a PC with all the pertinent software necessary to view/compile/manipulate that data including workstations, servers, you name it. Of course the government standard may be over kill for many companies.....

Re:DARPA requirements to solve this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442248)

Wow, who maintains that PC? What if the hardware breaks or otherwise stops working? Even in those environmentally controlled underground archive places it might still go bad (think of the lithium battery used for the CMOS leaking out onto the motherboard or something). Maybe the answer is to archive two PC's?

Sheesh, seems like there are better ways to handle that. Documented and/or open file formats seem like the best way to go. Dunno about the hardware, maybe upgrade the format as old ones become outdated (ie. I have upgraded my old data from audio tape->floppy->CDROM->DVD->whatever is next).

simple (1)

bigalsenior (869954) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440626)

where possable use paper documents. there user readable and have a long life .

Re:simple (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440660)

Well big Al, you might want to spend more time working on spelling, grammer and computer history before making silly posts on /.

OTOH, since you're a senior, there's probably little hope. Go ahead and troll.

Re:simple (2, Funny)

DJCater (877532) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440713)

Yeah, spelling and grammer...

Re:simple (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440866)

Damn, damn, damn. Every frigg'n time.

Grammar.

I've had some wierd ones (4, Funny)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440644)

The wierdest I had to decypher essentially comprised of a bunch of hierarchical blocks using headers that constituted a description word and some properties, enclosed in less than and greater than signs.

It was, frankly, awful. Someone had clearly designed it as some kind of "One size fits all" type thing, except that as it was text based it didn't really work that well. Typically graphics, for example, had to be represented by a block that contained a filename: yep, graphics, sound, anything more complicated than a word or a number had to be put in a separate file. Neither my collegues nor I could understand why anyone would try to put so much effort into making it look hierarchical and extensible, and then not include support for data that isn't well represented as text. Hell, most of the files on our PCs can't easily be represented efficiently or usefully as text.

It was also remarkably inefficient. To give you some idea, when we converted it into plain text files in a more efficient form, the files were typically 60-70% smaller. I've always found gzip a good indicator of the efficiency of a file format - usually, plain text compresses to about 30% of the original size. In this case, it was frequently 10%.

Absolutely horrible format. I hope I never have to work with it again.

Yup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440674)

XML sukz0rz! I'll take the -1 flamebait as AC, so you don't have to.

Re:I've had some wierd ones (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440879)

Typically graphics, for example, had to be represented by a block that contained a filename: yep, graphics, sound, anything more complicated than a word or a number had to be put in a separate file. Neither my collegues nor I could understand why anyone would try to put so much effort into making it look hierarchical and extensible, and then not include support for data that isn't well represented as text.

In know you're just kidding, but there are at least two ways of including images in HTML/XHTML - with data: URIs and with inline SVG (XHTML only). Of course, neither work in Internet Explorer, but that's not the W3C's fault.

Re:I've had some wierd ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440970)

Or more to the point, in XML you could define your own schema/doctype that would let you inline encoded blobs similar to how data URI's work. SVG is XML, so I don't understand where you're going there unless the spec allows embeded raster images?

RFC 2397 (2, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441736)

I don't understand where you're going there unless the spec allows embeded raster images?

It's straightforward to make an <img /> or <object /> element that contains raster image data. Look up the data: URL scheme [faqs.org] .

Re:RFC 2397 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13444105)

That's exactly what the post you were replying to was saying, are <img /> and <object /> tags part of the SVG spec? How about learning to read?

Re:RFC 2397 (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13445180)

Several comments up someone mentioned XHTML, so what I said related to XHTML. But yes, SVG does support using images as textures, if the mentions of JPEG and PNG in the SVG spec [w3.org] are to be believed.

Re:I've had some wierd ones (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441743)

Typically graphics, for example, had to be represented by a block that contained a filename: yep, graphics, sound, anything more complicated than a word or a number had to be put in a separate file.


Clever post, and I hate to bust a fan's chops, but look into base64 and uuencode.

This will get you started. [google.com]

-Peter

Re:I've had some wierd ones (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442123)

You're surely not suggesting that it's sane or rational to store data best treated as binary in base64 or uuencoded form? I ask because, yes, you can encapsulate binary data in this way (as I ended the paragraph you quoted from "Hell, most of the files on our PCs can't easily be represented efficiently or usefully as text."), but nobody in their right mind would do so unless actively forced to do so by other circumstances (eg "It must be in one file")

It's horrendously inefficient. Saying "Yeah, you can include binary data, just uuencode it" isn't much different from saying "What do you mean, plain old analog phones aren't designed for data? I can convert data into tones and transmit it at 300 baud!"

Like modems, it's a hack. Let's not pretend this isn't a problem with XML.

just uuencode it... (1)

da5idnetlimit.com (410908) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442262)

yeah, true, you shouldn't uuencode it...

Best way to make this is to open the JPEG with a text editor and directly use the text data as is

For, after all, a jpeg is just text file with a specific meaning to a specific parser, and the data is already compressed, so...

Re:just uuencode it... (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 9 years ago | (#13445088)

Please, dear god, tell me you're kidding and don't actually think this is a good idea/will work.

Re:I've had some wierd ones (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442070)

Oh yeah, I've worked with that one. It sucked.

I got a file from a web server. The headers of the web server said the text was "ISO-8859-1". However, the first line of this text said "UTF-8". Ok. Then I look through and there's a Windows curly quote in some text. Which is in neither ISO-8859-1 nor UTF-8.

Just to make things exciting, there actually were UTF-8 characters elsewhere in the file.

Oh, and if you use this format on Apple Macs, sometimes you'll find system files using UCS-2, which is for all intents and purposes a binary format (try looking at it with "less").

Gotta love it. Where "love it" means "hate it".

how about codecs? (2, Interesting)

artifex2004 (766107) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440680)

While the file format itself may be a standard wrapper, there's many codecs out there that are obsolete and that only ever had proprietary drivers written for early MS Windows versions, for example.

Re:how about codecs? - BINGO (1)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442131)

I was just thinking of that very thing, and was going to make a comment anyway.

Consider the old Motion Pixels MovieCD codec. By today's standards the codec isn't much, and yes, if you happen to own any of the old MovieCDs you would be better served just buying the DVD of the movie.

However, precisely because the MovieCD format was killed deader than hell by the DVD, Motion Pixels went out of business, and the codec source, if it even still exists, is probably in some bankruptcy liquidator's sock drawer - I doubt that short of hiring a private investigator that you could even FIND the person with the source - and even if you did, you would be unlikely to be able to get the code released so that anybody could do anything with it.

Some thoughts about it (2, Interesting)

Alpha27 (211269) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440722)

It first depends on what you want to achieve with them, do you want them to be read only, or do you wish to edit them as well in the future? They may not be too much of an issue but something to think about.

For images, I would look at the past to see what file formats were around before the internet was mainstream, circa 1995. I remember Paintbrush PCX as a file format, but haven't since a file in that format since then. TGAs and TIFFs were around and still are today, that might be one possibility. You also have SVG formats, and that being an XML file format, allows you to convert it to another format in the future.

As for text documents, one definite possibility is XML. You can convert to many other formats from XML (HTML, PDF, RTF, etc.) Another possibility is RTF and plain text, though you might lose some of the more advance features. You might even have to extend the XML to deal with anything special in your files. Latex or Tex might be another solution since it's still around, though I have no experience with it, beyond being awware of them.

I would also recommend keeping a copy of the original software you used at the time, in case you need to get access to the files with a program that actually created. This way, you still have some sort of access. If that means you need to keep a copy of the original O/S as well, so be it.

I happen to have a computer museum at my disposal (5, Interesting)

gdav (2540) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440735)

But even so, the other day I got a shock, seeing how quickly the door closes.

A professor at the university where I work turned up with his original doctoral thesis from 1989 on disk. 3" disk, to be exact - the format that famously lost out to the ubiquitous 3.5" disk. He had written it on the Amstrad PCW 8256, a weird British CP/M machine from the mid 80s. No matter, I have several of these rotting in my loft!

But they don't boot. At this point you brace yourself for the long haul. The drive belts used to perish on those models, but look! There are loads of drive belts in the Maplin Electronics catalogue. You just need to order the right size.

No problem! You carefully dismantle the drive and dig out the belt. You broke it? No problem! Just makes it easier to measure. You can only measure the circumference, whereas Maplin only quotes the diameter? No problem! You are about to use Pi for the first and last time in your entire life! Order one that's slightly too big, and one that's slightly too small, just to feel safe.

When the belt arrives, you fit it. You carefully re-assemble the drive. You insert that CP/M boot disk that you carefully prepared in 1987, the one with the custom PROFILE.SUB that copies important utilities to RAMDISK. You power up and it boots! You feel young again.

Now your try your Locoscript boot disk - remember, Locoscript did not run under CP/M - it was an entire little operating system unto itself. It works, and when you swap disks (f7) you can read the Prof's work! It's yesterday once more! Shoo-bee-doo-lang-lang!

At this point I got lucky - I had the LOCOLINK package including the special Amstrad Bus PC parallel port link cable, so I was able to go Locosript PCW -> Locoscript PC -> Wordstar 3.3 -> Wordperfect 5.1 -> Winword. Those nice chaps at Ansible could have shortened that trip by a step or two.

In the absence of the proprietary LOCOLINK cable I could also have gone Locoscript 1 PCW -> Locoscript 2 PCW -> ASCII on PCW -> ASCII on PC via Kermit -> Winword. But I'd have lost all his bolds and underlines.

Now I got a fine bottle of Metaxa Greek Brandy out of this exchange, so I'm not exactly complaining. But I was shocked to realise that his files were younger than my eldest child, and she's got two years of school ahead of her.

In the absence of any credible international initiative to create a reliable permanent archive format, I'd say print it to acid-free paper, multiple copies in separate places, and hope for the best, like Cassiodorus.

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441790)

In the absence of any credible international initiative to create a reliable permanent archive format

I'd guess that CD-R is here to stay, given that it shows 0 signs of becoming unsupported on newly manufactured HW. Every new DVD-ROM drive reads it, and likely so do BD-ROM and HD-DVD-ROM drives. If you don't trust off-site CD-R, then as you said, off-site paper backups using an OCR-friendly font are a safe way to go.

That is, unless you're thinking about timescales in which English is likely to become a dead language. But by then, Christ will likely have come back, and the God of Wisdom will have won the fight against the Entropy Devil.

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (2, Insightful)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442598)


I'd guess that CD-R is here to stay, given that it shows 0 signs of becoming unsupported on newly manufactured HW.

20 years ago, you could have said the same thing about a 3.5" floppy. When the iMac first came out in, what, 98, it was widely denigrated for not having a floppy. It's now getting increasingly harder to get floppy drives on PCs, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were special-order in another 5 years. In 10 years, your .sig file will be larger than the contents of a 1.4 MB floppy, so why would anyone include them on new hardware?

I think the only thing to do about data like this is to keep in on a fileserver, and then move the data as the server gets older. As long as it talks tcp/ip, you'll probably be able to get it off--that's one standard that's not going away for a long time, and will be backwards compatible when it does.

CD to disappear? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444811)

20 years ago, you could have said the same thing about a 3.5" floppy.

Difference is that nowadays the typical computer buyer is also the owner of dozens of not hundreds of musical phonorecords in CDDA format. The same couldn't generally be said about a floppy full of MIDI files in the floppy era. Until Sony brings out the SACD Walkman, CDDA is here to stay, and people are going to expect to be able to listen, rip, mix, and burn even on a new computer.

In 10 years, your .sig file will be larger than the contents of a 1.4 MB floppy

From dial-up to broadband, Slashdot's signature still didn't increase beyond 120 characters.

As long as [your file server] talks tcp/ip, you'll probably be able to get [your data] off--that's one standard that's not going away for a long time

Are you sure that 100BASE-TX, or PCI to add network cards that support a new layer 1, will still be supported?

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (1)

GoRK (10018) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442812)

Actually, the first pioneer BluRay drive to hit the market BDR-1000 has absolutely no support for CD-R or even reading CD's, though it reads and writes every DVD recordable format. While this probably will not be the norm for BluRay or HD-DVD drives, it's certainly not out of the question to imagine a day when your computer can't read a CD-ROM.

Early adopter BD-ROM like DVD-ROM (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444837)

Actually, the first pioneer BluRay drive to hit the market BDR-1000 has absolutely no support for CD-R or even reading CD's

The first few DVD-ROM drives' CD support was spotty as well. But as people demand combination BD/DVD/CD drives, those will become standard equipment.

Re:Early adopter BD-ROM like DVD-ROM (1)

GoRK (10018) | more than 9 years ago | (#13445307)

Yes, I remember having DVD drives that couldn't read CD's at all or drives that only read real 'pressed' CD's and not recordable. As I said, this drive will probably be the exception instead of the norm, and since it's marketed to professional dvd authoring companies etc and not at consumers anyway, it won't really matter. I would imagine they just built the drive using their existing dual laser components and the CD-tuned lasers got the shaft to get the product out to market. Consumer drives will probably employ the same method but use a single laser for both DVD's and CD's, the same as most non high-end DVD recorders do now.

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (1)

vbrtrmn (62760) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443151)

The only problem with CD/DVD media is rot.
http://www.mv.com/ipusers/richbreton/m/files/cd_ro t.htm [mv.com]

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444900)

Does rot occur even in archival quality media stored vertically, at the proper temperature, in low humidity?

Re:I happen to have a computer museum at my dispos (1)

FLEB (312391) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442230)

I'd say print it to acid-free paper, multiple copies in separate places, and hope for the best, like Cassiodorus.

How about that, with alternating lines of text and CODE128 (or similar) barcode to make it more easily machine-readable.

Well duh... (3, Funny)

DJCater (877532) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440752)

XML! Open-source! Standards-compliant! Rag-doll physics! (Oh wait, wrong buzzword-bank...)

Obsolete files from Kazaa (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13440803)

I keep double clicking on these ".mpg.avi.jpg.Donkey Bukkake Porn.wmv.exe" files and nothing happens!

Maybe I should start using Windows?

Can you say, "Upward Compatibility"? (1)

TFGeditor (737839) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440825)

Back in the day, mainstream software providers included "upward compatibility" in all new software releases. In other words, any data or files created by the software from PP1 release would be readable by whatever the current version happened to be, including any in between.

Modern code developers seemingly have no concept of upward compatibility. More's the pity.

Re:Can you say, "Upward Compatibility"? (1)

fluxmov (519552) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441324)

Isn't that "downward compatibility" as opposed to upward/foreward compatibility meaning that the older software can read the newer version's files?

Re:Can you say, "Upward Compatibility"? (1)

TFGeditor (737839) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441713)

Well, it would seem that way, but the term "upward compatibility" was the standard, presumably meaning "upward compatible from old to new."

Sorta like "upload" and "download." It would seem logical to "download" from one's own machine to the taget machine, and vice-versa, but that ain't how the nomenclature works.

reStructured Plaintext (4, Interesting)

FFFish (7567) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440875)

I contract out as a technical writer. For my primary client, I strongly encouraged and then delivered a plaintext solution that uses plaintext files stored repositoried in CVS, using the reStructured Text markup conventions processed through Docutils; and an XSL:FO template that is used by XEP to render the DocutilsXML to PDF. An autobuild system updates our documentation on a nightly basis.

This system has worked superlatively. In addition to creating a documentation solution that will forevermore be accessible without special software, our authors can focus entirely on content without concern for layout and visual appearance, our customers get a reasonably open file format (PDF) that looks as good on-screen as it does in print. It's win-win all around, by my reckoning.

Hardware issues too (1)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440894)


I used to work at a major corporation (you very likely own something made by them) who had a requirement to keep archives of their older engineering documents. The fire-safe was loaded with various tapes ranging back to many dozens of old open-reel tapes.

Of course, they hadn't had the (monstrous) tape drives to actually read these tapes for many years. I have no idea what they thought they were keeping them for.

What about the backup media formats? (2, Informative)

Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440923)

Before you can worry about reading individual files, you'll need to get them off the backup media.

Assuming that you've got some hardware that can physically read whatever it is, what about the backup software?

For example:
http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=305381 [microsoft.com] , complete with quote "this behavior is by design".

Realplayer (sort of) (2, Interesting)

Curmudgeonlyoldbloke (850482) | more than 9 years ago | (#13440942)

No, don't laugh.

Realplayer 10 doesn't support Realplayer 2 "out of the box". It will happily connect to Real to download said codec if you want - although obviously this assumes that Real will always be with us.

Easy, MS Word when used for math (3, Informative)

marat (180984) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441123)

Any MS Word ships with only one version of Equation Editor; it was 1.0 in Word 2, 2.0 in Word 6, and probably 3.0 or higher now. It means you cannot edit your old equations after switching to a newer version. Therefore most of those who tried to use Word for writing scientific papers left Word after version 6 came out, now only biologists and like still use it because they don't need no bloody math.

LaTeX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442173)

That is one of the reasons why serious papers including any maths use LaTeX.

Amiga IFF (1)

jesup (8690) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441130)

I wonder how many "mainstream" programs still read Amiga IFF files (for common types like Deluxe Paint/ILBM, WP files, etc) ... Sort of a more-efficient (binary) predecessor to XML; highly extensible with some basic functionalities you could extend (FORM, BODY, etc)

I know Gimp supports it via a plugin. Here's a Newtek/Lightwave link:
http://www.newtek.com/products/lightwave/developer /LW80/8lwsdk/docs/filefmts/ilbm.html [newtek.com]

There's "open" and then there's *open*! (4, Interesting)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#13441450)

When people say "open format", they usually refer to documenting the details of the format. (Or, as with XML, using a format that's self-documenting.) Now, that does save a lot of work, but it doesn't address a much harder problem. Namely: OK, you've got the data, now how do you use it?

Classic example: sharing MS Word files with other word processors. The problem isn't getting at the data in .DOC format (not an easy problem, but one that was solved years ago). The problem is rendering Word formatting using the conventions of other word processors. As anybody who's tried to import complex Word documents into Open Office will testify, that's a problem that's a long way from being solved -- if it ever is.

I've been working on a project for an organization that has a bunch of certificates created in Adobe Illustrator 6. The files are saved in EPS format, which belongs to Adobe, but is very well documented. So accessing the files should be a snap, right? Wrong. I have Adobe Illustrator 11 (better known as Illustrator CS), which uses completely different conventions for creating an EPS file. It can read the old files OK -- but it horribly mungs the formatting. Somebody's going to have to sit down and undo all that munging, which will be a day or two of work. Then we can make the simple change (inserting a new signature), that's the only change we want to make!

So true openness has more to it than knowing what all the bits and bytes do. It's making sure that all the different design teams for different products that use the format (or the same product at different times!) are on the same page when it comes to the fine details.

Re:There's "open" and then there's *open*! (1)

jayrtfm (148260) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443063)

that might be a font issue. even if you had a machine running AI6 it may still be munged.

Re:There's "open" and then there's *open*! (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443321)

No, there's no font issue. The EPS file displays fine in Ghostscript and other Postscript renderers. The problem is that Adobe changed the way AI breaks EPS files into discrete user-manipulable entities.

Re:There's "open" and then there's *open*! (1)

webagogue (806350) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443761)

How good is RTF? How long should I expect to be able to read my RTF files? For the past 15 years of my computing career I have yet to run across a word processor that would not open RTF files. RTF many not be as ubiquitous and long-standing as ASCII text, but it is a lot nicer to work with.

Print using an OCR font, save in Rich Text Format. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13441801)

1)Two copies of archival quality hardcopy stored off site printed using an OCR font.
2)Two copies of archival quality media stored off site saved as RTF as well as the working format.
3) Regular on site archives.
4) Regular on site backups.

At least one off site facility should be a secure storage facility. The other should be accessible 24/7/365, therefore it should be on company property. Each site has paper and media. Archive quarterly.

However, mostly it sounds like you need to hire a real Technical Writer and some competent IT people. This is 101 stuff.

Retention requirements (1)

booch (4157) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442122)

I would guess that most of the retention laws only require that you retain the files, not that you be able to load them into any particular program to make the files useful. So by just retaining the files, you're most likely already complying with the letter of the law.

If someone asks for access to those files, it's their problem/responsibility to make use of them. Of course, if it's something that someone within your company needs, then it would be nice of you to help them access the files in a useful manner.

BTW, translating the files into a different format than that in which they were originally used probably violates the letter of the retention laws.

101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442154)

You have two different problems here:
1/ physical media: Has it has already pointed out, would you be able to read some magnetic reels, or a 8" floppy disks?
2/ Data format: Binary==Bad; Text==Better. Closed Format==Bad; Open Standard==Better. Closed Source==Bad; Open Source==Better.

But you are lucky. Believe it or not, you are not the first guy affronting these kinds of problems. Solution being:

1/ The lowest technology, the better. You still can go to Altamira or Lascaux and "read" what was painted there about 10/15.000 years ago. Rocks are quite tough too: you still can read Roman inscriptions. Pure vegetal paper (ie: no-chlorinated) on proper atmosphere is quite good too: egyptian papyres are still readeable after almost 4000 years. So: if it is possible (it depends on amount and kind of data) good old paper is the way to go; multiple copies, different places, proper environment conditions. Anything not directly readeable will need to be sure you store the "reading machine" with it *AND* unless we are talking about easy mechanical devices (ie: punch cards), which engineering blueprints should be added to the lot, in case you must build your own drive on an unkown future, you should deploy a strategy to test them from time to time. This way you will promptly discover a failing device and/or and overlooked issue (like your "engine" works at 110V where currently you are using 220V and you forgot about storing a transformer). If at all possible, these planned tests should allow you to move forward the physical support (maybe you can have problems now to read a 3" Amstrad diskette when moving it to 3.5" ten years ago and to a CD now would be trivial).
2/ About electronic formats, go with the Army, man! SGML is still the way to go: easily readeable/parseable, self-documented, and always customizable to your exact needs. Of course don't forget to include your DTD within your media!

seagate jet data gone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#13442904)

1997 or so, seagate sent me a free "jet drive" competition to iomega jazz i guess. 1.3 GB (a lot, at the time) external drive w/ removable cartridges @$40 apiece if i recall correctly.

i loved the way it worked, i needed extra storage, and i put tons of stuff on a couple of the disks.

now i cant get drivers to get it working and all that old data seems to be lost forever.

QPW (2, Informative)

dtfinch (661405) | more than 9 years ago | (#13442963)

Some might argue that Quattro Pro is still alive (they're still releasing new versions), but its default spreadsheet format is entirely unsupported by the rest of the world. Every time someone cracks their file format, they make a new one. WB1, WB2, WB3, and now QPW. QPW is already 8 years old and still few have figured it out well enough to even extract data from it. If Corel Office dies, many old spreadsheets will slip into oblivion unless converted manually (open, save as, close, and repeat for each of your 500+ spreadsheets).

Re:QPW is not closed (2, Informative)

TeXMaster (593524) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443709)

Corel is not really in the "don't have a look at our file format" field, at all.

With the SDK, which you can download for free, you get full reference of the file formats of WP, Presentation and QuattroPro.

The problem is rather that nobody is interested in creating the conversion filters. For WordPerfect, there is now libwpd, which was built with the aforementioned reference. For QuattroPro, there isn't enough interest.

A secondary problem is that Corel Office programs have, for most of their programs, more powerful/flexible/numerous features than their competition, which can make conversion clumsy.

Retention periods? (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443419)

Well, retention periods aren't a major headache. Just produce given file on request and opening it should be a worry of whoever ordered it. Not changing the file format guarantees no original information is lost along the way.
But if you -need- these files internally, just keep one-two boxen with all the legacy software you'd ever need.

Vivo video files. (2, Informative)

Chonine (840828) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443442)

Back in ~97 a freind and I compressed all of our stupid home movies from web cams into vivo format. It was designed for streaming, but made very small files that we would xfer over modem to eachother.

Now, playing viv files on windows is a pain, you have to install the archaic vivo player, which was designed for windows 95 or so. Also after years of searching, noone makes an app to convert them to mpg, sans some commercial screen capturing programs that I wouldn't touch. MPlayer plays the files, and Im pretty sure its a simple command to output it into an MPG.

Ever since I've been penguiny, I've wanted to do that - before the MPlayer team decides to depricate vivo support from the latest versions.

On Office not being able to open its own files... (1)

tod_miller (792541) | more than 9 years ago | (#13443775)

"Hey boss, here is the new version"

"Hang on, didn't I tell you to remove that 4kb file reader for the last-last version?"

"Why boss? I mean then people using the old version will suddenly find it has become obsole...t...e...aaaaaaaah I see!!!"

"Good boy! Welcome to Microsoft"

Use open office, for some reason that don't care if you open old office formats, maybe because they are not trying to ass rape you.

rtf, text, etc (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444686)

For long-term storage, I'd advocate rich text format, or straight-up text, maybe even HTML. Text is openable by anything, and hasn't changed since it was designed.

strings, continously and maybe be creative (1)

v1z (126905) | more than 9 years ago | (#13444887)

The company I work for maintains among other things census data, the oldest of which is stored on punchcards. We have the cards, and a reader, but due to being stored in a too moist atmosphere, it's doubtful that the cards (a stack of about a 1000 cards or so) could be read by a punchcard reader.

Luckily, the data has long since been converted to something a little more modern, and stored in am SQL server, but I've always thought that if we needed that data, the most efficient way to get it, would be to use a scanner, with sheet-feeder, scan the cards, as images, and then write a script to process the images to numbers, and then convert that to something useful.

However, the bottom line is, convert data as you go. For some "trivial" data, eg letters and such, pdf/ps might be a good format. But for anything approaching an application, eg spreadsheets, documents with macros, your only bet would be to continiously convert and update the data, as you move from one platform to the next.

As for old text/wordprocessor documents, I've always had good success in getting the essential data with a simple "strings file > plain.txt". But it's not the same as having the actual formated file, ofcourse.

Going with openoffice might help -- not only is the format open, but the code is free, which allows you to archive the implementation as well as the data. I think you'll be able to run code for x86 linux for a long time, even if you might have to emulate the cpu in say 20 years time. It might be possible to do the same for windowscode, ofcourse.

On a personal note, I have some cad drawings made on the Amiga a few years ago, in a format I can't import anywhere; luckily I've exprorted most of that data as postscript so I can at least view it. But it's not good for editing.

Other posters have mentionend RTF as an alternative rich text format, and I think it could be a good choice. Spreadsheets, might be a tougher nut to crack. Although I expect MS Excel should be supported both by MS and varios competitors (open and closed source) for a long while still.

Microsoft Works 3.0 (1)

quamaretto (666270) | more than 9 years ago | (#13445120)

We have a backlog of Microsoft Works documents that could be traced back as much as 10 years. Unfortunately, these documents cannot be read by any version of Microsoft Office, or any later version of Microsoft Works, that I have tried. so to this day we borrow someone's copy of Microsoft Works 3.0 (ours is lost) every time we set up a new PC.

And, sadly, it wasn't until just recently, maybe the past year or two, that my dad was persuaded to stop making all of his new documents and databases in MS Works 3.0. (As an added bonus, I have gotten him to stop putting his documents in random locations around the hard drive, and start putting them in a folder on the desktop. He still refuses to use "My Documents" for any such purpose.)

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