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Tips for maintaining your media for eternity and beyond

Christopher Breen | Jan. 19, 2015
Reader Kirk Edgar has a question for the ages. He writes:

Reader Kirk Edgar has a question for the ages. He writes:

I'm in the process of cleaning out my iMac — removing data that's not current and apps that I don't use or won't work under Yosemite. Because I've done this before and been stuck with unreadable media, what's the best way of archiving digital material so that it can most likely be retrieved in the future if desired?

Given that my prophetic powers are no more honed than the average guy who writes on the Internet, I can't, with absolute certainty, tell you which formats will and won't survive. But I can offer some guidelines.

For archived files, stick with popular formats

You need spend only five minutes with a dedicated AppleWorks user to get a hint of how painful it can be to lose files because their format has been relegated to the dustheap. Much as you may prefer working with App X, if it's a not-terribly-popular app and it saves files in a proprietary format, you could be looking at trouble down the road. At the very least, when saving files and presented with the option to make an additional copy in a popular format, seize it. This may not result in a file as editable as you may like, but at least you have some kind of copy that you can work with at a later date.

I'm not suggesting that you delete any original files. They still work and may continue to. I'm simply saying that having a copy in a different (and popular) format can't hurt.

Keep an eye peeled

Again, sorry to twist the knife, but there were plenty of signs that ClarisWorks/AppleWorks file formats were going the way of the dodo long before they vanished entirely. Apple stopped updating AppleWorks, which should have hinted that it was time to move on. In those days you could still convert many (though not all) ClarisWorks and AppleWorks files to common file formats with relative ease, using tools such as DataViz's MacLinkPlus Deluxe.

Yet even with these hints, many AppleWorks users stubbornly continued to create files that were soon to be obsolete. By the time these folks accepted that their beloved application suite was well and truly dead, it became that much harder to convert their files, as the necessary tools became unavailable or incompatible with the modern Mac OS. Don't be that person.

Trust the government (and others)

When considering the best formats to use for your media and files, take a look at the formats adopted by large corporations and governments. For example, the vast majority of online forms are saved as PDF files. While Microsoft may change the way Word files are saved (and heaven knows we've seen changes in Apple's iWork formats), PDF looks like the solid bet for preserving formatted text. And plain text has been around forever and I can't image that it won't be for years to come. It's not formatted, but at least it's readable.


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