According to the UK National Archive the computing world is perched on a “ticking time bomb” because modern PCs are unable to open old file formats. Concerned at the prospect of losing over 530 Terabytes of data stored in bygone document formats, the Archive has just announced a deal with Microsoft which will allow the het-up historians to open old files. The Redmond giant’s UK head, Gordon Frazer warned that we’re now facing a “digital dark age.”
Unless more work is done to ensure legacy file formats can be read and edited in the future, we face a digital dark hole. 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.
To us, it sounds a little rich coming from a company that has made a living from locking users into a particular format. Don’t forget, Microsoft is bringing out its own new OpenXML office format while the rest of the industry gears up to embrace the supposedly all-emcompassing Open Document Format.
Whatever your views on Microsoft’s file standards policy, you can take your own measures to avoid getting sucked into this digital black hole. One particularly useful tool is the Microsoft Office File Converter Pack, which offers file converters and image filters for MS Office programs ranging from Office 97 to Office 2003.