Posted by: Government & Heritage Library | May 12, 2010

Digital Preservation Quick Tip: Whenever possible save your work in open file formats

Many of the most commonly used software products produce files that are in a proprietary file format. This means that the file requires the software program that created it (or a compatible version of that program) in order to be accessible because the specification for how to open the file is proprietary to that software’s vendor. This can present a major hurdle if you are trying to open that file 10 years down the road, when that software vendor may no longer exist, you may no longer own a compatible version of the software, or the software may no longer run on your current computer.

To avoid this problem you can save your files in open file formats. Open file formats have freely available file specifications. In 10 years, when you want to open that file, you won’t be dependent on a particular software vendor to to provide you with a current compatible viewer. Instead, you will probably be able to find numerous viewers that are compatible with the file format since the specification was made freely available to all developers.  Open file formats make it more likely that if you ever what to access these files in the future that you will have the ability to do so.

Some common open file formats are:

  • For text files – .rtf, .pdf, .docx, .odt, .ods, .odp
  • For image files – .tif, .jp2, .png, .odg
  • For audio files – .mp3, .wv, .flac
  • For video files – .mng, .mp4
  • For multimedia – .mkv, .ogg
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