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Poll: What digital file format would you use?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 1, 2009 6:49 AM PDT
If you had only one choice of digital file format to preserve your important text documents for the future, what would you use?

.ascii (ASCII text file) (Why?)
.doc (Microsoft Word document) (Why?)
.docx (Microsoft Word Open XML document) (Why?)
.pdf (Portable Document Format file) (Why?)
.rtf (Rich Text Format file) (Why?)
.txt (Plain Text file) (Why?)
Never digital--I would use paper. (Why?)
Other (What is it and why?)

What about for digital photos?

.bmp (bitmap image file) (Why?)
.gif (Graphical Interchange Format file) (Why?)
.jpg or .jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group image file) (Why?)
.png (Portable Network Graphic) (Why?)
.pdf (Portable Document Format file) (Why?)
.raw (raw image data file) (Why?)
.tif of .tiff (Tagged Image File) (Why?)
Never digital--I would use photo paper. (Why?)
Other (What is it and why?)
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by mwooge / May 1, 2009 11:31 AM PDT

I'd want text saved as text or ascii. That way any errors that crept in would confine itself to a single character.

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by mwooge / May 1, 2009 11:33 AM PDT

For pictures, save as bitmaps. With compressed files, one corrupted bit and all the rest of the image is unrecoverable.

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Where's ODF?
by anime4christ / May 1, 2009 11:48 AM PDT

How come ODF (Open Document Format; used by and many other programs) isn't on the list? It is definately used by more applications than MSOXML.

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by Zouch / May 1, 2009 12:29 PM PDT

For text fies and other such documents, the standardized format would be XML. It is an international standard and is cross platform.

Images are harder. If you want to store them as images, I'd use TIF, a lossless compressed format. You could maybe convert to RAW format, which is pretty universal but has very big files. An alternative is to UUencode the images, which converts them to ASCII text. But remember to keep a copy of the corresponding UUdecode utility with them and keep updating it for current systems or set up a bootable UUdecode system on some kind of removable device (CD, USB Flash, etc.).

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Depends really.
by FrankQC / May 1, 2009 1:14 PM PDT

Windows: doc and txt
Linux: doc and txt

Windows: jpg
Linux: png

Why png in Linux and not Windows? For me png is the default format for pictures whereas Windows is jpeg (for me).

Doc and txt because both Linux and Windows can read 'em easily.

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The Safest Options
by 2dogday / May 1, 2009 1:32 PM PDT

Obviously, film photos last longer. I use both film and digital cameras and have found that by comparison, my film photos are sharper and look better than printed-out digitals. Digitals, however, look great on computer screens. I've been using high grade (thicker)CDs for transfering my digitals, and am confident that if MS goes broke and everyone uses some other type of OS; there will always be entrepreneurs (just as there are now selling vinyl record players)who will be selling transfer programs from the "old MS" to the latest hot-shot system twenty years from now.

Having said that, I also use another option. I've been turning off the flash settings on digital and/or film cameras and taking pictures of photos that are on my computer screen. If you are careful, and adjust the size of your onscreen photos to fit the camera's aperture, the result of the photo is a near perfect image. That way, instead of using a scanner and printing out digitals that only look so-so, you'll have great film photos of them that will last for ages.

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Pictures instead of scans.
by mwooge / May 1, 2009 1:56 PM PDT
In reply to: The Safest Options

I take pictures of the glass negatives I get, and of some of my magic lantern slides. I use a backlight and "milky white" (transluscent) plastic.

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Archival file formats
by GFW / May 1, 2009 3:41 PM PDT

I think the most important thing for future-proofing is to be as platform-independent as possible.
I know people thing that MicroSoft will be here forever, but anyone with old Word or PowerPoint files will discover that MS abandons old file formats over and over. Same with Apple - many of my MacDraw files can't be opened with anything I have.

While Apple will open all JPEG I have come across, I can't say the same for Windows. PowerPoint documents made with JPEGs on a Mac will often open in Windows with graphics missing. The most likely to work across multiple platforms are PDF files and PNG files. This can be* a nuisance, as PNG files don't work in many DVD players that are set up display JPEG photos, but at least they work in most programs on both Apple and Windows.

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by ESUNintel / May 1, 2009 4:18 PM PDT

I would say PDF, if you are worried about the long-run. PDF's are supported by PC's and Mac's, as well as by SmartPhones, Blackberries and iPhones; and not to mention portable readers, like the Sony eReader or Amazon's Kindle. It seems to be like the format that will be around the longest and Adobe does a good job at supporting their stuff.

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There's always Adobe for images
by ESUNintel / May 1, 2009 4:20 PM PDT

I would say jpg. I don't think the way one saves images is such a big deal, since you can easily convert them to other formats by using software like PhotoShop or Gimp. As long as Adobe exists, we shouldn't have a crisis.

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Go generic
by jcoons / May 1, 2009 9:21 PM PDT

A plain text file (.txt) can be read or imported into almost any application that deals with readable text. Plain text may even be retrieved off of corrupted media. Compact and portable, my vote is for plain text.

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Why no ODF?
by generic / May 2, 2009 12:52 AM PDT

I chose "Other" for text documents because I would have chosen OpenDocument. I don't know why you didn't mention ODF because future proofing is what the format was designed for! PDF would have been my second choice, as when I send a document to someone I will send them a PDF.

As for images I chose PNG. While JPEG is the most popular and good enough in terms of the quality to filesize ratio, it is still a lossy format while PNG is lossless. Storage capacity and data transfer speeds are becoming non-issues even today, let alone in 10 or 20 years time.

In either case, paper hard copies and photos can be damaged and will deteriorate over time, just look at your grandparent's photos. I'll be damned if when I'm old and grey kids will say "Your time looks so drab and boring" :).

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Text Documents
by Phil Somerset / May 2, 2009 1:47 AM PDT

Of the choices you have given, I would choose .rtf. It's a relatively stable, non-proprietary format that is readable by all current word processing packages. It's safe to assume that it would also be readable by future WP packages. It's considered a lingua franca and last resort for cross-platform exchanges of WP files.

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docx and png
by thljcl / May 2, 2009 1:58 AM PDT

The use of docx let me take advantage of various unique features. PNG is a kind of loseless format with quite a good compressibility.

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by andy419 / May 2, 2009 2:47 AM PDT

I would have all my important documents (with no images/graphs etc.) stored as .txt, since there is no encoding, and I would always be able to edit/view them in the future, even without a .txt viewer.

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Self Extracting ZIP file.
by johnhartshorn / May 2, 2009 4:03 AM PDT

No need to worry about finding the right program, since it's included in the data file. OS may be an issue down the road, but I doubt it.

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Yeah but...
by mwooge / May 2, 2009 9:12 AM PDT

> Self Extracting ZIP file

> No need to worry about finding the right program,
> since it's included in the data file.

Yeah, but what if a single bit goes bad? The file won't de-zip.

For that matter, the extracting-code is written for a specific CPU, and might well have system or OS calls that won't be valid in the future.

I've never tired this: will a MS self-extracting ZIP file unZIP on a non-Intel Mac?

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Best format for archiving data--ASCII
by shadowjack55 / May 2, 2009 4:42 AM PDT

ASCII is the most basic of all formats for text. It is not dependent on any software, OS, or computer to be read. They can all do it. In addition to being able to store alphanumeric characters, it has a limited number of symbols that it can store.

If you use any software's proprietary format: MS Office, PDF's, etc, you run the risk of the software becoming obsolete and leaving you in the cold.

Plain text is almost as good, but it lacks the symbol capability of ASCII. ASCII can be read by *any* reader that can look at characters on the storage media. Therefore, almost every program that deals with words or media viewers can read ASCII. If the file becomes corrupted virtually all of the data can be recovered.

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I would print out on paper -
by magigigi / May 2, 2009 9:15 AM PDT

Paper copies have a stronger chance of being found - and understood by people; when technology advances, who knows what can be retrieved from older programs, systems, etc.

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Adobe DNG - best compromise to proprietary camera RAW format
by BSt2009 / May 3, 2009 12:36 PM PDT

I did not see Adobe DNG as one of the standards for Digital image archiving. While it's primarily controlled by a single vendor (Adobe), it does a fine job of preserving 12-bit and 14-bit digital RAW files. The DNG format coupled with advanced photo processing applications such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop CS3 and CS4 are beginning to approach 1 single standard for Digital RAW (Camera RAW) files.

My digital workflow in Lightroom 2.3 is set to convert all RAW files to DNG and store on my working DROBO drive. Also, make a backup of the images to a remote Network Share (where I store long-term on SATA drives off-site).

Working this way, I have had no issues converting older RAW files from Canon and Nikon cameras as far back as 2000.

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by wbowblis / May 3, 2009 11:43 PM PDT

I'd avoid any compressed file formats since that requires decompression and a single bit error can render a lot unreadable. Despite any connections with Microsoft, I've never found a viewer that couldn't read BMP and I suspect that even partially corrupted files could be partially recovered. ASCII TXT is universal. Even an Apple II can read it. RTF is more iffy, but if you need to preserve formatting, I think it's apt to be available for a long time.
I've heard a few experts say the safest storage is a powered-down hard drive. I'd avoid very high capacity drives just because higher density is almost certain to mean lower reliability. This, of course, assumes that however it connects to the computer will still exist.

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by politix / May 13, 2009 5:25 AM PDT

I have my reasons for my preference in reading a pdf file. I have a hand tool with the pdf file that i can use to drag my text up and down the screen while I read. I have never found anything else but pdf that has this hand tool and I find it a far superior way of reading a document.

For this reason I hope pdf lives on.

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My choice
by ZoeButton55 / May 13, 2009 12:35 PM PDT

I would choose txt format to store my digital files and JPG to store digital photos. I feel them more safe than others.

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Go with the most predominant.
by ACRScout / May 29, 2009 3:02 PM PDT

For plain text, ASCII, it is universal and nearly error free. For graphics JPG, it is easily convertable to BMP for editing but BMP, while more simply editable and universal is a glutton for disk space.

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Text in ASCII and digital images in JPEG or HEX perfect 4 me
by NeelabhBisen / June 15, 2009 4:36 AM PDT

I would prefer to have all text and dco. files as ASCII and image files in JPG/JPEG or HEX format as they both retain the original content while economise the original file size.

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