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File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2020 11:48 am
by Simon Knight
Hi,

I hope members don't mind me starting a discussion but I am interested in how other people are dealing with the longevity of their documents. I have been using word processors and other document creating software since the 1980s starting with Computer Concept's WordWise application on the BBC Micro and many others that have fallen by the wayside such as Techwriter (Acorn RiscOS), Wordperfect5 and so on. Virtually all the documents I produced in the past have been lost as the software is no available to open the binary files, plus many of the files were stored on media that is now obsolete.

So I wonder how to save my master pieces so that they may be read and possibly edited many years in the future : pdf, rtf, MSWord XML, other?

best wishes

Simon

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2020 3:37 pm
by Amontillado
Here's my take - rtf, docx, epub, pdf and any format that is documented and used by multiple vendors is reasonably safe.

On the other hand, you can hand-translate ASCII by examining individual bytes and converting. If I had to guess, I'd say that ASCII will endure through the end of mankind. Even if it's eventually forgotten, if we can decode hieroglyphics then any amateur cryptographer should be able to recreate an ASCII table from a modest sample of text.

Mellel's document format isn't open but it's not beyond reach, either. Finished work should probably be exported to plain text. You can also unzip a Mellel document and get to its internals. Like docx, xlsx, odt, and probably a lot of formats, a .mellel file is actually a zip file.

The few I've looked at put the document in a file in the zip called main.xml. It's got the document styles (I guess) and other stuff in the file, and the content of the document is in plain ASCII.

I would not want to manually convert Mellel XML into conveniently formatted ASCII, but I bet I could. That gives me some confidence in trusting work to Mellel.

Better, when I set something aside as something to hang on to for the amusement of future generations, I'll export to PDF to preserve formatting, and ASCII to preserve content.

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2020 5:41 pm
by Simon Knight
Thanks for your reply and the insight into the Mellel document format. I'm torn between rtf and xml as the format for styled documents but agree that plain old ASCII is probably the safest in the long term. I'm not so keen on pdf as it is complex but I accept that it is well documented.

S

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Sat Apr 03, 2021 9:53 pm
by laup
I only wish that I had made pdfs of all the Word documents that I wrote back in the 1980s and 1990s. Since there now exist good pdf to Word converters, I'd be in good shape.

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 9:38 pm
by Icelander
laup wrote:
Sat Apr 03, 2021 9:53 pm
I only wish that I had made pdfs of all the Word documents that I wrote back in the 1980s and 1990s
Paul, have you tried using LibreOffice to convert your old Word documents? On several occasions I have described here in this forum how I was able to convert all my old Word 5 documents with LibreOffice, when later MS Word versions couldn't even open the documents, not to mention converting them.

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Mon Apr 05, 2021 10:10 pm
by Icelander
Simon Knight wrote:
Thu Nov 12, 2020 5:41 pm
I'm torn between rtf and xml as the format for styled documents
It's only recently that Mellel can export in .docx format. My recent (irregular, spontaneous, and unsystematic) tests have shown that export from Mellel in .docx format is now more reliable than .rtf, especially when it comes to preserving the headings (= Auto-titles.)

You should therefore consider exporting your documents in .docx format rather than in .rtf. If Mellel ever goes belly up, then you can restore a Mellel document exported as .docx in Nisus Writer Pro with just a few mouse clicks. Nisus can automatically detect character styles, paragraph styles and Auto-titles, and reformat the original document in one fell swoop.

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:49 am
by laup
Icelander, I’ve used Libre Office for conversion, but forget whether it worked for graphics and equations. If so, that’s great. I will convert a bunch of files when I get a little time.

My experience with export to .docx has also been very good, especially with two points that may still not be documented:
— If you need a Word document in a particular template, you can—in Word—“apply template” to the .docx document exported from Mellel; it may then be necessary to manually change some styles due to ambiguities
— it is possible to update things like cross references and tables of contents once one is in Word; I forget the details, but I vaguely recall the need to re-run the table of contents on the Word side and to issue a command to “update” other field codes. I can dig this up if others are interested
I have no idea whether Word 10 years from now will still read .docx files of today without loss

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Tue Apr 06, 2021 3:43 pm
by Amontillado
Mellel deserves credit for safe document design. A hundred years from now a programmer with no exposure to Mellel could extract an ASCII version of a Mellel document without trouble.

It's a safe format.

Re: File format for greatest longevity

Posted: Tue Apr 06, 2021 3:56 pm
by laup
Icelander, I experimented with Libre Office today in opening a few old Word files. Results varied from near-perfect to not correctly capturing the original figures. One from 1989 looks quite good, including line drawings . I was able to make a pdf, so I'm covered that way, but to what do you suggesting "Saving as" to preserve editability? Will .odt have longevity?