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Out with the Old

If you've stashed away old files that you may need to reference some day, will their file format or medium soon be obsolete? Here are some common issues and ideas for solving them.

  • Files on Floppy Disks: If you've got files stored on floppies you may already be in a situation that requires some outside help. Do you have a computer that can still read floppy disks? If not, call the IT help desk (x5418) and we'll try to find you a machine that will allow you to read them so you can transfer them to a CD or DVD. If they're in old file formats you should read on to find out about file format conversion options.
  • Files from really old versions of Microsoft Office: Files before Microsoft Word 6, PowerPoint 6, or Excel 4 may be blocked from opening in current versions of Windows, due to security concerns. If you have any of these files we strongly recommend following the procedures outlined here to unblock them, and then save them in a contemporary file format.
  • Files from applications that are no longer in production: If you've got old AppleWorks or ClarisWorks files, for instance, you may be able to open them with Microsoft Office, Open Office, Neo Office,or Apple's Pages word processor. Save them as text, Office, or PDF files.
  • Files of unknown or obscure origin: Sometimes it's unclear what application created a file, or it was created by an application that was never in wide use. In that case you may need to attempt opening it in a variety of applications to see if you can get something meaningful from it.
  • If you're stuck, call us: If you've tried everything you can think of to recover an important file but still have no luck, give the IT help desk (x5418) a call. Even if you don't know what program created the file, we'll do our best to figure it out. Between us we have lots of arcane technical knowledge that we love to put to use, and we may have hardware and software that you don't have access to.
  • Choosing file formats for the future: As you update your old files you will have to decide in which file format you should save things. The safest file format for future compatibility is Plain Text, but that often doesn't preserve enough fidelity. PDF is a standard that will be supported for years to come, but it's appropriate only for documents that will be read-only. If you have a file with dynamic or structured information in it, such as a spreadsheet, saving it in a current version of Microsoft Office will ensure its accessibility for the next several years. In general, choose a file format that is currently in wide use, and chances are good it will be a safe bet for at least the next 5 years.

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