In Praise Of Stable File Formats

Today I realized how stable some file formats have been for quite a long time. In particular, I was marveling at the fact that some of my PDF library is 20 years old, and the files still work fine. I also have various text and image files (as in, good old-fashioned TXTs and venerable JPGs) that are older than that and have survived two different operating-system migrations.

This compares with the situation in the earlier part of the millennium, where it seemed like various file formats were doomed for obsolescence or questionable applicability almost as soon as they appeared. I've converted my CD library at least three times in my life, as different audio formats have grown out of fashion. (To quote one friend who spoke correctly in the past, "Those poor files trapped in WMA format!") Hitting close to home for you – our amazing fans – we still keep at least two old Macs encased in digital amber, for when we need to update some old file format for a book that would be difficult for more reasons to "uplift" to a more-modern program.

I'm sure more technologically savvy folks who read this may know why we've hit a point of stability for at least some formats (feel free to discuss it on the forums!). I suspect it's because some of the types of files we've ended up with have been well-documented, embraced by the community, and expandable enough that they don't get supplanted by newer formats. But all I know is that I'm thrilled by PDFs I still have from last millennium that'll load on just about any device I can think of today.

-- Steven Marsh