This post is a warning. It isn’t simply about backing up your files. While it is important to back up your files this post is about more than just backing up your files because it is about what types of files you should backup. Now before you close the browser window or think that I’ll just be telling you to get rid of that awful (and probably useless) undergraduate paper you wrote with a group on the parts of a cell for a mandatory biology course I want to assure you that I’m not talking about that either (though you probably won’t need that biology paper if you’re being honest with yourself). This is about filetypes. I’ll be simplifying our discussion by referring to the two main types I’ll discuss today: closed (proprietary) filetypes and open (free) filetypes.
A personal story will serve as an example. A long time ago I decided to digitize my music collection. The physical disks would serve as a backup and the newer files would do the day to day work. I converted these files to a closed (proprietary) format (I didn’t know this at the time) and it took an ETERNITY! When the task was finally done I enjoyed my music more easily (playlists are a wonderful invention). Less than a year later I transitioned to a new computer and, subsequently, switched operating systems. When I tried to play my files they didn’t work. A little research revealed that my new computer (and it’s different operating system) couldn’t read those files (play them) because the filetype was closed (proprietary). I had a choice to make: not use my new computer or delete the files and start again. I decided to start again… and I made sure I chose an open (free) filetype this time.
Sadly, this isn’t just true for music. I’ve had important documents in closed filetypes unable to open (or open incorrectly) in even upgraded versions of the same proprietary program. So, the warning is this: backup your files… but do it in an open (free) format. Twenty years from now you don’t want to be locked out of your own files because someone else owns the key to them. (In case you’re wondering, I use “Open Document Format” for files and FLAC for music). Happy backing up!