Store important older files on new digital formats
by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business
Issue #650 April 9- 15, 2002 High Tech Office column
How long do you need to keep your data?
When I recently sent in my 2001 tax return, I noticed
fine print suggesting
that I hold on to all the paperwork for at least six years, just in
I suppose that means that I'll also need to hang on to my copy of QuickTax
or TaxWiz 2002 until 2008 or longer.
Information can have a longer lifespan than we might
I've posted most of the articles I've written over the
past decade on
to my personal Web site, and surprisingly, I'm receiving a steady
of e-mails about things I wrote nine or 10 years ago.
Physical data can have a long lifespan, though
librarians tell us that
books and other printed matter often deteriorate faster than we might
Accessing older digital data brings its own set of problems.
Some problems are physical. Storage formats have
evolved over the past
few decades from reel-to-reel tape to floppy disks to CD and DVD.
I have programs and documents stored on the
once-common, five-inch floppy
diskettes, and have always added one of these old-style drives into one
of my computers.
My newest PC desktop, however, only supports one
floppy drive, so I'm
out of luck. I really need to copy these disks over to the smaller
(or CD) as soon as possible.
And when I do, I shouldn't be surprised if some of the
disks are simply
unreadable. Floppy disks, like magnetic tape, can simply go bad over
The dyes used in recordable CD disks may not last as long as most of us
Even if the data is physically readable, we may find
it difficult to
make sense of it.
Fashions in software change, and the word processor
you're using now
may not be able to read the documents you saved a decade ago. The
latest Microsoft Word can read old Word Perfect 5.1
documents, but not
documents made with the slightly older Word Perfect 4.2 or the even
(but popular in its time) WordStar, to say nothing of documents
created on non-PC computer systems. (Hint: Dataviz products
Plus for PC and MacLink Plus include converters for a wide range of
formats, both new and archaic.)
Michel Daoust had a different problem. He
wanted to reuse a series
of documents he had made with older, DOS-based word processors. He
open them in Word, but the boxes he had made around the text appeared
a series of foreign-language characters instead of lines. The reason?
characters were included in DOS typefaces.
Since Windows (and Macs) can draw lines directly on
screen, they are
no longer needed, and were replaced in newer fonts with accented
At one time, Microsoft included a special font to
solve just this problem.
Even if you can find a copy of the old Microsoft LineDraw font, it no
works. Word's help suggests a time-consuming manual method to replace
character making up the boxes.
More efficiently, Lotus issued a similar font,
its former word processor Ami Pro. That font still works, even with the
newest version of Word. Luckily, I still had a copy of that software,
the disks still worked.
Don't let your files, disks, tapes, and CDs sit on the
shelf year after
It's a pain, but you should periodically check them
out, making sure
they can still be read. And at the same time, transfer them to your
storage medium and file format. Only by doing that will you be able to
ensure that when you do need them you'll be able to read them.