The Rabalder Blog

Why should we choose open formats?

I got this question from a contact in the fediverse:

why should we choose open formats?

It’s a good question, so I’ll repeat my answer here. These are some examples from my own life, where proprietary file formats have inserted sticks into my wheels and prevented me from accessing my own data.

During the 1990’s I was using a word processor called DeScribe for the OS/2 operating system. I wrote a lot of stuff using that program, from silly personal things to larger school works. In the end as the OS/2 community dwindled, the vendor went belly up, and the program was abandoned. The proprietary file format now makes these files pretty much unusable.

Another program I used for several things was Photo>Graphics for the same system. Same problem with files no longer usable. (But it was a really cool program, though! Really wish something like it existed as free software.)

Some time later I got hold of a used Mac, and bought a copy of Cubase for recording and producing music. The hardware is no longer supported by Apple, so the machine is not really usable anymore. I’m no longer using Cubase, and the hardware dongle needed for it to work is lost somewhere to the wind or chaos. I have several old recordings that are locked in a proprietary format with no documentation.

I have a small project to try to reverse engineer the Cubase file format, but I don’t really have time to work on it.

When I took over the hosting for, we had to build the entire software from scratch. The previous perished with a faulty harddrive.

I did get a proprietary database dump from the proprietary database backend they had used, but without access to the software I wasn’t able to recover that dump. Add to it that the dump was highly dependent on having the right version of the software to recover it, the windows (pun intended!) of opportunity quickly passed. About a decade of old articles and Norwegian metal history was lost to a proprietary file format.

There’s probably thousands of these now abandoned programs, and people are sitting on files that are now difficult to make use of or convert to a more open format.

That is why we need to use open formats that are documented, and not encumbered by licensing or patent issues that prevent us from owning our own data.