In the world of software, change is constant.

Businesses come and go, and the same is true for software applications.

When software gets updated, deprecated or ceases to exist, the data it produces and handles might not be able to be accessed again, this usually happens when it uses non-portable, proprietary or complex data formats, .doc(x), .xls(x), .psd many (if not most) data formats belongs to this category.

Some software keep good backword compatibility1 and might have been there for a very long time but data portability is still an issue. For example, Microsoft Office can’t guarantee seamless compatibility over time, old docx files are often not recognized by modern Office versions, and platform differences further complicate matters.

Future proofing your data

To ensure data portability, longevity and future-proofing, the complexity of the data format should be as low as possible.

That means, the format’s specification should be easy to understand, making the implementation of applications that understand it relatively straightforward. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of successful data retrieval in the future.

A universal and the only data format that I trust is: plain text.

Unlike other formats, it remains reliable and accessible across devices and operating systems over time2, there are many love letters3 to plain text, check any of them if you haven’t fall in love with it.

When it comes to multimedia, I prefer to avoid them whenever possible. However, when necessary, I opt for simple formats like TIFF, PNG for images, and WAV for audio.


I’m not saying that people should stop using complex data format, but to set the expectation that it might not last long.

Embracing plain text and other simple, widely adopted4 formats is a step everyone can take to protect their data against the volatility of software and ensure data accessibility in the future.

This topic was further discussed in The Zettelkasten Manual.

  1. Modern Windows 10 can run binaries that were compiled 20 years ago for Windows 95 or NT4. How has Windows maintained binary compatibility for over 20 years?

  2. You can find a (plain) text editor on any operating system made for practical use. Devices from decades ago can read and write plain text.

  3. Here’s a good one: Write plain text files - Derek Sivers

  4. To consider more aspects: publicly standardized, unrestricted, well-documented, and self-documented.

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