Switch Week : Export your iWorks documents.

You might not know it, but one of the greatest ways to sell an application is not only by making it a very good application, but also by using an enclosed file format. Its funny, but the majority of decisions in small businesses of whether to migrate to a newer version of office, is fuelled by the argument that “other people use office an its needs to be compatible”. That way a commonly present, closed file format used by a certain number of users ..ensures long time sales of your product.


With Pages Numbers and Keynote, Apple chose their own file formats to use. That also creates kind of a “legacy” problem. Part of that problem is that you need to be able to open / share your documents with other iWork suite users and part of that is that you need the iWorks suite to be able to open your own documents. Being able to break free from that locked in loop gives you the flexibility not only to exchange documents with others who do NOT have the iWorks suite, but also to make sure you can open those documents on your other computers that aren’t macs.

How to do it.
iWorks documents don’t ‘slide’ very well across operating systems. iWorks suite is capable of opening .doc .xls .ppt .rtf and .txt formats from other programs like the Microsoft Office suite and Openoffice (beware : Open document format is NOT supported). The other way around is a lot harder : No applications outside the iWorks suite are capable of opening and editing Apples closed iWork suite file formats.

What is the workaround.

Luckily there are the EXPORT options that allow you to ‘export’ your iWorks spreadsheet, document or presentation to a more open file format so you can open them up with non-iWorks applications.
supported formats – suggested formats

Pages documents can be exported to.

  • PDF
  • DOC
  • RTF
  • TXT (not all versions of iWorks support this)

Depending on the file format you export to you will loose more functionalities and layout options. The PDF export gives you a document with all the layout but without the ability to edit, the other file formats have less and less of the .pages layout and markup options in favor of being able to edit the text.

Numbers spreadsheets can be exported to : 

  • PDF
  • XLS
  • CSV

The same is true here, the farther you go down the list the less functionalities you can export. PDF gives you a read only document, XLS gives you the ability to open and edit the document in applications like Excel, Google Drive and Open Office. You might still have your graphs and pie charts but they won’t look as nice. With CSV you export your spreadsheet to a flat file with all your data separated by comma’s.

Keynote presentations can be exported to : 

  • PDF
  • PPT
  • Quicktime
  • HTML (not all versions of Keynote support this)
  • Images

With Keynote you can export your presentation to static images, or a pdf document or to a Quicktime movie giving your viewers the total presentation experience. Only when you export to .ppt will you be able to edit your presentation slides. When you do the latter you will loose some of the mark-up or effects of your presentation.

You win some you loose some.
With an “export” you go down to the lowest common denominator of functionalities between the different applications. Whatever .pages can do with a document that Word cannot .. Will be lost. Most of the times your documents will still be editable but they need “touching up” after the exports. Other times you might find that certain transitions or effects that are unique to the iWorks suite are completely gone or do not work.

Be open in the choice of your applications.
So if you don’t want to go live in proprietary-file format-purgatory we suggest using “open” applications as much as possible. Openoffice and Google Docs are largely geared towards cross platform availability AND the ability to be compatible with many other ‘office like’ applications. If you have to share your documents with others, be polite and use “open” file formats like .pdf .doc .odf and even .rtf .html or .txt. This way you assure that the other party can read (and if needed, edit) your document without having to run to the store to buy iWorks (and quite possibly a new Mac). Using open filestandards shows “digital maturity” and ensures that you can still open that essay that you wrote on your old mac .. on your brand new Chromebook, Windows Tablet or Linux PC.

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The coming of Cyber archaeologists.

Will we need cyber archaeologists.

tapeLooking at it, its the oddesd of things. This flimsy plastic box with two round holes in it, seems to come from another age. A brown warn little plastic tape worms itsself from one side of the container to the other. Only 20 some years old , the cassette is as obsolete as the dinosaurs. Yet a few weeks ago my dear aunt called me up in a panic, telling the tale how the evil old cassette  player she had owned for so many years had 'eaten' a cassete with a recording on it of my late grandmother singing. I of course offered to go ahead and fix it. After half an hour of poking and prodding with a pair of tweezers and some sticky tape I managed to get the cassette back together. Now I just had to find a  cassette player to play it on… It was at that moment i realised .. I did not have one anymore.   The thought propped up to me that we store so much information these days on so many carriers, but yet all these media are futile and soon we won't be able to recover anything we stored 10 years ago because technology moves so fast. Will we need cyber archeologists in the future ? 

Media are futile.

rotThere are few media that survive the test of time. Even paper turns to dust after so many hundred years, depending on how it is stored. And so are the media we store stuff on today. The average lifespan of a cassette tape, a cd-recordable, a dat tape or even a floppy disk does not even come close to the lifespan of paper. Yet while a single peace of paper can hold out for a hundred years, a DVD rom with all the collected works of Plato won't last a hundred years at all. The loss off information that can occur when our media turn sour is only multiplied by the enormous amounts of data they can carry. To loose a single sheet of paper over the course of a thousand years might be a loss, To loose a thousand documents on a single cd-rom after 10 years is even worse.  So what is there to do but to transfer information from medium to medium in order to let it stand the test of time ? Or what if we find the carrier that will last us to infinity.. What format must we use to write our data ?

Formats are fleeting

If your average DLT tape will turn brittle and break in a hundred years you might just have been lucky. Think not of the medium the information is written on , think of the format the information is stored in. Format types like .doc , .xls and so on are  even more fleeting then their carriers. You can make your programs backward compatible into the extreme , supporting exotic fileformats of days long gone is a painfull task. Some, like .html, .txt .pdf and .rdf, might be supported for years to come, but what about other, exotic and propriatary standards,  formats of backup programs and so on. One might hold a treasured box of data in ones hand but if the fileformat is no longer supported .. How can we ever access it ? Perhaps we will find the key to the format .. but what about the system it was written for ?

Systems are fleeting

vaxIt can be even worse. Say we have salvaged the medium and have somewhere found the original application to read it with. What if it only runs on specific hardware ? An evolution that is even faster then the formats and the media , must be the hardware ! What if the information we need only runs on some ancient system like say for example a commodore 64 ? Where to find one ? and even more importantly : where to find the parts if something breaks. Even to this day some "legacy' programs that are still being used in production, run on hardware that is no longer supported by the manufacturer. So what do we have to do ? Store both the information, the media, the original application AND the hardware it runs on in our archives ?  What can be so important that we need to go through all this hassle  ?


what is important

"So what .." I hear you say ?  What if we loose that excell file thats 8 years old ? Who cares ? … But that is just it. We might know what information is important today, but we will never be able to tell what information is pivotal or trivial in the future. The first posting by Linus Torvalds on usenet might have been unimportant,  Yett only history will tell wether this one event might be something for the historybooks. The fact is we store more and more information these days on systems, media and in formats that might not stand the test of time. Wether or not something will be important in the future is impossible to tell at this time, thus we risk turning the digital era we live in today, into tomorrows informational dark ages , from which nothing will be remembered in the future.

Cyber archaeologists

 I see a new profession emerging. Perhaps starting out as a niche market, later to evolve in  something that will turn into an exact science. People who spend their time looking through old digital archives. Who have the skills to work with old legacy hardware, know which side is up on a floppy disk , and God forbid, even speak the language of the old commodore 64. Cyber-archeologists digging through our digital past, being able to unlock and uncover the secrets of the past and bring them back in the light of whatever modern civilisation there might be. A proffesion that holds both the keys to FINDING information and being able to ACCESS it aswell. A trait of archeologists not speaking of the jurrasic but of the "basic" or  the "x86" period of the past …  




As evolution speeds up .. so does the regression of the past into oblivion. 

I for one do think we will have them in the future. Experts in finding what was stored but yet was lost. Keepers of keys that can unlock the files from our past and bring them back. With the amount of information we produce, the digital legacy we leave behind… its unthinkable that these things would be lost forever in a period of only a few decenia.  Prove me wrong .. Digg into your past and find the first digital document you ever made ?  Perhaps you"ll need a cyber-archaeologists to complete the task.

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