How to Make Sure You Can Access Your Writing Forever

I learned the most important lesson of file formats from WordPerfect 5.1.

I wrote some of my earliest stories using that software, the blue screen and drop down windows still as much a nostalgic trigger as green text on a black background.

I remember finding those disks almost a decade later. Disk drives were still around, and I could still see the files on the disks. But I didn’t have a copy of WordPerfect any longer. And converters sometimes left out paragraph breaks, words, and even whole sentences.

And so when pal and author of spy thriller Net Impact Donald J. Bingle asked what would be the best format to preserve a document for archival purposes, it gave me pause.

WordPerfect in its day dominated the market the way Word does now. And yet I was having problems opening those files. Heck, you can’t always open a document in different versions of Word and have it appear the same way. And unlike computer programs – which usually rely on a particular operating system or versions of one – a document needs to be cross-platform.

And that led me to my recommendation for the best future-proof format:

HTML and ePub

There’s two big reasons why:

* ePub is essentially HTML files in a zip file
* HTML’s formatting markup is both straightforward and has all the information self-contained.

Even plain text and markdown – my personal favorites on my own machine – have the line feed problem, which can make things an unreadable mess. But HTML doesn’t care – that’s what paragraph tags are for.

Have you ever run into this problem? What have you done to work around it? Let us know!