Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Save As...

foobar.csv may contain features that are not compatible with CSV (Comma delimited). Do you want to keep the workbook in this format?

It makes me tired. First, the file that was opened was foobar.xls, not foobar.csv. foobar.csv is the file that i want to save to, not the source file. foobar.csv doesn't exist yet, and therefore has no features of any kind. Second, foobar.xls will continue to exist after the Save As... is over. So, no information has any possibility of being lost. As the savvy computer user, the dialog is an annoyance. To the novice, though, it's probably a nightmare. No wonder many novice computer users are terrified.

As it happens, what i want is the data. I'm going to alter it with a text editor. Then, i'm going to stuff it into a relational database. If there is some 'feature' associated with this data, i clearly don't want it. For that matter, the file is just data. Any 'feature' is something programmed into some receiving application. That might be Excel, but probably isn't.

This isn't a problem confined to Excel. It's also MS Word, Open Office, and many other applications. It's the status quo. A poor standard.

Let's take a Word example. I've got a file in Word_5_for_the_Mac. I'm decommissioning my 1987 Mac II, and want to convert my old documents to something a modern word processor can use. The modern word processors don't read Word_5_for_the_Mac format anymore. So, i bring each document up and do a Save As... in RTF format. Now, Microsoft invented Rich Text Format (sometimes also called Interchange Format) for just this reason. But, true to form, on each save, one gets a dialog similar to the above.

Now, only Word could possibly know what features the document is really using. Only Word could possibly check to see if these features exist in RTF. My experience has been that RTF seems to be able to preserve all formatting, pictures, etc., and nothing is ever lost. But if something could be lost, Word could check, right? Why doesn't it?

I have an answer to this question. It's pretty cynical. Microsoft (or whoever invented this dialog) wants to discourage you from exporting your data. They want you locked into using their applications.

Well, here's a hint. If you want my business, you'll have to stop changing your native formats. I've been blessed by not having to change formats for twenty years. Some of these documents have at least forty more years of life left in them (assuming i do). So, their next stop is some open source format, where, in principal, i will be able to support the format forever (or forty years, whichever comes first).

1 comment:

Jack said...

I came to the same conclusion - an annoying way to lock you in. I found this post in a google search to disable this error message :)