Longevity of formats a long-term headache

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2006, 12:00am

I cannot find a way to take a large address book off a five-year-old Palm and convert it into an Outlook format. I am left with the option of manual editing - which is tedious.

Andrew Long
The Peak

I have found a number of applications that claim they can synchronise Palm data with Outlook, but I have not bought or tested them.

If you are looking to do a one-off synchronisation, a demo version of one of these applications ought to do the trick. But sometimes they do not allow you to convert everything or will restrict the number of records you can export.

All of this should be looked at carefully. Needless to say, you should make backup copies of your Palm address book database.

There is something fundamentally interesting in your problem, however, and it is a subject that is likely to pop up more often. Some people like to call it data longevity.

Those of us above a certain age will remember a number of technologies that are no longer in use. These include the eight-inch and five-inch floppy disks - and the 3-1/2-inch floppy will soon join them.

There are many other technologies and, perhaps even more importantly, technology formats that are not used any more. In large companies, all this is handled by the IT departments. But for ordinary people, with half a terabyte of data at home these days, this is going to be a personal problem.

There are two ways of handling the problem: change the format all the time or save your data in some kind of a standard format.

It should be clear that both these solutions have serious glitches. Changing formats frequently is time-consuming and expensive. It usually means you must have multiple copies in a variety of formats and you must keep track of all of them.

Saving everything in a standard format may sound good, but you must be absolutely certain the standard is here to stay. I certainly favour the latter as long as you keep tabs on your standard. If you have text data - particularly in Chinese or another Asian language - you need to be certain it will be in a format that can be read in future. Unicode would certainly seem to be the best solution here, but you must watch what the Unicode consortium does.

As for address book data, you could export all your records in a format such as tab-delimited. Every field is separated by a tab and an end-of-line marker ends the record. There is almost nothing that cannot read a file of this format today.

I checked the Palm Desktop software and it offers a number of options. You can export every single field or selected ones. I doubt that you have used every field, but it is important for you to have control over the fields. You must, for example, remember the order in which they are exported. If you have Surname, GivenName, WorkTel, HomeTel, Mobile and so on, you must remember their order when importing the data into a new application such as Outlook or the wrong data will show up in the wrong field.

I am also a great believer in printing out an address book from time to time - and even carrying it with me when I travel. You never know when a printout will be just what you need.

  • You can find a host of programs to help you with your Palm data at www.livepim.com/index.htm

    Questions to Tech Talk will not be answered personally. E-mail Danyll Wills at tech.talk@scmp.com.

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