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Lesson learned: Keep a vintage Mac around

Dave Caolo , @davidcaolo
Recently, I learned the importance of keeping old files current, and why it's helpful to keep a working vintage Mac around. The school I work for was audited by both the state and Federal Departments of Education earlier this summer (we passed with flying colors, by the way). They wanted to see everything we could hope to show them, and many of the faculty and directors were pulling out research they had conducted years ago to satisfy their demands. However, none of the files could be opened. This is how they landed on my desk.

I had folders upon folders of Microsoft Excel files...from 1989! Yes, these were genuine Excel 1.0 documents, created the year I graduated high school. Excel 2004 wouldn't open them, nor would Excel X, Excel '98, NeoOffice/J or OpenOffice. What's left to do? Call on a vintage Mac. More after the jump.

My first thought was to run them through MacLink Plus, but it doesn't support Excel 1.0 either (because, really, who has such ancient artifacts around anyway?). So I grabbed a beige G3 from the supply room, got it running and installed a copy of Excel 4.0. That opened the dusty, old files, and Excel 2004 had no problem with the files saved in 4.0 format.

Here's the lesson learned from this experience. While my story relates to a corporate setting, you could easily employ this strategy to your own home use.

  • Keep you stuff up to date. Sounds simple, but it's easy to forget about files you almost never access. I've given the staff here a deadline for getting all their older files to me (many of which are on rapidly-decaying floppies). These will be converted, burned to CD, cataloged and stored. At home, you may have old photos, MacWrite files (it can happen!), WordPerfect files, etc. that you think you'll never use again. Trust me, you will.
  • Archive as part of a formal routine. The CDs I've created will be updated on a regular schedule. Using Toast's "burn session" option, I can burn to a single CD-RW many times without overwriting what's already there. Go through your older files and convert them to a contemporary file format (provided that you can't use them as-is...but I'd still update) and either put them on CD, DVD or a removable hard disk. I like to have a hard copy, so I typically use CDs/DVDs for archives. Set up a repeating calendar event to remind you.
  • Finally, keep a vintage Mac around! I was quite surprised to see the number of ancient Excel files that still existed here at work, not to mention old WordPerfect files, Clarisworks, Pagemill, etc. When contemporary conversion software fails you (like MacLink), you'll be glad you can open that old file in its native environment.