Preserving our documentation for posterity

Recently, I received a diagram created in Microsoft Visio I wanted to examine and possibly edit. It turns out that Draw does not have an import module for the proprietary (and apparantly undocumented) .vsd format, nor can I find another FOSS product that does. This is one of the reasons to keep a Windows machine around – to read the proprietary format files. Or it should be. My version of Visio is a version or two old, and it wouldn’t read it either. I asked my co-worker to send the diagram in another format I could use. We tried a number of them. SVG (Structured Vector Graphics) is a standard format and has a filter for it. However, it turns out that Microsoft uses proprietary extensions to the format for items like word wrap and the filter won’t read them (Neither will Gnome image viewer nor FireFox nor Dia). EPS, EWF and WMF are more standard and were readable, but the graphics are reduced to primatives at that point with no larger structure. Drawing Exchange Format (.DXF), which might have come from AutoCAD, is equally illegible.

The .VDX format is XML, so I had some hopes for that. It looks like the Dia diagramming tool will work with .VDX files with a plugin. [Update: irony of ironies: the VDX plugin link is now dead. Good news: VDX is now a built-in import/export filter.]

What a disappointment. While we are not writing anything particularly profound that needs to be preserved for posterity, it would be nice to know we could read the files in a few months on our platforms of choice. Vendors need to get more serious about interoperable, open formats.


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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.