Everybody loves standards!
Talking about technology, standards are really essential. So far the industry has made a pretty good job of agreeing on standards and everybody benefits from it. Standards allow different companies to make all sorts of technologies work together. A good example of successful standard is the USB, which can plug into any computer and make possible to use all sorts of peripherals, doing all sorts of things for us.
I'm sure we all experienced the desperate need of an adaptor for a device to work. Then having to gather several adaptors for the different devices and different situations. That's when the standards are not optimal, but in the end, the device may work.
Now imagine what the world would be like if every manufacturer had its unique way of doing things? Imagine if lamp plugs were different from television plugs, if the height of your bumper was not the same as the other cars bumpers, rather like the shape of shoes not matching the shape of your feet!!! All these examples are from hardware compatibility but what about software? It's the same thing. Each file type (text, image, video...) has dozens of different file formats. When you cannot handle a certain type of file format the standard has failed.
Well, there are two sides to this story. On the one hand everybody loves technology standards because they work, on the other hand there are people who do not really want universal standards. Some companies consider more profitable to have their own standard and force people to use their products. This is especially the case with companies that have a big share of the market, they consider that they don't need to comply with standards and conventions because whatever they do, others will have to adapt. But imagine if one day you find an old hard drive with old photos that you cannot open because their format is superseded. Digital photos can sometimes last less than paper photos because of standards problem and not only because of material loss.
The Free Software movement (and I include OpenSource as part of the FSM) is also here to allow software standards to exist. How so? Well, when a file format is Free and Open, everybody can use it thus favouring the establishment of a standard. Achieving this compatibility seems hard but in fact, technically speaking, it's not. Free and open formats lead to universal standards, they are available to everybody for use and development, whereas proprietary formats lead to a multiplicity of standards. Proprietary formats are the property of a private company and their use is exclusive to the company that created it. So let the standards be the rule and the non standard be the exception that has to adapt. This is the way it should be. In this way everybody has the right to be different if they want, but also, has a common ground to be able to use and enjoy technology easily.
Next time you write a text document (or receive one from someone) make sure that it is in .odf, .odt, .odp... format instead of a .doc, .xls, .ppt or a .pages. If you are compressing videos, chose .mkv, .ogv or .webm... instead of .avi, .wmv, .mov or .rm. When you convert your picture library, opt for a format like .jpeg, .bmp or .png instead of .psd or .tiff. Your audio files should preferably be in formats like .flac (lossless) or .oga (lossy) rather than .wma, .mp3 or .wav. You can take a look at Open Standards comparison of file formats or Open Formats website for a more complete list.
It's a good idea to tell the people with whom you communicate and exchange files about this issue. You could add a signature to your e-mail with the following text:
I prefer standard and open file formats.
Don't know what that is? See: www.openformats.org
I prefer ODF files. Don't know what that is?
Or point them to this article:
I prefer receiving files in a standard format!