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Default Document Format

Regarding automatic format selection when saving your file
  [vote for,

NOTE: This Idea has been rewritten (Jan 19) to focus on just one part of the original text posted here. The comments posted before my Jan 19 anno relate to the original text.


These days just about every significantly-capable computer program that can help you process data, of one type or another, has a multitude of different file formats, any of which you might use to save your data.

However, it seems that it is always you who must decide which format to use. Some would be inappropriate because your data has incorporated some programmatic feature that those formats are too basic to support; other formats would be inappropriate because they are designed to support very fancy data-processing features which you did not happen to use in this particular project.

There is a better way. Suppose each type of data manipulation that you chose to implement was associated with a behind-the-scenes checkbox that you never need to see. The data-manipulation software keeps track of which boxes have been checked (and unchecks appropriate items when you change your mind and delete various manipulations from your work). When you click the "Save" button, to save your data, the program compares the list of things you did to your data, with the lists of things that each file format supports. The program then automatically chooses the simplest file format that can accommodate all the things your data project actually contains.

As an example, consider a graphic-image manipulation program known as "Paint". When you fire this program up, it has a built-in preference to save images in a "24-bit color" format. Suppose you now create a simple black-and-white line drawing. It could be quite normal to tell the Paint program, when you are saving the drawing, that you want to save it in a simple monochrome format. (One reason: The monchrome file format is much more compact than the full-color format, so the file is smaller.)

The program, however, pops up a warning that "some loss of data may occur" if you do that. It is too stupid to recognize that the actual drawing you just did consisted only of black and white pixels! While Paint won't stop you from saving your data as monochrome, the fact is, that sort of nonsensical warning would never need to happen in the first place if this Idea was implemented, such that programs would recognize and keep track of what program features have actually been incorporated into your data manipulation project.

Ideally, the program would be smart enough to always choose the simplest file format that works. Think of that as a new definition of "default" : the simplest format that can do the job!

Now, if you load up some simple file and do something to it that is too special for its original file format, it might make sense, when you save the file, for the data-manipulation program to warn you that it needs to save your data in a somewhat more complex file format.

Even if it did that automatically without warning you, it could be advantageous in that your original file would not be overwritten by the new file, so you would be able to reload the original file and do a completely different data manipulation to it, especially if the previous attempt happened to be erroneous in some way.

Vernon, Jan 18 2011


       Emacs saves as ASCII by default, with Unix-style line breaks, so the real question is, why are there people who use something other than Emacs to edit documents? So it should be made a criminal offence to edit a document without using Emacs, and the problem is solved.
nineteenthly, Jan 18 2011

       I think most of this is already baked. Mac's basic text tool defaults to the simplest format that can handle the content (as far as I can tell).   

       I just checked Word (also on Mac), and it allows you to set your default save-mode to pretty much anything you like, all the way back to WordPerfect (and lots of other, simpler options).   

       Excel also has this option.   

       So, utterly baked, at least on some well-known software. Beyond that, this becomes a "let's all", surely?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       Maxwell-Buchanan, you are confusing the option to save a document in an alternate format with an option to set the Default. Two different things!   

       I suspect that NON-proprietary data-manipulation software, such as Open Office, may offer a way to set the default file-save format. But proprietary outfits, not even Adobe, will let you save, for example, newly-created PDF files in an older version of that format, by-default.
Vernon, Jan 18 2011

       //you are confusing the option to save a document in an alternate format with an option to set the Default.//   

       No, I don't think so. On both Excel and Word (Mac), it offers you the option to set your save format as the default.   

       Will go and try.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       [bigsleep], Microsoft did it quite deliberately. I once read about how they gave a free copy of Office to the president of some big company, and as a result, because the president was saving documents the lazy way, the company ended up buying lots and lots of copies, just so the underlings could open the boss' documents.   

       Also, you apparently failed to read item (2), which IS a real long-term solution to the problem.
Vernon, Jan 18 2011

       Yep, I'm right.   

       I set Word to default-save as pdf.   

       Then quit Word.   

       Start Word, make new document, save - automatically saves as a pdf (and you can choose any other format instead, _as the default_).   

       First time, it will warn you that the default save mode has been changed, but you can then tell it not to keep reminding you.   

       So, way baked.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       OK, I admit I haven't worked with anything newer than Office 2000, due to the cost. So I've had a lot of years of annoyance building up....   

       I may end up heavily editing the main text.   

       I still think, even without a Law, that Item (2) of the main Idea text is the best solution. So, I won't be deleting this.
Vernon, Jan 18 2011

       Morse code?
nineteenthly, Jan 18 2011

       Given that the first and second forms of your law are both baked, what else is left apart from "let's all"?   

       The proposed solutions are already known and sporadically implemented. You're just asking software manufacturers to implement them more widely as a convenience and money- saver.   

       [EDIT - sorry, Vernon. Not getting at you - just in a grim mood and, by coincidence, I happen to disagree with two of your ideas at the same time.]
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       Also, there has to a be a joke in this about the dyslexic programmer who couldn't write good code to save his file.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       Also, there has to a be a joke in this about the dyslexic programmer who couldn't write good code to save his file.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       ASCII won't work for diacritics but Unicode will, and Emacs can do Unicode. There's also Postscript and Latex.
nineteenthly, Jan 18 2011

       What would be nice (and I'm sure this has been thought of or baked) is if formats consisted of a "minimalist" version first, then some simple divider, then the bolt-ons. So, a word processor file made by, say, Apache Contortionist, would start as a simple text file, then a divider, followed by the codes that jazzed it up for MorbidSoft Worm 2011 or Open Orifice 10.3.   

       A simple text processor would then display the basic text, followed by a load of garbage that could be ignored or deleted. (If the garbage were left unaltered, it might even allow the document to be re-opened in the jazzy word processor after the text had been edited on the basic text processor.)
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       Ah - that might not work on a Mac (?) But point taken.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 18 2011

       [marked-for-generic anti-Microsoft-rant]
8th of 7, Jan 18 2011

       When did you give up the cunieform on baked clay tablets, and upgrade to papyrus [IT] ?   

       <Ian Tindale>   

       "Ugggg .... Thag make mark on cave wall with charred stick .... uggg .... OOOOh ! Thag make picture of buffalo .... ugggg ..... oh, run out of charred stick, Thag go pray to Rain God to send lightning, make new charred stick for Thag .... maybe one day Thag know secret of lightning, make charred stick for self .... "   

       </Ian Tindale>
8th of 7, Jan 18 2011

       We thought you had one of those "everlasting" calendars, the sort with a horseshoe of Sarsen Trilithions, surrounded by an outer ring of bluestones ? Not very portable, but solar powered ...
8th of 7, Jan 18 2011

       //they wouldn’t fix it as it was out of the guarantee period (in fact, they said it was out of the Pleistocene period)//   

       That's a putty.
Jinbish, Jan 19 2011

       [jutta], I guess I have to rewrite this sooner than later, but this is NOT a "let's all". It does not encourage everyone to set the default format of a word (or other data) processor to something other than the latest file format. All it does is insist that data manipulations programs should allow such a setting.   

       To the extent that it is allowed more than I thought, then that's why I need to rewrite this. However, despite the claims of [MaxwellBuchanan], I know of NO data processor that by-default can automatically decide which of its available formats is the simplest/most-appropriate, with regard to a just-edited file. That's an Original Idea here, so far as I know, and that's what I'll have to focus on, in the rewrite.
Vernon, Jan 19 2011

       // formats can gracefully degrade //   

       Isn't that the idea behind XML (and, by extension XHTML)? Content, markup and structure are all tagged/stored separately - allowing for different parsers to strip out just the bits they understand - your web-browser does this every-day. XML has already become the preferred format for text, spreadsheet data, vector graphics, and presumably, whatever else can be encoded/decoded in this rather inefficient manner without spoiling the user experience - Extrapolating this into the future, we may see XML picking up music and video formats once processing speed and storage capability are inevitably Moores'd upwards.   

       In this way, the distinction between applications and content may eventually dissapear altogether, as the data-files themselves start providing more meta-information about appropriate functionality about themselves and what they can do. You'd simply open a document up that is a seamless mix of both content and functionality, do whatever it is you do with it, and then save, or pass it on to someone else. So if you like a particular bit of functionality, why not keep that bit and incorporate it into some other document you are working on? You might be able to go down to the shops and buy 2-dozen save-ases in the same way you might buy screws or bits of string from the hardware store. In creating a document, like building a chest of drawers, you form it into the shape you want, and add on handles and sliding actions, before finally filling it with socks.   

       As time goes by, the human part of all this may become obsolete, and document/functional packets might just get on with sorting themselves out by themselves, or with the assistance of one another, like prokaryotic organisms, forming aggregates of functionality into which people can dip in and out from.
zen_tom, Jan 19 2011

       OK, folks, the rewrite is done.
Vernon, Jan 19 2011

       Damn, [zen_tom], that's a beautiful dream.
In No Particular Order, Jan 19 2011


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