Last night when I fished a high school essay out of my archives, I was dismayed to find that all my old word processor documents related to school are still saved in the antiquated Microsoft Word .doc format. The file format is now so old that none of the word processors I had installed—not even the online version of Microsoft Word—could open them. I was pretty sure for a moment that all my old work, which I have retained in my document folder for decades, had been lost.

I was especially dismayed by this because I thought I had already solved this problem for myself years ago. Several times in my life I have converted all (or at least large amounts of) my writing from outdated formats, such as WordStar and WordPerfect 5, to more modern ones—just so I could continue to open them. All the .doc files I am complaining about were actually converted from WordStar to Word format by a Windows app called WordPort.

Eventually, I figured out that I could open the old Word doc on a PC using the desktop version of Microsoft Office 365. Of course, the document looked like trash when I opened it. The left margin was nonexistent and Word’s automatic hyphenation messed up the spelling of a bunch of the words. At least I could read it. (While writing this post, I realized that I could have installed LibreOffice Vanilla on my Mac, which still has support for opening Word .doc files, instead.)

When I first started converting my documents to current formats, open formats and plaintext markup languages like Markdown did not exist. The second time I converted some of my documents forward I used OpenOffice, and stored the new files in OpenOffice .odt format, which is an open standard. I am now considering doing a third and final conversion, and moving as much of my old writing as possible to the lowest common denominator file format: plain text. Markdown exists to preserve all the formatting I need for most of my school papers. OpenOffice’s .odt format will have to suffice for the long, complex, overly-formatted and paginated papers I wrote in college.