#41 File Formats And Vendor Lock-In

This talk in this show is all about file formats. Yeah, probably not the most super-exciting topic you might think to talk about, but it’s an important one. Closed file formats are how proprietary vendors lock users into only being able to use their tools. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why we put up with that crap.

Show Notes

As creatives, we do have some nice open formats to work with. SVG, ODT, PNG, OpenRaster, EPUB, and Alembic (to name a few). And there are some gray area formats that, while they’re not open, they’re ubiquitous and they’ve been around long enough that folks have made open source tools for reading and writing these formats. I’m looking at you, DOC, PDF, and OBJ. But there are some file formats that can only be opened by one particular program and there’s no viable interchange format. These are pain points.

Interestingly enough, most of these tools are right smack in the middle of your creative toolchain. Sure, as a sound designer, your input is often raw PCM audio in WAV format and your output can be anything from WAV (again) to AAC or FLAC or even MP3. But on your active edit, what have you got? Friggin’ ProTools… and a daisy-chained nest of dongles to go with it. And it’s not limited to audio. We see the same thing in print design, animation (2D and 3D), visual effects, and video editing.

This is a problem, and not just for open source creatives. Anyone who wants to migrate their workflow from one tool to another is faced with this problem. And worse, there’s not always a clear and viable solution or alternative. Folks get stuck to a tool not just from familiarity with its quirks, but by the fact that it doesn’t play nice with others.

So what do we do about it? To be honest… I’m a little concerned that there’s not much that we can do, outside of using open source tools and evangelizing open formats where ever they exist. Is there something I’m missing? Some other solution that’s just sitting out there, waiting to be noticed?

I’m open to suggestions.

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