Proprietary File Formats… Can We Just Stop?

Spoiler alert: This is the rant of someone who is ticked off at a sub set of the individuals in his profession right now.

Faculty are in the business of helping students make sense of information and ideas and procedures. This requires they communicate, and we communicate today with files we create on word processors and presentation software (and other applications).

Just like all technology users, faculty become comfortable with certain tools… PC users and Mac users like Microsoft Office… Mac users like Pages and Keynote… they find the interfaces familiar and they become adept at managing the files they create. I do not question this. We all have our preferred methods of creating.

The problem arises when they shift from creating to disseminating the files they create. All productivity software in use today (at least all of the common proprietary suites including the open source titles and the cloud-based tools) allow users to export files as PDF or open formats (which can be opened by the same range of software tools).

Converting files to these formats takes faculty and additional few seconds per file.

Converting these files is something that I continue to see faculty refusing to do.

Their rationale seems “I am busy. I cannot remember to do that each time.”

I understand that rationale. I too am busy. Your students are busy.

I’m increasingly losing patience for the narcissistic stance that “I cannot be bothered to make the conversion… it is up to students to figure out how to open my files.”

The message you are giving students (and the IT staff who deal with students’ requests for help) is clear. “My time is more important that yours. I prefer a large number of your struggle for tens of minutes rather than me taking a minute to make your access to my class materials easy.”

Let me make this clear to faculty: Stop posting proprietary file formats. Your software has the capacity for opening your files so everyone can access the materials.