Proprietary File Formats

The most common proprietary file format is probably Microsoft Word's format (denoted by a .doc extension). Many businesses run on Microsoft Word; if you work with such a business, you'll have to exchange Microsoft Word files. In some fields, the file formats associated with other Microsoft Office components, such as Microsoft Excel (.xls) spreadsheets are equally or more important. Although Microsoft retains tight control over these file formats, most competing programs make at least some effort to support them. Chapter 7 describes some of the Linux programs that can handle these files. In brief, OpenOffice.org and its commercial twin StarOffice do the best job with Microsoft Word files. Unfortunately, no Linux program handles these files perfectly, so you may need to resort to emulation in some cases.

Many other programs outside the Linux world use proprietary formats. Office suites other than Microsoft Office, desktop publishing programs, tax-preparation software, advanced graphics tools such as Adobe Photoshop, and more all use proprietary formats. Some also support cross-platform formats, and as a general rule, if you want to exchange data files created with these programs, you should store them in a cross-platform format. In a few cases, you may be able to import the native file format using a Linux program, or even run a Linux version of the program.

Tip Try saving files you must transfer in multiple formats. When you (or the files) get to the target system, if one format doesn't load, another might.

Many Windows programs are distributed as self-extracting archive files. These files have .exe extensions and are run as programs in Windows. The programs extract the files and install them on the system. Some of these programs are really just .zip or other cross-platform archive files with an executable wrapper, and these files can usually be handled by tools designed to process the core archive; but some self-extracting archives use formats that are harder to handle in Linux. Fortunately, you're not likely to need to access many of these files, although there are exceptions, such as font archives, clip-art collections, and so on.

Linux also has proprietary file formats, or at least formats for which support outside of the Unix world is rare. The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), for instance, uses its own file format, as do most Linux word processors. These file formats are all well-documented, but the big commercial players are, by and large, uninterested in implementing support for these file formats. Therefore, saving files from such tools in a cross-platform format, or in the proprietary format of the target program, may be the only way to load the files on a non-Linux system.

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