Proprietary Memories

It’s nice to have the convenience of being able to store all of my favorite web links, images, songs, videos, and projects on different forms of media. Considering I’ve had hard drives fail on me in the past, backing up my files in several places makes me confident that I won’t lose any more information. Starting with the basics, I have my main AC power-driven external hard drive to backup very important, but uncommonly edited, files. I carry around a mini hard drive with my laptop that contains important and constantly edited files, which periodically are backed up onto the larger hard drive. I used to have a flash drive to transport my important program installs and information, but since its ‘death,’ and with other devices traveling with me all the time, I have hidden folders stored on both my iPod and my Playstation Portable (PSP) just in case I need to make an important install on someone’s computer. With all of these methods of backing up my media, I will have access to what I need, when I need it. 

However, with all of these technologies storing my information, I wonder if the next wave of products, or even updates to current products, may have a negative effect on how I have access to my personal information. Companies have found ways to make storing large amounts of information on small devices easier and more reliable, but as these storage methods become more profitable, they may also find ways to make their software or hardware the only way of backing up and retrieving those files. For example, one of my friends has a flash drive which has pre-installed security software. Although he does not encrypt any of his files with the security software on the flash drive, the program does auto-load on any computer it is plugged into. The software is not harmful to the computers it connects to (as far as I know), but a company could have the power to use that software as the only means of accessing the information on the drive if they chose to do so. The fear to me would be that, if they did, the information could become completely inaccessible if the security software were to fail.

That particular problem, I have had happen to me before. My experience came from dealing with the popular e-mail program, Microsoft Outlook. Outlook stores its e-mails, contacts, and other information all in a single secure file format (with a .pst extension). Those .pst files can only be securely opened and edited with a version of Outlook that matches the .pst encryption, and can only be upgraded with the Outlook software. A mail program like Mozilla Thunderbird can convert the information of the .pst file into a completely universal and exportable set of files that can be used for any mail program, as well as an ideal method for backing up those messages and contacts. However, I have seen instances where a .pst file is exported out of Outlook, then failed importing into a fresh install of the same version of Outlook on the same machine, making the .pst and its information completely inaccessible and virtually unusable. I have moved away from Outlook because of this, and now use a combination of online e-mail (Gmail) and offline downloaded copies of my online mail (using Thunderbird), keeping myself reassured that my important e-mails can always be accessed, even without an active internet connection. 

If mobile devices, or even stationary devices like desktop computers, were to move to adding software or methods of proprietary dependency for users to backup and retrieve files, people could end up having their data less accessible or even inaccessible if something were to fail. As of right now, I don’t see this problem occurring with protecting personal data. However, there have been cases in the past, as well as with current technological changes, where companies want users to choose their methods over other companies and will protect their franchises by advertising them as better than competitor products. The most current example of this would be in the war between Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, and the current state of DVDs. If a similar war between platforms were to occur in media storage, like if there were two new standards for flash drives that could hold an incredibly large amount of storage more than its predecessor, would that force the average buyer to decide between them, and if so, would those devices work together or be virtually invisible to each other? For now, there is no sever problem like that, but with technology changing every day, just being able to hold backups of files that are important to a user might be asking a bit too much.

I back up my files on multiple formats and devices because, frankly, I worry that I may have another hardware failure and could lose that information. Having multiple backups to the degree that I have done might seem like overkill, but if these devices were to ever conform to proprietary applications and standards, my habits for backing up information can turn from cautionary acts into common or even necessary practices.  

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~ by Cliff Huizenga on October 17, 2006.

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