A false sense of security: The data is backed up, but can you still access it?

The accessibility of older data is taken for granted by most of us, and remains a looming problem for businesses and governments across the planet. A client recently needed to print out her calendar from a few years ago, in order to provide documentation of her expenses for an IRS audit. Problem was, she had made the switch from Window PC to the Mac OS environment a few years ago, and decided to simply archive her previous data. In theory, she should have been fine. That PC data was in an archive that, in a pinch, could be restored and drawn upon “later.” But in practical terms, the archive was a disaster. As the years went by, it was decided that the Windows platform really served no further purpose. The Mac platform was not only preferable, but also capable of doing everything the client needed it to do. Her Windows partition was deleted, and space was reclaimed for her growing Mac data.



All seemed just fine, until she needed her calendar from a few years ago. In the switch to the Mac platform, she also changed companies she was working for. Company archives, therefore, were no longer available. When it came to the audit, she was basically on her own, with an older Windows archive that she couldn’t access. Why couldn’t she access it? Because the Windows platform had been provided by her previous employer. She no longer had the Windows OS installed, nor any of the Windows platform versions of Microsoft Outlook. (For those of you unfamiliar with Windows, calendar information is stored in Outlook). Now she faced hiring a tech to re-create the Windows platform (for which no space was available on her hard drive), re-purchasing Outlook and having it re-installed, then importing the archived files – all so she could print out her calendar for an audit of a few years ago. A nightmare, to be sure. and she is not alone in this revelation.

Many users discover that as time goes on, their older data, which may have been created with earlier version of certain software, can no longer be accessed in the latest Mac OS environment. Case in point, Quicken 2007 no longer works in Lion (10.7) or Mountain Lion (10.8). Filemaker databases created prior to Filemaker Version 6, cannot be accessed by Filemaker version 12. They must first be converted by an earlier version of Filemaker (such as 10 or 11), THEN be converted AGAIN to be accessible to Filemaker 12. What if the user upgraded their Mac to Mountain Lion without a valid backup (it happens, a lot), then go past the point of no return? They can’t launch Filemaker 6 anymore, nor find a copy of Filemaker 11. To their credit, Filemaker (owned by Apple) will allow you to download a temporary downgrade of Filemaker 11 for the purpose of making the conversion, but many users are easily lost in this process. And, we don’t know how long Filemaker will make that offer available online. What happens once Filemaker Pro version 16 is released?


Some software developers abandon users of older versions altogether once the software evolves beyond a certain version of Operating System. Intuit, the makers of Quicken, assumed their customers would embrace online solutions for financial record keeping. They didn’t count on so many being adverse to basically posting their financial lives online.  A revolt ensued, and a $15 “patch” for Quicken 2007 was released that allowed access to older Quicken files on Mac OS 10.7.x. But even that didn’t offer all of the functionality of the original.  Eventually, Quicken Essentials was released, and the storm subsided.


A lot of what we techs do involves upgrading and converting software, and data, for our clients, so that they can continue to use the data they rely on once they purchase the newest Macs.

The problem of keeping archives accessible is not new. Imagine what the Smithsonian Museum faces every day. Several years ago, government agencies recognized the daunting task of upgrading databases so that older archives could still be drawn upon in future generations. I’m referring to future generations of machines, not just people. Some of you may have an old Video 8, or even 16MM film reel in a drawer or closet somewhere at home. If you don’t have the original projector or camcorder, you’ll have to hire a company to digitize the footage for you. And those services are becoming harder to find too. Or, you can turn to the internet and sites like Ebay to try to locate a working machine yourself.


Then there is the problem of degradation. Those tapes (and film) become brittle over time, and could snap, ending up in a tangled mess wrapped around the spools in some VCR somewhere.  Even CDs and DVDs deteriorate. They are not as indestructible as people think. Just ask my four year old. That’s the end of that disk.  What about Zip disks, or floppies, or Syquest storage media? How about the files on that old Apple Centris 650 you had in 1992? Can you still fire that up and retrieve them? The Centris didn’t have a USB port. That Mac sported a 230 MEG hard drive at the time, and was considered BIG.


Having a copy of that old data somewhere is simply not enough anymore. The good news is there is still time. If you have old files that you don’t want to lose, you can still regenerate them onto more current media, like CDs, DVDs, or external hard drives.  Making the switch from another platform? Take the time now to make that data fully accessible on the Mac OS.  If you’re not sure how to do it, have someone do it for you. Export that calendar and import it back into iCal, or Google calendar, or something else current and Mac-friendly.  Create PDFs of your files, so that they can be read on any platform (this is ESPECIALLY useful for important emails.)  And don’t count on that five-year old hard drive to work forever. Ten years from now, it may not even spin up when you try to turn it on. Don’t rely on online backup services only. If they suddenly close up shop, do you have a hard copy of your data somewhere?


Check you media (disks, hard drives, DVDs) from time to time, and make sure you can still get to your stuff.  Copy it onto newer media. Media – that is, storage devices like external drives, flash drives, etc. are getting faster and smaller all the time, so it shouldn’t take that much time to do it. Otherwise, be prepared to lose it.  See our free online video clips on how to create PDFs of any file, or a short tutorial on various media types (coming soon).