The Economics Network

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File Formats on the Web

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We link to economics educational content in various electronic formats. This page explains some of the formats in case you have difficulty using them in your browser.

Web pages can give areas of the screen over to Java programs (called "applets"), allowing the creation of complex interactive forms or control panels. Any modern graphical web browser should be able to use Java. If you're working on an older machine, you may notice a slowing down when Java is activated.
JavaScript is a language that can be embedded in web pages and can change aspects of the page in response to user input. Some economic models and games have been written in JavaScript, as well as many kinds of online calculator. In the educational context, JavaScript is mostly used to implement online quizzes. These are usually for self-test only as the answers can be discerned by looking at the source of the page.
Flash was a plugin that allowed web pages to include interactive graphics and video. It is now deprecated.
Microsoft Excel
As well as Microsoft Office, there are other suites of office software which can import and edit .xls files, such as the free StarOffice. Various other programs exist to read, write or convert .xls files.
We have a theme document on using Excel in Economics teaching
Tech Tip: How to customise Excel toolbars
Tech Tip: How to freezez headers in Excel
Microsoft Word
A lot of economics lecture handouts are distributed as Word, although we recommend alternatives such as RTF or PDF. Word has a useful track changes feature, but remember to accept all the changes before distributing the document, otherwise people will be able to see previous versions.
The Quicktime, RealPlayer and Windows Media Player programs should all be able to play MPEGs. These all work in conjunction with web browsers, so once they are installed the players should open when you click on an MPEG file.
A large proportion of research papers on the web, and some of the teaching materials, are in Portable Document Format. Acrobat Reader is ideal for viewing these files, although there are alternatives. There are various tools for creating PDFs from Word, RTF or LaTeX files.
Tech Tip: How to import a table from PDF into Excel
You do not need the full PowerPoint program on your computer to view .ppt files on the Web. The free PowerPoint viewer, downloadable from the Microsoft site, acts as a plug-in in your browser.
As well as Microsoft Office, there are other suites of office software which can import and edit .ppt files, such as the free StarOffice.
We have a theme document on using Excel in Economics teaching
Quicktime is Apple Corporation's format for compressed video. Quicktime files usually have a .mov suffix. Various video player software will read it, including the free Quicktime plug-in which is downloadable from the Apple site.
RTF (Rich Text Format)
RTF is an established standard for formatted, word-processed text. Nearly all word processing software should be able to import or export RTF files.
Macromedia's Shockwave is a plug-in for web browsers which allows executable programs including animation and interactivity to be incorporated into web pages. The material is prepared using Macromedia's authoring packages.
Windows Media
These include ASF (Advanced Streaming Format), WMV (Windows Media Video) and WMA (Windows Media Audio). As formats for compressed audio and video, they are competitors to RealPlayer formats, amongst others. You would normally need Windows Media Player to view them, although some other software can work. Eacxh of these files types has many versions, so if you can play some WMV files it does not mean you can play them all.
The ZIP file serves two functions: to cluster a number of files together into a one file, and to compress files so that they are easier to store or transmit. You may well already have WinZip, PowerArchiver, StuffIt or a similar program on your computer to read ZIPs. If not, there are free alternatives such as 7-Zip.

If you need to play a video file and your existing video software refuses to play it, try the wonderful (and free) VideoLan. Available for many different platforms, it seems able to handle just about any video format or disc you throw at it.