Challenges for any system that consumes processes and displays data are compatibility and efficiency. While the owner/sponsor and system designer certainly have jurisdiction and design authority, compatibility and ultimate usability can be victims if data formats are selected indiscriminately. Our current processing-rich environment has perhaps overcome compatibility issues through real-time translations and format conversions the loss being additional cost and some performance. What cannot as easily be corrected are the varying accuracies and geospatial registration differences a hybrid data product contains.
Commercial sector standards either emerge, take root and prosper or are ignored, wither and die. Unlike the commercial sector it is often not the end user that drives weather data formats but a scientist or sponsor who may not experience the challenges of deploying and maintaining operational systems. This paper discusses the benefits and drawbacks inherent in data format variability in the context of environmental visual analysis systems. The current state of environmental visual analysis system performance can be improved through judicious selection and adoption of data formats for environmental data. An end-user's ability to choose from a wide range of data formats to use based on his own needs is contrasted with the burden created by the need for development of data conversion tools to support required data formats. A parallel between digital music format evolution and environmental data is drawn, and the lessons learned from the commercial digital music industry are shown to be applicable to environmental data formats.