Achieving ubiquitous visual communication based on telecommunication networks, computers and display terminals is made difficult by the large number of visual data formats used within systems and communication protocols. Format independent visual communication addresses this problem by resolving format incompatibility and making the diversity of data formats transparent to applications, systems and users. This solution implies a powerful visual information format and an environment that supports format conversion of pictures, text and graphics. A set of Format Independent Visual Exchange (FIVE) tools and visual data types are described that may be added to existing systems to achieve format independent presentation of visual information. The FIVE data types include compressed image data and permit the creation of mixed format information. A high degree of transparency to formats is achieved by providing automatic conversion of the visual information to target formats.