Friday, June 22, 2007

What is "open" about Digital Editions?

I am trying to find out more about Digital Editions, mostly through checking out blogs. I have done a report for Acrobat Services dotcom but this is intended to find out more.

It seems Adobe are supporting open formats. Digital Editions prefers PDF to be in PDF/A, the archive format published by ISO. My own PDF stock seems to work ok. I have not yet removed anything or checked for PDF/A compliance. But it also supports an open format for e-books. Please accept this as simple text - "an open format for e-books". That is my understanding, just before an attempt at the acronyms and standards.

Nick Bogarty, Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum wrote a comment on the Hectic Pace blog in Feb with some history and background.

In November 2005, a Working Group was formed to create a container format so that publishers could package all of their digital book files into one file to send through distribution. Over 30 companies and organizations participated in the effort. The result was the OEBPS Container Format (OCF) which is a ZIP-based specification compatible with the container technology used in OASIS' Open Document Format 1.0. The specification was approved by the IDPF membership in October 2006 with a vote of 47 FOR, 0 AGAINST and 11 ABSTAIN. The official spec

In February 2006, a Working Group was formed to create the next generation OEB file format specification. The clear goals of the group were to update OEB 1.2 to improve the adoption of viability of the standard as both a cross-reading system interchange and production format as well as (and this is important!) a final publication delivery format. The result of this effort is the Open Publication Structure 2.0 (OPS 2.0). A draft version has been released to the public and can be found at:

Open Packaging Format:

Open Publication Structure:

Apparently this OPS can be dreated in Adobe InDesign. So how is it different to PDF or to the MARS version of PDF? How else can it be created?

My impression is that the open source world has not yet looked at this much. I am not aware of anything being promoted that creates OPS. That could just be me, so comments welcome. It seems likely that Open Office or Scribus would be capable of doing this, even if some work is required.

Adobe on MARS continues as a mystery. On the Adobe blogs the most recent post I can find as relevant is from Bill McCoy in October last year.

Adobe's new Digital Editions publishing platform supports the forthcoming OEBPS profile of XHTML with OCF, as mentioned in the IDPF press release. In addition last week Adobe also announced a technology preview of Project Mars, which is developing an XML representation of PDF. The single-file packaging for Mars is based on IDPF OCF, and the page contents description is based on W3C SVG, which the IDPF OEBPS WG is working to support within the eBook profile of XHTML.

While Mars is still at an early stage, the prospect of a single container format and XML-friendly standards-based representation for both paginated PDF and "liquid" XHTML based content is a very promising development.

Trying to get past the acronyms it seems that whatever the open e-book format is called, it may have advantages over PDF, with or without MARS, if you like your pages to be "liquid", presumably on a small screen.

But I think someone should explain this a bit better. Digital Editions is a mass market product. So is there a short version of the background?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gee's balanced and fair view of e-books

For some reason print magazines have taken a while to get a handle on the web. It is easy to understand why they are concerned about a future for the equipment their readers have invested in. But there is no obvious reason why the readers of Image Reports would be too worried about book publishing. My guess is they have been into digital workflows for ages and are mostly interested in inkjet.

So it is probably a genuine opinion coming from Gee Ranasinha, as summarised in a headline- "e-books? They are rubbish."

Gee cites the high cost of a Sony e-book reader.

"Worse, books tend not to be hugely discounted in electronic form. Checking out a couple of websites, it seems that the average difference between downloading an ebook version against buying the real book is a saving of about a quid. That’s because the price we pay for a book is mostly in the intellectual property, not in the actual production costs of putting ink on paper. So e-books aren’t cheaper."

Not sure this is based on actual costs. Free e-books are possible. There are some on the Adobe site to celebrate the launch of a Digital Editions reader, a sort of Flash take on Acrobat.

Sadly the main difference with Acrobat seems to be Digital Rights Management. Sure to appeal to publishers but Gee has previously pointed out the downside from a consumer point of view. so I think Acrobat will continue. But the new approach is only 3 meg assuming you have Flash already. You can annotate abit, but not pass these notes on as yet. Gee point out that people like to share books. So maybe copying out the best bits to a Google doc would be one way of collaboration.

Usually I find Gee is advanced in his views. He mentions VHS tapes as an endangered species though I still have a lot of them. I can remember a time when a really recent Sony video device was quite expensive. So maybe an e-book reader will get cheaper some day.

The Adobe website suggests the InDesign in the latest Creative Suite as a way to create an e-book. For readers of Image Reports, this could be an extra service to offer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

It is August already in the world of PC Pro

Magazines may have print deadlines suggesting they were written some time ago but the dates on the cover seem from the future. The point of them is to cover the unknown and unexpected. So it is not surprising that they often appear not to relate to the rest of experience.

PC Pro has a long article by Tom Arah with the best explanation found so far about what Adobe may intend with the Flash route to Apollo. Apparently Microsoft and Adobe share a vision of animated design as a web front for data crunching. Microsoft will offer better design tools. Adobe will suddenly attract an army of developers, including the ones who are still working on Visual Basic like a few people I know. Most of Tom Arah's article seems to be written as an explanation for Flash designers who may be puzzled why they need to learn a new scripting language. Apparently the new one is compatible with the new version of FLEX which in turn presumably will be compatible with whatever is coming out next. So the latest Flash will make sense for exisiting users once they realise it is intended for someone else. I hope I have not misrepresented the article. Copies of PC Pro are on sale in the UK, maybe not till August. On the website it is still May, but the text will appear eventually.

My own opinion is that the Acrobat audience has a similar set of problems. The latest release was mostly an advert for the confusingly named "Acrobat Connect". This is basically Flash. Eventually it may turn out to be quite easy to program and add the features that are not really there at the moment. So again it will all make sense at some point in the future.

Meanwhile I am still mostly interested in MARS. As far as I understand it, this is an XML route to PDF so makes it easier to do a lot of things that have already been talked about - flat corporate-style documents, mostly text and numbers. Boring ok, but why not sort this out if it is not too complicated? At Adobe Live in London I gathered that there would be an update to the MARS download sometime soon. I have put off a report for OhmyNews till this turns up. It may now be too late to present this as news but I remain of the same opinion so have started to time travel as a form of journalism.

So the only news event about MARS that I can find is a Unicode conference in October. I will try this out on the websites. Link later.

I try to keep an open mind about Flash. From what I can make out, there will be an Adobe Media Player sometime this year and this will be an example of an integrated runtime. So my current plan is to come back to this when the Media Player is available. I am not sure that the demand is there at the moment. Based on an impression of people I meet in Exeter my guess is it may take a couple of years for Integrated Runtime Readiness. There are a few who have upgraded to Vista but even the games enthusiasts seem to be waiting for something.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lawrence Wallis is still not blogging, but...

Lawrence Wallis is still not blogging but it turns out that his weekly writing can be found on the Printweek website.

A few examples- a balanced view of the internet, a plea for recent technology as heritage, and an attack on current language.

Maybe the word "system" would make more sense than "solution". Just a suggestion. There is something that the print industry is missing out on, as it seems to me.

drupa Innovation Parc, the screen grab jpeg

On the website this is in Flash, so you wait for it to load and then an animation of the whole site for context, then each area can be raised a little but really it all takes too long. One image is enough to show the agenda and a basis for discussion. Nearer the time a PDF would be good to print out and help in finding the actual space.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Still no news on MARS

Nothing on MARS so far, but I still think it is worth waiting before another story for Ohmynews.

Meanwhile a photo of the web theatre at Adobe Live Islington.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Adobe Live in London, still not much on MARS

Apparently there will soon be an update on MARS, a download with the bugs fixed. that is what I gathered at Adobe Live but there is nothing I can find yet on the website.

There was some convincing evidence of how Flash contributes to classic publishing. Sansui showed a FLEX approach to design in a format for online design through PublishNOW. It is more or less form filling but the Flash offers a visual impression of the final result. InDesign Server creates a PDF for the record and the actual printing. I think that more or less describes it. More in a few weeks.

I met David van Driessche from Gradual on the Certitec stand. Gradual is only gradual as it is assumed that email or FTP for a PDF is already the start of the workflow. Probably a fair assumption though. He suggested that XMP is now used fairly widely for job ticket sort of information coming through websites. JDF is too much for most websites apparently. This is a start at least. JDF can be added later in production.

Print has more or less gone from the Adobe scheme of things. I am only slowly getting used to this. I did a video of the way that a Photoshop flat photo can become a 3D animation-

but this was on the webcast previously. i think the news from Adobe Live was about the MARS update, so more later.

Friday, June 01, 2007

How paranoid is Adobe?

Please understand this is only a blog. It may go way off track sometimes so feedback is welcome.

Next week Adobe will be visible in the UK. Adobe Live is in Islington on Tuesday and Wednesday. My own impression is that "Classic Adobe" will not be much represented. Printing as in litho, that sort of thing. "Classic print and publishing" is a business unit apparently based in India with no marketing budget. I am not opposed to video or web animation but I find it difficult to dialogue with Adobe on issues that are outside their current focus. Market and message segmentation seem a bit out of any coherence sometimes. Maybe it is just the number of emails that arrive recently.

MSNBC recently repeated an FT report by Richard Waters based on a statement by Bruce Chizen about Apollo, a new approach to Flash on the desktop-

We're disrupting how web applications are delivered...By the end of next year, we could have Apollo everywhere....It's truly revolutionary.

The idea of "Adobe_formerly_Macromedia" is still helping to make sense of this. It is as if Classic Adobe is about to vanish.

"Paranoid" is an objective term in business theory. Andrew S. Grove from Intel wrote a book titled "Only the Paranoid Survive". The preface is on the Intel site with an animated gif to illustrate an inflection point where old stategic pictures dissolve. Grove advocates that technology companies be constantly aware of change.

In the FT report Richard Waters wrote that "Adobe has been caught in the crosshairs of a growing number of Microsoft initiatives of late", referencing the new range of products for graphic designers. The report suggests that Adobe intends Apollo as an attack on Microsoft for the potential of "rich applications".

Picking a fight with Microsoft has never proved to be a smart move for software companies in the past. Adobe is counting on three factors in particular to tip the balance more in its favour as the battle shifts away from Microsoft's home turf of PC-focused application development.

One is the near-ubiquity of its Flash player and Acrobat document reader on PCs, and their increasing use on other "client" devices. Those free pieces of software will serve as the launch pad for Apollo: users upgrading to new versions of Flash and Acrobat will be offered the new software free of charge as well.

At Adobe Live there appears to be significant time for Flash and Apollo but almost no space at all for Mars, an XML approach to PDF. Perhaps PDF is not seen as part of the threat situation.

In 2005 John Dvorak wrote about the Adobe acquisition of Macromedia. For his take on the movie "Blowup", keep scrolling down .He suggested that "over the years Adobe has shown itself to be an aggressive, but paranoid software vendor." He traced this back to Seybold 1989

All this is because of a blindside announcement by Microsoft at the Seybold Desktop Publishing Conference in San Francisco on September 20, 1989 when it announced TrueType fonts and made Apple (a traditional Adobe partner) it's strategic partner to promote the new font standard.
Adobe co-founder John Warnock was at the podium next and was in tears over this unforeseen betrayal since Adobe, until then, owned this part of the business. From that point on Adobe, like the character in the movie, has been running from pursuers, imagined or otherwise.

Why? Microsoft has essentially failed at any attempt to encroach on the Adobe business. Even TrueType probably did no long term damage except to the relationship with Apple.
But kids, Microsoft lurks. Be-ware! Be-ware!

So maybe the urgency about a Flash future is not really such a priority. It seems out of proportion to me at the moment.

If it is true that the world of Postscript and PDF is about to disappear, why will there be a continuing income from these products? Video editing is free on PhotoBucket presumably as it will add to the volume of Flash media. The Elements versions of Photoshop and Premiere are excellent value. However the use of Elements to describe the Acrobat offer is confusing as only large corporate sites can consider the minimum number of seats. Could there be a Pagemaker Classic at a reasonable price?

It may take a year or so to discover how Apollo will work out. So far the progress of Vista appears to be slower than expected. The current Personal Computer World reports an add-on for Office that brings back the previous menus. It is posible that existing customers of Abobe and Microsoft are not as experimental as assumed in marketing plans.

I will try to keep an open mind during Adobe Live. But theories around paranoia may explain the experience of meassages that appear not to relate to current concerns.

Maybe an imagined Seybold would help to create a sense of coherence and integration. Fortunately both Postscript and PDF are open standards so there is a continuing discussion.

In his report about Adobe and paranoia, John Dvorak recalled the 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film "Blowup"

The protagonist is at a small rock concert where pandemonium breaks out as the lead guitarist throws his guitar into the audience -- putting it up for grabs.
A fight ensues. Somehow, the protagonist ends up with the guitar and scoots into the street chased by an angry mob -- all demanding the instrument. Soon he looks back and the mob is gone. He looks at the guitar then throws it into the trash.
This scene, to me, epitomizes Adobe Systems.

The only difference is that with Adobe, nobody else is actually after the guitar. Adobe only thinks they are.