Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Author: Thad McIlroy (Page 2 of 2)

The PDF ISO Standard

Much is being made today of Adobe Systems announcement that “it intends to release the full Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.7 specification to AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, for the purpose of publication by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).”

The main hubbub surrounds the contention of several bloggers that this represents another attack by Adobe on Microsoft and its recently-released XPS format, “the PDF killer.” Quite probably so. It’s a subject worth examining, although not superficially.
For today I’d like to consider what it means to become an ISO standard. I think of this as the equivalent of getting a lifetime achievement award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars). It means you were pretty good, but you’re now almost dead.

As of December 31, 2005, there were 15,649 published ISO standards, with 1,240 released in that year alone. Under the heading of electronics, information technology and telecommunications, there were 2,447 published standards. How many does your organization conform to? If this impresses you, remember to celebrate World Standards Day on October 14! And for even more fun, there’s the new isomemory game (http://www.iso.org/iso/en/commcentre/isomemory/startpage.html#). I hear it’s fun for the whole family!

You can’t read the published standards on the ISO site without giving them a chunk of cash first. That says something in itself; I’m just not sure what. But you can see listings of the bodies buried in the ISO graveyard. For example ISO 12639:2004 is the TIFF/IT standard, once used widely in the prepress industry, but no longer a player. You can however download it for 176 Swiss francs, 8700 Yugoslav dinars, or about $140 Yankee dollars.

ISO 6804:1991 covers “rubber hoses and hose assemblies for washing-machines and dishwashers — Specification for inlet hoses.” It’s yours for 48 Swiss francs!

I could go on (and am tempted to do so).

At the same time, there are certain relevant standards that have crept into ISO…as Adobe mentions in its press release, all of the PDF sibling are now ISO standards (PDF/X, PDF-X1, etc.). The OpenDocument Format is a standard. And so on.

So what is the significance of becoming an ISO standard when your standard is one that people actually use? Historically, none; more recently, some.

As the publishing industry has evolved into an ever-more-complex microsystem, more and more organizations (and indeed states, countries, etc.) are choosing to endorse standards that have been accepted and published by ISO.

Will more organizations use PDF if it’s an ISO standard? Probably not. That is, unless Microsoft gains real traction with XPS. There are some very high-stakes games being played against the Microsoft/Windows juggernaut, and standards have become a key weapon in the game. Adobe has played a major trump card. Microsoft: your move.

eBooks Return (again)

In an October 27th entry on Dave Mainwaring’s Publishers’ SIG at www.printplanet.com/scripts/lyris.pl?enter=publishers-sig, someone named Chet Ensign wrote: “I have just read the press release at
Editions.html for Adobe’s beta release of Digital Editions. It is an eBook reader that uses PDF, XHTML, Flash and includes digital rights management support, subscriptions, ads, etc.

He continues: “I have not seen anything like a groundswell of excitement in publishing around eBooks so I don’t see this as a major development. In a review on ZDNet, Ryan Stewart wrote: “Users have been slow to take to eReader solutions, but I think technologies like the New York Times reader and Digital Editions are going to change that.” I don’t agree. I think people are not adopting ereaders because they add nothing new; they still just move print to the screen – where I personally just turn around and reprint so that I can read it in print. “What do others think? Is there more excitement around eBooks than I have been seeing?”

I wonder the same thing…

Somehow I think iPod when I read in Adobe PR of the new software:
“With native support for Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) as well as an XHTML-based reflow-centric publication format, Digital Editions delivers an engaging way to acquire, read, and manage content, including eBooks, digital magazines, digital newspapers and other digital publications. Initially available as a free public beta for Windows®, Digital Editions will support Macintosh systems as a universal binary application, Linux® platforms, as well as mobile phones and other embedded devices in future versions.”

I’ve always thought that the big problem with eBooks was/is the name, with the implicit connotation that we should be reading lightweight paperbacks on heavy digital readers… I now refer to ‘e-content’ rather than e-books. There’s a lot of digital information — most of it much shorter than book-length — that makes more sense to be consumed digitally than it does to be printed before consumption.

Somehow I also think about pending competition between Adobe and Microsoft on file formats, the long rumored battle of the PDF versus the XPS (although Wikipedia informs us: “XPS is viewed as a potential competitor to Adobe’s portable document format (PDF). XPS, however, is a static document format that does not include dynamic capabilities similar to those of PDF.”)

Microsoft doesn’t seem too hot on eBooks right now. Microsoft Reader was last updated in November, 2002 (the Tablet edition), although I was surprised to find today on the MSoft website: “Microsoft Reader Catalog of eBooks: search over 30000 free and retail ebooks, with direct links to downloading free content and samples…www.mslit.com/default.asp?mjr=FRE

However, looking more closely at the site, one finds that most of the eBooks are for sale, not free at all.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF, formerly the Open eBook Forum), the trade organization that speaks for the eBook “industry” (if that is not too grand a term) reported earlier this year that eBook sales increased 23% in 2005. Not bad, until one realizes that this represents under $12 million in revenue, and that unit sales were flat. As in all things digital, the result led publishers to increase title output by 20%, year over year.

The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library does offer 2100 free eBooks (old titles, out of copyright — http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ebooks/)

Still, it turns out I hadn’t bothered installing Reader on this 6-month-old computer — I’m doing it now — to find out if I get any more pleasure out of reading Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities on a computer now than I did (not) four years ago (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ebooks/lit/DicTale.lit).

As my friend Crad Kilodney once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, it was a Monday.

Thomson to sell Thomson Learning Division

For several years Thomson Learning was my largest consulting customer, and while I have not worked closely with the group for several years, it would be inappropriate for me to analyse or comment. I just wish to note for the record, quoting directly and exclusively from Thomson’s own press release of October 25:

Thomson Announces Strategic Realignment of Operations; Company to Sell Education Businesses
Highly Focused Strategy On Electronic Solutions For Professionals Will Drive Growth And Enhance Shareholder Value

Strategic Realignment Highlights:

  • Thomson organizational realignment designed to focus on electronic workflow solutions strategy and drive operational efficiencies
  • Thomson to divest education assets: higher education, careers and library reference; corporate e-learning; and e-testing
  • Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer are appointed

Stamford, Conn. , 10/25/2006.  The Thomson Corporation (NYSE: TOC; TSX: TOC) today announced a realignment of operations to sharpen its strategic focus on providing electronic workflow solutions to business and professional markets and better position the company for future growth. As part of the realignment, which becomes effective January 1, 2007, Thomson intends to sell its Thomson Learning businesses, including those serving the higher education, careers, library reference, corporate e-learning and e-testing markets.

“These initiatives are part of the natural evolution of Thomson as we pursue our strategic vision,” said Richard J. Harrington, president and chief executive officer of Thomson. “The market has validated our strategy of providing workflow solutions to business and professional customers, and we will continue to build on our strengths, reframe our markets and exploit technological innovations.

“Thomson Learning is an excellent business, but it does not fit with our long-term strategic vision,” Mr. Harrington said. “After the sale of Thomson Learning, the vast majority of our sales will come from electronic products and services with recurring revenues that are currently growing at high rates. In addition, the sale will provide us with substantial resources to take advantage of opportunities to accelerate the development of our core businesses and explore adjacent markets that are consistent with our strategy.”

Thomson Learning Sale
“Thomson Learning has leading positions in higher education, global reference, e-testing and corporate training,” Mr. Harrington said. “This well-managed and profitable business consistently delivers above-market growth and is well positioned to pursue opportunities in the global markets it serves.”

Thomson expects the divestiture of the Thomson Learning businesses to encompass three independent sales processes, each on its own schedule.
(The press release continues with details of divestitutres and staff changes.)

And so it goes…How sad. Print is certainly becoming a dirty word!

Acrobat Still Suffering from Schizophrenia

On Monday, in the wee hours of the night (my email was sent at 12:27 a.m.) Adobe emitted three short press releases announcing Acrobat 8. I’m a fan of Acrobat and PDF, so I always look forward to new versions of this ungainly but hugely-popular product. Sadly release #8, at first look-see, leaves me thoroughly unmoved.

The main press release captures the excitement behind the announcement: “The Acrobat 8 product line introduces several major innovations in the areas of document collaboration, PDF content reuse, PDF forms, packaging of multiple documents, and controlling sensitive information. For example, shared reviews put collaboration within the reach of virtually anyone with access to a shared network folder and Adobe Reader2. A participant in a shared review can see comments posted by others, track the status of the review, and work even when not connected – reducing duplicated work and enabling large groups to collaborate more efficiently. Acrobat 8 also enables PDF content to be exported into popular formats to enable reuse and repurposing of content.”

Most of these “innovations” are just “new and improved” old features.

If you’re looking for news, press release #2 is where to turn. Macromedia Breeze is now called Acrobat Connect, and will be available at a lower price-point and to smaller groups of users than the old not-so-gentle Breeze. This represents the first fruit of Adobe’s $3.4 billion acquisition of Macromedia. How do ya like them apples?
Press release #3 reveals that Adobe will continue to nurse Acrobat and PDF through its severe case of schizophrenia. Acrobat 8 ($449 by itself) will also be bundled into the awkwardly named Adobe Creative Suite 2.3 Premium edition ($1199). This is “to enable creative and print professionals to efficiently create, collaborate with, and automate output of Adobe PDF files.”

A few years back, Adobe came close to abandoning this group of PDF enthusiasts (and major buyers of Creative Suite). It realized the gross error of its ways at the 11th hour, and now makes sure to invite them for tea each time there’s something new happening with Acrobat. The features that appeal to “creative and print professionals” bear little resemblance to the features that appeal to the “knowledge workers,” who remain the big buyers of Acrobat itself. So while each group is told a slightly different story, Acrobat’s schizophrenia has not blocked its ever-growing popularity.

Also in press release #3 we find the second instance of the fruit-bearing acquisition. Not surprisingly, Adobe has decided to jettison the never-very-successful GoLive out of Creative Suite in favor of the incredibly successful Dreamweaver. Saving face, somewhat unconvincingly, we’re informed that “Adobe will continue to develop GoLive as a standalone product.” Right. That’s until Adobe finishes getting a little cash off the GoLive orphans as they make the switch (“upgrade”) to Dreamweaver.

The word on the street is that Creative Suite itself will be upgraded to V3 by early next year. Perhaps then the flaccid features of Acrobat 8 will start to make more sense. Or maybe some knowledge workers will acquire some knowledge, enough to tell us why this upgrade was released.

The Importance of QuarkXPress 7.0

(Full disclosure: I’ve consulted many times with Quark and with Adobe, and was specifically hired by Quark to prepare a brochure called QuarkXPress 7 for Output Service Providers.)

I think that QuarkXPress 7 is an important release for Quark, its customers, Adobe and the publishing industry. We’re well past the days of “feature wars,” so, for example, the addition of OpenType support, something first offered in InDesign 1.5 five years ago, is not shaking my world. There is also new support for transparency, improved color management and PDF support, and various other goodies that you’d expect to find in your Christmas stocking, but none of these are anything much more than “overdue.”

What’s most important from my perspective is Quark’s forward strides in supporting improved publishing workflows, the last frontier for the electronic publishing industry. Two new features stand out in this respect. One is “Job Jackets” and the other is JDF (Job Definition Format) support.

According to CIP4 (www.cip4.org) the non-profit industry association pushing JDF, “JDF is a comprehensive XML-based file format and proposed industry standard for end-to-end job ticket specifications combined with a message description standard and message interchange protocol.” Along with its earlier incarnations, JDF has been in the making for more than 15 years now. It has very broad industry support – hundreds of vendors have added JDF functionality to hundreds of hardware and software products. That being said, it’s still a challenge to find a robust JDF-based publishing installation in the field. The main reasons for this are the complexity of the standard and the need for all of the players in a broad publishing workflow to be in the game – if one key component lacks support the JDF flow grinds to a halt.

Adobe have added JDF support to Acrobat, which is to some extent accessible from InDesign, but Quark has moved ahead of Adobe by building JDF support directly into the page layout application, independently from PDF. No doubt Adobe will follow suit in the next version of InDesign, expected early next year, so the issue is not so much who got there first. But having what is still the mostly widely-used page layout application in the world throw its support behind JDF is of key importance at this time when broad-based JDF adoption by the publishing industry is still in question.

Quark uses JDF also in its Job Jackets feature. A Quark Job Jackets file contains all of the rules and specifications necessary to describe a QuarkXPress project. A Quark Job Jackets file can include specifications for colors, style sheets, trapping, and color management as well as picture color space, format, and resolution. The file can also include information such as the page size, number of pages, and contact information for the people involved with a job. And the file can include rules that specify configurations for font sizes, line thicknesses, box backgrounds, and other project elements. Workgroups can obtain consistent output by using Quark Job Jackets to share specifications across workstations.

For me the most intriguing benefit of Quark Job Jackets is that it re-invents the concept of preflighting. Preflighting has always been a post-process step: create your file, and then find out where you screwed up. With Job Jackets users can ensure that a print job adheres to its specifications from the moment it’s created, and that it continues to adhere to those specifications all the way through the production process until it rolls off the press. I’ve long maintained that page designers would not be able to perfect their process until it was possible to prevent errors, rather than to correct them after the fact. I’m certain this approach will fast become the production norm.

It’s interesting to me that searching through Google News the day after the Quark 7.0 launch in New York, there’s nary a mention in the mainstream press. Neither the New York Times nor the Wall Street Journal seem to have found it worthy of coverage. To me this reflects the new prevailing “wisdom”: Adobe has won the page-layout wars (and every other war for that matter), so Quark’s announcement isn’t newsworthy. I think they are underestimating the importance of QuarkXPress 7.0. Only time will tell.

Adobe & Macromedia

How did we become sheep? In fact eunuched sheep? Why is anyone pretending that the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe has anything to do with the customers of either company? This is a deal only for the management and shareholders of Adobe and Macromedia. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a fool. Graphic designers and webmasters should be greeting this with the same enthusiasm that Buckingham Palace received the news of Prince Charles and Camilla.

Adobe is famous for making acquisitions that could be funded from the expense accounts of its senior executives. Most amount to spare change (and have a similar impact on Adobe’s corporate fortunes). Adobe’s last big purchases were Aldus and FrameMaker, both in the mid-90s. As far as I can tell PageMaker is the only extant product remaining from Adobe’s purchase of Aldus, and it’s on life support. A year ago Adobe made it clear to PageMaker users to upgrade to InDesign pronto, or face product upgrade and customer support hell. Adobe continues to pretend that FrameMaker is a going concern, but it’s an ill-kept secret in the industry that the next version of InDesign will be announced at FrameMaker’s graveside.

What’s the win for either company’s customers? Better products? Better customer service? More innovation? Give me a break! These are two great companies, leaders in their field both in terms of innovation and customer service. But they are competitors. And in the dog-eat-dog world that we call “capitalism,” the larger dog eats the Chihuahua for lunch, and we all call it “synergy.”

In today’s CNET we were offered the kind of analyst’s quote that passes for informed critique:

“Consolidation in the industry is not always the best thing,” said Bruce Heavin, co-founder of Lynda.com. “I’ve always seen Macromedia and Adobe get better when they were on each other’s heels. When Adobe had LiveMotion, I saw better things coming out of Flash. And GoLive has helped Dreamweaver progress.”

That said, Heavin said the acquisition could improve compatibility between products.
“I think it will make it easy for these programs to talk to each other,” Heavin said. “It could wind up making it easier for the customers and the users… In the end I think this will be somewhat (emphasis mine) of a good thing.”

I’d never heard of lynda.com before today. An authoritative expert, no doubt — the site helps “media designers & communicators understand how to use professional tools and design to enhance visual communication through web, print, and motion graphics.”
My first reaction to today’s news was “where are they going to dump FreeHand?” You may recall that Adobe ended up with FreeHand once before, after acquiring Aldus in 1994. Legal action by Altsys, FreeHand’s developer, and some semblance of a Federal anti-trust department, forced Adobe to return all rights for FreeHand to Altsys. And then Altsys promptly sold itself to Macromedia.

Those of us more than 11-years-old recall that Altsys’ big product was not FreeHand but Fontographer (FreeHand may have generated more cash, but Fontographer was the product that put Altsys on the map). Fontographer was the first, and, as far as I know, remains the best product for creating digital fonts (OpenType fonts excepted). I’d long ago forgotten about it, but see tonight that it remains available, buried on Macromedia’s site. So Adobe got that in the bargain (let this serve as a reminder to Adobe management — they probably didn’t notice along the way!).

The official FAQ of the announcement is a model of corporate bafflegab:

“Why are the companies joining now?”

“Both companies are experiencing great success and momentum and have great opportunities ahead of them, and believe that together, they will be better able to achieve their combined vision with greater synergy. We also believe the joining of two healthy companies will lead to a more successful combined company.”

Wow! That certainly makes sense to me!

Analysts who are trying to be provocative are positioning the takeover as a stab against Microsoft. According to Monday’s Wall Street Journal:

“Microsoft already regards PDF’s success as a long-term threat. The next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn and due out next year, is expected to include features to move documents around companies and the Internet, and aimed at eliminating the need for PDF.

‘There’s a huge battle brewing’ between Adobe and Microsoft, said Andy Warzecha, senior vice president of Meta Group, a unit of technology-research firm Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.'”

Zowie! That faux-battle is a subject for a separate critique. But tell me how does the acquisition of Macromedia make the least bit of difference in this “battle”? Adding Flash to PDF makes no sense whatsoever (though no doubt, some engineers will find the bandaids to do so). SVG was Adobe’s “Flash-killer.” It seemed like a joke at first, but has gained W3C endorsement (including endorsement from Macromedia). It’s a more complex format than Flash, and far less ubiquitous, but offers significant features that Flash doesn’t even reach for. On top of that, SVG is a direct descendent of PDF, and shares much of the code base. Flash is the bastard cousin of PDF.

As I think about the acquisition tonight, only two things are clear to me. First, Adobe needed to do something that would make headlines to justify its recently inflated share price and reputation. With its share prices suddenly inflated into the stratosphere Adobe could afford to make an all-stock deal for Macromedia (Macromedia shareholders take note: sell ASAP). Second, there’s no better time to make an obviously anti-competitive acquisition than during the reign of George Bush II.

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