Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 3-Section 2

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Hypertext features are vital to make the information dynamic, so that users can track through instinctively to explore the connections between items. The indexing and cross-referencing should be comprehensive, and preferably automatic, and the system should be selected by those knowledgeable about information who will not confuse digitized text libraries with databases.

The screen displays, particularly the typefaces, must make the most of the monitors, at which fonts and formatting that mimic paper often fail miserably. Trying to transfer a typeface directly from paper to screen with no better reason than that it worked well in print is complete nonsense. Some type designs just do not look good on screen, and so should be replaced by those that are easier to read and have aesthetic features appropriate to the electronic medium.

It is almost always necessary to have a larger sans serif font on a screen for ease of reading. Such print features as boldfacing, underlining, and italics that are used in print to give emphasis or distinguish from the main text might be better achieved on-screen by the use of color. The creative and practical use of "white space" is at least as important in a paperless document as it is for a hardcopy, but the techniques involved might be very different. One of the problems with plain ASCII text readers is that they rarely lay the type out on the screen to best effect, let alone provide an attractive readable typeface. For example, the margins required for a sheet of paper are not desirable for a screen that already has defining margins around it.

An important concept often overlooked is that paperless documents can become literally pageless, breaking out of the physical restraints of a sheet of paper. This might not always be an advantage, however, because the computer screen also has limitations and is not as competent as paper at some tasks, such as displaying a long list. Allow for the negative as well as the positive differences between paper and the screen.

A major strength of true electronic documents is that they overcome the problem of "text migration" often encountered in print, in which illustrations can become divorced from the section of text that they are supposed to make clearer. In electronic publications, the ability to

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resize text and illustrations in windows on the same screen, or switch quickly from text references to the relevant illustrations, can be a great help to comprehension if you have adopted a system that makes such actions possible. Add the flexibility to incorporate full-color images at little or no additional cost and multimedia features that let those images move and make sounds, and you can see that electronic publishing's communication ability is inherently far more powerful than the typical business document or publication.

 

Size, life, and use define your software needs

The size of your publications and how they will be used are major factors in evaluating their suitability for paper or electronic media, along with which software authoring tools to use. A short document with a limited lifespan that needs to be very portable to everyone in an organization, not just those using computers, is an obvious candidate for paper. As the size of the document increases, and the need to refer to it over a longer period becomes greater, electronic publishing becomes more attractive.

A large, complex reference work is far more portable and accessible in electronic form, even when you take into account the portable computing device necessary to read it. This stimulates the use of PDAs like the one in Fig. 3-1 by technicians, warehouse staff, and other employees not able to interface easily with desktop hardware. Where there is a need to publish to employees not having access to computers at all, some corporations are achieving significant successes with interactive kiosks, particularly for publications emanating from the human resources department.

 

Portability can be crucial

However large the organization, it cannot switch to digital documentation in isolation. It must consider the need for publishing portability--the ability to be an interactive reader of materials coming in from customers, suppliers, and local and national

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government organizations, together with the requirement to publish back to them in formats compatible with external systems.

Publishing portability is happening almost by default. Electronic publishing will become almost instinctive as more personal computer users exploit the document portability that is actually being embedded in their operating systems and applications. DOS, Windows, Unix, the Macintosh platform, and OS/2 will steadily get better at enabling anyone using recent versions of these operating systems to exchange formatted documents. This will make feasible much electronic publishing without the need for any special reading programs. Windows users have long been able to exchange Rich Text Format documents between different word processing programs, almost with the same ease and consistency as plain ASCII texts move around different computing environments.

Microsoft's dominance among personal computer operating systems and its commitment to the increasingly popular TrueType font technology make it feasible for the world's largest personal computing software company to again establish a new standard, while WordPerfect also seeks to create a lingua franca for electronic publishing. By the mid-1990s, newer versions of both Windows and

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MS-DOS will contain more proficient tools for making documents portable.

Unfortunately, uncertainty will prevail for several years about the viability of publishing with any of the various proprietary independent formats, none of which meet every need. Any electronic publishing software that stays in the game must become increasingly chameleon-like in mimicking the fonts and formatting created by the leading word processing and desktop publishing programs. One leading contender, actually called FontChameleon, can mimic most of the fonts in common usage. This ability is shared by such other programs as Infinifont, but it is an approach that solves one problem by posing others. Faking fonts can be heavy on system resources, particularly memory and disk space. That's where programs such as Acrobat and Replica score, with their ability to actually embed TrueType fonts in the documents they convert.

In this aspect of electronic publishing, much will depend on the importance both publishers and readers give to exactly preserving formats and typefaces. A side skirmish will be "The Battle of the Fonts" between PostScript, which in the past has dominated computerized print publishing, and TrueType, which is being driven by the popularity of Windows. One can only hope that common sense will prevail and paperless publishing reverts to the best traditions of print, in which clarity and classical simplicity represent quality in typography, not a plethora of typefaces that often detract rather than enhance the readability and aesthetic qualities of documents.

 

Multiple personalities aid portability

Making publications portable among platforms is becoming easier as computers acquire "multiple personalities." In the old days they used to be very distinctive, insular characters, with DOS systems not talking to Macs not talking to Amigas, and so on. Now there is ever-increasing cross-platform dialogue, an important element in the production and marketing strategies of many electronic publishers.

However, there is a battle going on among scores of competing electronic publishing software targeted primarily at the business

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community to try to establish a standard. Some of this software is very insular, and unless it has the capacity to make your publications truly portable across platforms and document managing environments, you risk the corporate equivalent of ending up with a Betamax VCR in a VHS world.

 

Another factor to take into consideration when seeking portability for maximum publishing power is the trend for data in any form--texts, numbers, or graphics--to become independent of the application that created it. This opens the door to new forms of publishing. Alan Ashton, President of WordPerfect Corporation, envisages a future in which millions more people are linked by new developments in electronic mail services, so that they can exchange information in many formats. Version 6 of WordPerfect, the most popular of all word processors with over 11 million users around the world, incorporates more features to make this kind of universal publishing far more practical.

Everyone who uses Windows is already getting a foretaste of such new electronic publishing concepts. Its Clipboard saves data or graphics that you select in three formats that cover the requirements for them to be transferred to any other application running under Windows. Transfer the contents of the Clipboard to a floppy disk, or as a transmission by modem or over a network, and you effectively "publish" in a form that can be read by another Windows user anywhere, on any Windows system.

 

Clients and servers for dynamic data exchange

Dynamic data exchange (DDE) takes this concept a little further and brings us up against those much misunderstood buzzwords of network computing: client and server. A server is essentially an author--the provider of the data--while the client is the reader. In networking, the terms are usually applied to the computer systems playing these

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roles; the server is the computer controlling the network, while the clients are the workstations.

There are also specific software applications, such as a word processor or spreadsheet, that play client and server roles. You might, as the server or publisher in an organization, establish a DDE link between your word processor and the spreadsheets running on hundreds of workstations around your organization. You might want certain spreadsheet reports to incorporate particular corporate information that is updated regularly. When a workstation client accesses the spreadsheet files that have been identified as requiring this DDE link, they can automatically be updated with the latest information from the relevant word processing file.

 

Olé for OLE

The next phase, object linking and embedding (OLE, pronounced "oh-lay"), goes farther by making far stronger links through a registry of all data or graphic objects that have been linked, so that the updating and transfer processes are far more efficient.

Embedding is making a copy of an object and placing it within a document or other form of electronic publication. When, as a client, you click on an embedded object, your computer makes all kinds of inquiries about how that object was created. If necessary, your computer sends a message to the server computer on the network to call up any functions that you, as the client, might need from the application software used to create the object. This adds a great deal of extra power and flexibility to publishing on a network.

The concept of OLE is continually being refined and expanded in its flexibility and capabilities. It is one of the driving forces transforming personal computers from their primary initial roles, as the creators of information, to their far more widespread destiny as primarily the retrievers of information that originated outside any particular individual system or workstation.

In other words, the personal computer moves from being primarily a publisher to being primarily a reader--which is just as it has to be,

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since there will always be more readers than publishers. However, every reader has the potential to be able to publish back into the system, if allowed to do so. In some cases, authors will permit any, or selected, readers to make amendments. In other instances, documents will be published in forms that prevent them from being altered, although it may be possible to add notations and comments.

 

Exploit existing resources

Look closely also at what other applications are being used by your target readers (and by those publishing material to you that you might want to republish internally). For example, an organization already geared to Lotus spreadsheets, using Lotus Notes on a network, and perhaps with Ami Pro as the word processor of choice, has very good reasons to choose SmarText from Lotus for its internal publishing requirements.

Indeed, if the external audience is well-defined, SmarText can cover a lot of external publishing requirements also, despite the $99 charged for the Reader program at the time of this writing.

 

The mention of a reader program brings up a major issue in electronic publishing. The best document-managing and publishing software might present you with additional complications and expense if you wish to use it outside its native environment, in a place where the ability to read it is severely restricted. Some of the leading applications to generate electronic publications do not have run-time reading modules that travel easily along with the files to enable your title to be read almost anywhere. Much of the electronic publishing software intended for business use is only fully effective on networked computers, or requires the licensing and installation of expensive and often large reader programs.

Even when you can attach a reader module that does not increase your publication's file size inordinately, the software company might

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impose considerable restrictions and stiff licensing fees if you publish externally, particularly for profit. Most of the shareware authoring programs have very few restrictions, if any, so you might want to consider, say, Writer's Dream, Dart, or Rexxcom Systems' XLPLUS for at least your external publishing requirements. They might not have all the power and features that you require to run a large and complex corporate internal system, but they could save you a lot of time, trouble, and money for external publishing.

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Among the leading commercial software players, Common Ground (Fig. 3-2) was among the first to adopt the enlightened policy of placing very few restrictions on reader modules that a registered user of the authoring program could distribute. They encouraged you to distribute the reader without badgering you for additional contracts, permissions, and royalty payments--but only when you publish for noncommercial purposes.

Others, like Adobe with Acrobat (Fig. 3-3), and IBM with BookManager (Fig. 3-4), have been more restrictive, although market forces might compel them to loosen up. When choosing your authoring program, take very serious account of the usage policy and prices for the reader modules to ensure that they are as compatible as possible with your ultimate marketing and distribution objectives.

Multimedia publications present particular problems, with the legal issues raised by Compton's NewMedia patents on search systems for multimedia CD-ROMs not clear at this time. It would be a sad thing for electronic publishing if such issues are not resolved quickly and drag on for years, as did the legal battles over "look and feel" graphical user interfaces.

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With those external publishing considerations in mind, some of the recommended shareware programs have added attractions for small organizations without SGML concerns. These shareware programs are particularly appropriate if you do not already have such facilities as computer networks and e-mail, so that your distribution will be largely on floppies. The best shareware programs have powerful hypertext and word-search capabilities, and because of their small

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reader modules, the published pieces can be placed easily into a wide variety of electronic filing and document management systems, onto bulletin boards and network servers, or transmitted via modem or floppies.

Of course, larger organizations will probably prefer to go to advanced commercial software systems, such as Acrobat or Folio Views, but the shareware programs with minimal system requirements and complexity demonstrate for business users as well as individual authors that electronic publishing need not be highly complex, expensive, and difficult to achieve. Much that is written about electronic publishing focuses on commercial software that requires powerful hardware and steep learning curves for most of the staff who will use these programs. Much of the complexity arises from preoccupations with preserving formatting and other conventions from paper-based communications, or a perceived need to have very advanced search capabilities. Consequently, decisions to move away from paper are delayed because of the cost and disruption involved.

However, by using the appropriate programs, a business of any size can begin publishing and storing information electronically with minimal expense or trauma. Large text databases can be maintained and published with powerful search engines that take up minute memory or disk facilities. With askSam, for example, you can work fast and efficiently to search large text files on a basic PC with only a single floppy disk drive. I did that at one stage of researching this book, and as a result it would be a comparatively simple process to sort through those massive files, select material that could not be accommodated in the book, attach the little askSam reader search engine, and publish a self-contained expanded electronic version of this book with all my notes. XL2000 and Illustrated Reader are other examples of shareware programs that can create monitor screens with text formatted just as attractively as on the typical business paper document.

Consider such programs also for pilot projects in large organizations. Although a global corporate shift towards digitizing paper documentation is the preferred course in most cases, there might be situations in which it is more practical to initiate pilot programs involving a few individuals or departments. Here, you can experiment

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