3 Aug 2002 raph   » (Master)

Document formats

Peter Deutsch and I had a very interesting and wide-ranging discussion yesterday. One point I feel compelled to write about is the current state of document formats.

Peter did his presentation at Adobe in vanilla HTML. It worked reasonably well, but of course didn't have a very polished feel. The A/V techs found the choice unusual; presumably PDF and PowerPoint dominate.

What format should one prepare documents in? It's 2002, and there's still no standard, editable document format that produces reasonable quality printed output. Word, PDF, and HTML represent the entrenched two-out-of-three solutions, respectively. Are we ever going to get such a beast? It's possible that Word will become standard, PDF will become editable, or that HTML will become good, but the trends are not really in place.

It's also important to mention TeX. This format is actually pretty close on all three counts, but suffers from serious usability problems, and there are other issues; fonts other than the Metafont family are not standardized. The sad thing is that it was pretty close twenty years ago, but the work needed to make it broadly usable never happened.

The theoretical space of document formats is interesting. I think I'll write about it in coming days, including why the blind faith in structural markup is wrong.

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