Universal accessibility has been a fundamental attraction of the World Wide Web.
HTML is simple, flexible and effective subset of XML. It provides an interface to the most complex applications and can run on mobile devices as well as desktop computers. Of course, its simplicity means that it has many shortcomings, partially overcome by the integration of a raft of “helper applications” into the web browser at the cost of its initial appeal as an extremely small footprint application.
Adobe’s Portable Document format (pdf) predates the World Wide Web and has evolved as the preferred format for delivering documents in many enterprises. It has the disadvantage of being a document presentation tool with extremely limited retrieval capabilities. It’s large footprint and focus on accuracy of presentation also introduce a range of compatibility issues. In many situations it is simply used as a means for electronically transferring documents which are then printed.
The evolution of SGML to XML and the XML Publishing System overcomes some of the shortcomings of HTML and introduces others. It considerably expands the number of layers of applications required to publish, deliver and manage documents and, as a relatively new format, is far from universally supported. It’s lack of integration with non-Microsoft systems and with the installed base of enterprise desktops precludes its use for many information delivery solutions.
One approach that has considerable merit is the integration of a small footprint reader with the document itself. This approach provides for a flexible and powerful security framework, removes the compatibility issues and can integrate seamlessly with other desktop applications.
Publishers can customize the interface for specific data, or classes of data, and provide direct links to specific applications for particular circumstances. Furthermore, it eliminates version control issues, ensuring perpetual compatibility of data and reader.
Another significant advantage of integrated publications is that large numbers can be assembled into libraries or suites, are extensible in an ad hoc manner, yet can be searched contiguously. To date, there are only a small number of electronic publishing solutions that take this approach.
One perceived downside of this integration is that publications become applications. From the systems management point of view this raises a number of trust issues. Once those trust issues are addressed, however, it significantly enhances the management of security. The tight coupling of information and reader means that the security is embedded in the publication App.
From the end user’s point of view, this coupling enhances the usability of the publication. It loads quickly, is instantly usable and the integrated interface enhances navigation and searching.