IDPF today released the first working draft of a specification for the Open Container Format , which defines a single-file package for OEBPS XHTML-based content and related resources. The publication of this draft by the IDPF Container Format Working Group is a significant milestone in advancing open ePublishing standards. I encourage those interested in industry-wide standards to review and provide feedback on this proposal, which has implications beyond eBooks and OEBPS. To quote from the draft:
As a general container technology, OCF collects a related set of files into a single-file container. OCF can be used as a container technology for various document formats and some classes of applications. The single-file container enables easy transport of, management of, and random access to, the collection.
OCF defines the rules for how to represent an abstract collection of files (the “abstract container”) into physical representation within a ZIP archive (the “physical container”). The rules for ZIP containers build upon and are backward compatible with the ZIP technologies used by Open Document Format (ODF) 1.0.
That it’s taken just two months from publishing requirements for a container format to releasing a detailed and nearly complete formal specification is a credit to hard work and a can-do attitude on the part of the Working Group leadership and technical contributors. I’ve only been a kibbitzer in this but I’ve been very impressed with the contributions from multiple publishers, technologists, and system vendors. Of course one reason for the speed is that this proposal represents a generalization of the ODF approach, but successfully avoiding reinventing the wheel is also commendable (and rare) in a standards body. Coordination with other relevant standards groups, including OASIS and DAISY, is also underway.
It’s clear that the IDPF process is working, and I hope that those who have been advocating splinter approaches are ready to put their egos aside and really put their wood behind this arrow, so we can end the “Tower of eBabel” of multiple incompatible eBook formats.