As noted earlier, I will be leaving Adobe soon. I will continue to write about digital publishing on a new personal blog, “Bill McCoy: Books 2.0″. From my introductory post there:
…my work at Adobe these last three years has been centered around a relatively prosaic objective: establishing open standards that enable multi-channel/cross-device distribution of eBooks. For all intents and purposes, this work is done: epub is now firmly established as the industry standard for reflow-centric eBooks. That took a considerable effort, on the part of many people, and I’m really proud that we did it. But… that was the easy part: essentially migration of print to digital. epub does take portable documents to the next level – breaking past beyond PDF’s paper-replica model. But that’s only the beginning of the fundamental reinvention of the book that digital content and the Web will enable. In other words: now it’s really going to get interesting. I expect my future work, and this blog, to focus on this transformation.
To all of you who have checked in with me these last few days – thanks! Restructuring is always tough, and my thoughts are with other affected friends and colleagues, but on balance this is a positive transition for me personally. And that Adobe is expanding its investment in digital publishing should be the high-order bit for customers and business partners. The incredible team I’ve worked with now has significant additional resources and enhanced business focus.
Signing out here.
I will be leaving Adobe in the near future to pursue other opportunities “to be determined”. It’s been a heck of a ride these last several years! I’m particularly proud that epub is now firmly established as the open standard eBook format, with a boost from Adobe’s leadership in IDPF as well as from the solution set that we’ve put in place including Adobe Reader Mobile SDK, Adobe Content Server, Adobe Digital Editions, and the authoring support in Adobe InDesign.
While my transition comes as Adobe is restructuring, it’s really more about Adobe creating a new, expanded organization focused on digital publishing media monetization. My team is the nucleus of this group, and the additional wood that Adobe is putting behind this arrow should be great news for our customers and business partners. We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff on our roadmap, and it’s been an exceptional honor to have worked with such an incredible group of people. But, it was a logical time for me to move on.
I will be taking a little bit of time off, but there is no doubt that I’ll continue to be involved in the future of digital books, especially where that future intersects with web standards and open source. I believe that Adobe will continue to play a critical role as an enabler of interoperable solutions, but I also believe that the community needs to stay vigilant to ensure that for-profit corporations don’t just talk the talk about being open, but also walk the walk. I’ve certainly tried my level best to do this from the inside, but look forward to the opportunity to push for open standards and interoperability from a completely neutral perspective. I can be reached at whmccoy “at” gmail.com.
Geoffrey Fowler has a good piece today in the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog: Format War Clouds E-Book Horizon . The tone is perhaps overly ominous – while I agree that “the burgeoning marketplace for e-books is riddled with inconsistent and incompatible formats”, there are definitely signs that the clouds are starting to break up. But overall it’s a thoughtful take on the current situation and trends (full disclosure: I talked with Geoffrey and was quoted in the article).
Sony announced today plans to convert its US eBook Store to the EPUB format, using Adobe Content Server protection technology. NY Times article – TeleRead coverage..
This important announcement marks significant progress towards the goal that Brad Stone summarized well in his article: to “give e-book buyers more flexibility by rallying around a single technology standard for the books”.
Seventeen reading devices from nine different vendors are already compatible with Adobe’s eBook platform, supporting EPUB, PDF, Adobe Content Server protection technology and our Adobe Digital Editions eBook reading software for desktop computers. This is faster take-up than even this optimist had hoped for, given our launch less than six months ago of the enabling Adobe Reader Mobile 9 SDK that’s been integrated into all of these products. This rapid adoption highlights the growing demand for an open eBook platform, based on industry standards not proprietary formats: a platform that gives consumers content portability across multiple reading devices, smartphone and PC applications, and the ability to choose among multiple online retailers and libraries..
Adobe has just released, under BSD license, EPUBGen, a Java library that generates EPUB.
To quote from our digital publishing developer blog:
EPUBGen is a Java library that demonstrates EPUB generation from a variety of document formats, and which may be a useful starting point or reference code for other EPUB generation needs. That is to say, it’s an effort to promote the development of a variety of tools and workflows.
EPUBGen has both a set of back-end code generation modules and front end format importer modules. The back-end modules generate EPUB and illustrate more advanced functionality, including font subset embedding with obfuscation
The code itself can be found on the epub-tools Google Code site, which includes other sub-projects witg Python/XSLT scripts for generating EPUB from DocBook and TEI XML. For more of the gory details on font embedding with obfuscation (aka “mangling”), which illustrates the recently published IDPF Tech Noteabout same, see this related blog post.
Today Adobe announced with a number of partners the Open Screen Project, an initiative to increase the richness and consistency of Internet experiences across PCs and devices. As part of this initiative, we are making our Flash Player implementation free on devices – eliminating the license fees previously charged to device manufacturers. We have also made the Flash SWF and FLV video file format specifications completely open, no strings attached. This initiative provides one more motivation for adopting Flash for rich media and interactivity to take eBooks beyond static paper-like experiences and make digital content more compelling to consumers. Adobe has already worked to enable Flash content within PDF and EPUB eBooks, in our authoring tools and our Digital Editions consumer software, and we’ll be further enhancing this solution over time.
Digitally representing printed content is only the first step in digital publishing’s evolution. More and more, digital publications – whether downloaded or consumed online – are going to incorporate interactivity and rich media in order to deliver more value to their readers. Digital textbooks are going to integrate eLearning experiences, such as simulations and assessments. Trade books are going to incorporate value-added elements, a la DVDs, such as video interviews with authors and socially-networked play-along whodunits. Flash is already widely adopted and a de facto industry standard, and so is an obvious choice to utilize for implementing such experiences. Adobe taking steps to fully opening Flash specifications and increasing the proliferation of Flash implementations only makes this even more of a no brainer.
Not content with pandering to publishers by viciously attacking Google as a scofflaw, Microsoft is also insulting their intelligence by promoting Microsoft-proprietary Windows-Vista-centric solutions for digital publishing. New evidence just in of their unilateralist intentions: Microsoft has officially resigned their membership in the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).
So what’s Microsoft’s beef with publishers and vendors coming together to establish open interoperable standards, unencumbered by patent minefields? Well, in the same AAP speech that attacked Google. Thomas Rubin dropped some hints (emphasis added):
We’ve also invested heavily in making the online reading experience richer and more engaging. One of my favorite examples is the collaboration between Microsoft and The New York Times to create the Times Reader. Times Reader is a technology that combines the readability and portability of the printed New York Times newspaper – the hardcopy, if you will – with the interactivity and immediacy of the Web … Several other news publishers, including Associated Newspapers, Forbes, and the Hearst Corporation, have recently begun rolling out similar digital reader applications based on Microsoft technologies, and the results are very impressive. Another innovation that’s a personal favorite of mine is the British Library’s “Turning The Pages 2.0” technology. It was recently launched in late January and is built on Microsoft’s .NET 3.0 engine which is integrated into Windows Vista…
Since Microsoft has obviously set out on a path to unilaterally establish a digital publishing platform tied to their monopoly OS platform, why should they support open standards and an inclusive process that involves publishers as more than just passive recipients of the latest Microsoft technologies?
I’m a big fan of engaging experiences and liberating digital reading from browser and online-only limitations. But, doing this in a Windows-centric way is playing along with Microsoft’s monopolistic strategy. No criticism of the early adopting publishers intended: newspapers are in a fight for their lives and justifiably experimenting like mad to find a formula that works. But as this gets beyond the stage of experimentation, publishers should be looking for open standards that work across PC operating systems and devices, and that don’t create vendor lock-in.
And I trust that Microsoft will eventually revisit their strategy. Publishing is not the music business and an iTunes-esque single-vendor-lock-in approach is simply not going to be successful. The publishing community demands open, interoperable standards and while collaborative standards development can be painful, it is a necessary process. And the IDPF has been moving fast, with OCF (single-file container format) approved and OPS (a major revision to the XHTML-based OEBPS standard) nearing completion. Microsoft hasn’t actively participated in IDPF in several years but they are always welcome back. Hopefully they’ll be ready to share toys and play nice.
Adobe announced today thatwe are working with AIIM to ensure that the complete PDF 1.7 specification (the latest format version utilized by Acrobat and Reader 8) becomes a full de jure standard. Subsets of PDF have already become full open standards, including ISO-standard PDF/A which encompasses the most widely utilzed PDF capabilities, but this marks that first time that we have agreed to submit the full language specification for official standardization, and as well per Adobe comments in this PDFZone article indicated an intention to work within a standards group, rather than unilaterally, as we enhance PDF in the future.
It’s been clear for some time that it’s “game over” with respect to standardization of final-form paginated content. PDF is so well entrenched, and is already used in so many contexts that have nothing to do with Adobe, and there is simply no rational reason to reinvent the wheel. Along with our Mars initiative to create an XML-friendly serialization of the PDF file format, this incremental step towards official standardization should cement PDF’s role as a global core information format.
The evolution towards having a neutral organization driving standardization of PDF is in part a reflection of the maturing IT standards environment. Adobe is taking a collaborative community-based approach in many other areas, such as our work within the IDPF on OPS (Open Publication Structure), which we expect to play a complementary role to PDF for digital distribution of reflow-centric text-based content.