Researchers from Hewlett-Packard's Labs have adapted the famous Java motto for the publishing world, according to one of their papers, "Multi-channel publishing tool lets designers write once, republish in any format."
They realized that it was time-consuming and expensive to distribute high-quality documents, such as financial statements, in different formats for different supports, like regular mail, web pages or e-mail.
[So] researchers at HP's Bristol, UK, lab have created a technology to radically simplify this process. They call it Multi-Channel Publishing, and their goal is to make it possible to design and lay out a document once -- but publish it in any format.
In Multi-Channel Publishing, documents are broken down into constituent components -- content, layout, styling and semantics -- then optimized and re-assembled automatically, according to the requirements of each media type.
The way that pages break differs [on a PC or a PDA] for example, and the way the elements of a document -- images, personal names and addresses, informational texts, graphs and sets of figures -- are placed in relation to each other varies depending on the characteristics of the media chosen.
To accommodate this, the team has written software with a rule set programmed to determine how the information is kept together in each publishing format, or channel. As long as the basic elements of a document are laid out and 'marked up' in a master document, this rule set can determine what information goes where.
They named this code the Formatting Objects Authoring Tool, or FOA for short.
Written by researcher Fabio Giannetti, FOA is a Java-based authoring tool that allows you to create document templates and styling information without having to write them in the XSLT or XSL-FO programming languages. (XSLT, or eXtensible Stylesheet Language Transformation, is used to convert XML to other formats, most commonly, to HTML for screen display. XSL-FO, or eXtensible Stylesheet Language Formatting Objects, is one component of the XSL language used to describe a format for XML documents.)
HP turned FOA into an open-source program and it is available from the Formatting Objects Authoring home page hosted by SourceForge.
You can download FOA from this page, as 16,000 people already did, and try it yourself. You'll find tons of other information on this page.
Sources: Hewlett-Packard Labs, September 2003; FOA Home page at SourceForge
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