Intelligent Documents Headline XML 2003
December 9, 2003
Edd Dumbill and Kendall Clark are reporting live this week from IDEAlliance's XML 2003 conference in Philadelphia.
At the opening of this year's XML USA conference in Philadephia, PA, smart XML documents were the star. Keynotes from Jon Udell of InfoWorld and Shantanu Narayen of Adobe focused on XML documents that conveyed the nuance of real world communication.
Udell spoke of the importance of context in everyday communication. He noted that the most prevalent forms of business communication, email and instant messaging, tended to preserve the least context. It was a shame to see highly skilled, highly paid technical professionals spend excessive amounts of time trying to disentangle convoluted email threads. A shame, too, that while Microsoft has brought XML into the Word and Excel products, Outlook does not permit XML document creation.
The other problem in preserving context, aside from the tools, is of course persuading people to create metadata in the first place. Udell suggested that a way of doing this might be through using style as a back door. Many people are willing to spend a long time on getting the look of a document right, but not be willing to spend that time on metadata creation. Udell suggested that by providing metadata-significant styles, authoring tools creators could encourage more preservation of context in communication through the carrot of creating beautiful documents.
While Udell spoke from the personal content creation perspective, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe addressed "smart documents" from the point of view of corporate needs. In addition to preserving metadata, it is important that business documents can also bundle presentation and behavioral information.
Adobe intends to use its PDF document format and the deployed software base of Acrobat Reader as the bedrock for automating many business processes through smart documents. Taking the route of emulating traditional paper forms, Adobe's smart documents are fill-in forms that generate XML: to either static documents, web services, or databases.
Some of the most appealing features of Adobe's solution include perservation of visual similarility to familiar paper forms, the cross-platform nature of Acrobat Reader, and the fact that documents were not tied to any one backend solution: forms could be emailed on, sent via a web service, or connected directly to databases.
Coming at the same time as XForms and Microsoft's InfoPath, Adobe's Intelligent Documents confirm that there is now a great deal of interest in creating flexible, easily-authored, frontends for XML business documents.