Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 6 — June 2001
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IT Report from the Field
Seybold Seminars Boston 2001
Adobe Systems’ new-product announcements stole the publishing show
by Robin Peek

When Seybold Seminars’ publishing-technology conference (http://www.seyboldseminars.com) came to Boston last year, the winds were cold but the economic temperature was warm and toasty. At Seybold Seminars Boston 2001, things were reversed. The weather was delightful but the economic forecasts were not. Attendance was down from last year and some exhibitors stayed home. (Macromedia, for example, was notably absent.) The mood was clearly more somber than the optimistic "the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades" attitude that had normally characterized Seybold. Even some of the session titles, such as "How Dot-Coms Became Dot-Bombs," echoed the more sober times. 

When Seybold returned to the Hynes Convention Center April 8­13 it was able to create some excitement amid the gloom. Key3Media Group, which purchased the show from Ziff-Davis last year, kept things pretty much the same. 

It remains a large event, as there were still crowds in the exhibit hall and some standing-room-only sessions. However, it was unlikely that Seybold attracted the20,000 attendees it normally expects. 

Seybold is not a single event but an interwoven collection of four different conferences—Publishing Strategies, Web Publishing, Digital Media, and Print Publishing—11 different "Special Interest Days" sessions, and nearly 50 tutorials. All of these events wrap around a bustling exposition hall offering such products as $20,000 color printers and XML publishing systems. However, while last year’s attendees could have easily walked away with a bag full of giveaway gewgaws and trinkets, this year’s pickings were mighty slim. 
 

Any Content, Anywhere
Make no mistake about it, Adobe Systems was the attention-grabber at this show. The new advertising campaign slogan that Adobe rolled out at Seybold is "Everywhere You Look," and that just about sums it up. One of the highlights of the show was thekeynote presentation by Bruce Chizen, Adobe’s president and CEO. Chizen, along with his team, offered a demonstration of Adobe’s vision for the future: to make visually rich, personalized content reliably available anytime, anywhere, on any device. Chizen claimed that this was not smokeand mirrors, but a carefully conceived strategy coupled with the formation of key industry partnerships. 

Chizen said that publishing began with desktop publishing, which then evolved into Web publishing, and that the next logical step is network publishing. [For moreinformation, see "Adobe Introduces Network Publishing with Strategic Partners" at http://www.infotoday.com/it/dec00/news12.htm or on page 43 of Information Today’s December 2000 issue.] This next step, Chizen emphasized, is what Adobe intends to achieve throughout the entire document cycle, with the help of already signed partners such as ATG, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Nokia, RealNetworks, and Amazon.com. (The Amazon alliance was announced on April 11.) A video demonstration and a Webcast of the keynote address are available at the Adobe Web site (http://www.adobe.com). 

Adobe’s network publishing vision is that content will be created once for delivery to a Web page, printer, cellphone, hand-held device, PC, or Internet appliance. In order to achieve this, Adobe will create content with XML (which its entire product line will support), HTML, and SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, a new markup language being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]). This content will be managed by WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, which is a set of extensions to the http protocol that allows users to collaboratively edit and manage files on the Web) and digital rights management (DRM). It will be delivered withSVG (the W3C standard for Scalable Vector Graphics), HTML, and Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format). Perhaps because Acrobat 5.0 and PDF were Adobe’s main headliners at Seybold [see "Adobe Systems Introduces Acrobat 5.0" on page 45 of the May 2001 issue], PDF was given an extra spin by the presenters. However, it does seem like PDF is poised to take an increasingly important role in network publishing architecture. During the event, HP announced that it would build its technological infrastructure around Adobe PDF. 
 

Adobe’s New Products
Seybold was indeed an Adobe PDF love fest. In fact, two of the Special Interest Days sessions, one for print publishing and one for electronic, were devoted exclusively to Acrobat 5.0 and PDF 1.4. But that didn’t stop it from appearing somewhere in just about every other conference or session. Acrobat 5.0 began shipping the Acrobat Reader on the first day of the event. Many of the changes introduced into Acrobat 5.0 correspond to Adobe’s overall strategy for network publishing, even though the reliable format and reproduction capability remain. 

The new PDF is "re-flowable" so that the information can be re-purposed. A creator of a PDF document can export it to Rich Text Format (RTF), which can then be flowed into HTML (and, potentially, other formats as well). And, with Acrobat 5.0, the PDF files can also be saved as TIFF, JPEG, and PNG files. But there was perhaps even greater interest in the new security features because Acrobat now supports 128-bit encryption, which allows passwords to be assigned to the highest protection possible. However, this security feature also prevents earlier versions of Acrobat Reader from opening the document. 

The new "forms" feature of Acrobat certainly garnered a lot of attention from the audience because it allows users to create interactive forms that look like the paper versions and also lets them fill in those forms interactively. Data from the forms can be submitted as XML. And thanks to the new digital signature architecture that allows for third-party digital signatures to plug into Acrobat 5.0, the forms can now be digitally signed. 

Acrobat 5.0 is now more flexible with other screen-reader options, two of which Adobe launched during Seybold. The new Acrobat eBook Reader (available at both the Adobe and Amazon Web sites) is a marriage of the original Acrobat Reader with the technology and interface that Adobe acquired in its purchase of Glassbook. 

Adobe also announced a public beta version of Acrobat Reader for Palm OS, which presents text images as intended by the designer, although for the small screen. The beta version of the product is available for free download at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/betareg.html.  It will be interesting to see how Adobe challenges Palm, Inc. (http://www.palm.com), which acquired a Palm OS e-book reader with its March purchase of peanutpress.com. 
 

And to View Those E-Books?
In the rock-and-roll world of e-books, almost all of last year’s players are history. The new crop that debuted at Seybold included Franklin Electronic Publishers’ (http://www.franklin.com) long-awaited e-book reading device called the eBookMan. The company promotes this as a device for "books, music, and personal information in the palm of your hand." Well sorry, not in my hand. Yes, at $129 it’s the cheapest of the three, but that’s its problem: It feels, looks, and sounds cheap. It does have a bigger viewing area than a Palm or the PocketPC, but the viewing screen quality on the eBookMan was pretty lame. 

At the other extreme, far from either lame or cheap, was Microsoft’s demonstration of the TabletPC, scheduled for release in fall 2002. Dick Brass, Microsoft’s vice president for technology development, used one of the 20 prototype models during his keynote on the future of publishing. At a distance, in a large conference hall, the pen-input TabletPC was intriguing. Sporting an 8-1/2 x 11-inch viewing area with 120 dpi (it’ll be manufactured at 200 dpi) and Microsoft Reader with ClearType as a viewing platform, the potential for e-books was clear. With all of the features of a full-blown computer with Web access, the TabletPC, which will include the yet-to-be-released Windows XP operating system, can substitute for a laptop and be connected to a keyboard. 

But it wasn’t until I was able to actually hold the TabletPC in my hands that I could appreciate what this device could do for e-books. Currently weighing in at 2.8 pounds,but expected to ship at 2 pounds (Brass says Microsoft expects to eventually get it down to 1.5), this device has tons of storage and real appeal. The big, bright screen and the pen for highlighting and note taking were nice to use. Yes indeed, e-books could really work on this device. It’s expected to hit the market at around the same price as a current high-end laptop. I see one in my future. 
 

Survival of the Publishing Fittest
Clearly, survival strategies were on the minds of many publishers, as they seemed to be the unstated theme throughout the Seybold keynotes. Brass concluded that "the Web has been a disaster for publishing ... and there is no single example of a Web publisher that does it as good as print." Wednesday’s keynote speaker echoed these sentiments. Christie Hefner, chairman of the board and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, Inc., told the audience that even an established media outlet has to invent new content and strategies in order to be successful online. 

Predicting the future was the theme of "Publishing—The 20-Year View, Release 2.0," the Publishing Strategies Conference Keynote panel. Thad McIlroy, program director of Seybold Seminars and president of Arcadia House, warned conference goers, "Don’t wait for Web salvation." He noted that "we lapse into a Utopian vision of where media will take us. Twenty years from now will look much like today with some differences." And while the members of the panel did discuss what they were looking forward to in the future, all spoke of concerns. Mark Getty, co-founder and executive chairman of Getty Images, explained that he fears our desire to access more and more data will unearth a technology that will bring along serious social and ethical implications. 

Moderator Jesse Berst, CEO of IZ.com, led the "Visions of the Future: Beyond Web Publishing" Web Publishing Conference Keynote panel. Walter Schlid, CEO of Genex, forecasted that standards are going to evolve based on the needs of particular industries, rather than being imposed by standards-making groups. He cited the growing importance of Cascading Style Sheets and the use of Adobe PDF for certain kinds of forms transmission. Pamela Pfiffner, editor in chief of creativepro.com, agreed, noting an overwhelming preference for Flash in animated pages rather than the World Wide Web Consortium’s standard for vector graphics. 

E-books will have no great attraction, according to Berst, until e-paper becomes a reality. But instant messaging has great potential for success in the future. However, not all panelists agreed. Patrick White, CEO of Sprockets, argued that he found instant messaging to be incredibly distracting. Perhaps it was Schild who summed up the sentiments of most of the audience when he responded, "I don’t care, I just want something that works." 

This last statement perhaps characterized the current state of the publishing-technology industries at Seybold: Everyone is looking for something that works. And for some companies, that answer needsto come soon—really soon. Will the direction be found in Adobe’s vision of network publishing? Will the TabletPC provide the needed salvation for e-books? Unfortunately, it will take time to find out if these visions will deliver as promised. 
 
 

Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College and a columnist for Information Today. Her e-mail address is robin.peek@simmons.edu.

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