ERCIM News No.20 - January 1995 - INRIA

Trends in Electronic Publishing

by Vincent Quint

Some years ago, the main issue with which researchers were faced in Electronic Publishing was to capture the intentions of an author and rendering them in an acceptable graphical form for printing. The focus was on such tools as formatters, text editors and word processors. Things have changed a lot since that time. Electronic Publishing research now addresses different topics which reflect recent evolution in the field.

The first noticeable trend is the consideration of other less obvious aspects of document processing, not just those concerning inputting from keyboard or computer file and outputting to printer. For example, some researchers are now interested in the storing and retrieving of documents in specialised data bases. Other researchers are attempting to automatically enter existing printed documents into a computer, by reconstructing their logical structure from their graphical layout. The production of electronic documents is also a hot topic. Publishing takes on a new meaning as documents are distributed to readers in electronic form.

Most of these research activities are made possible by studies of well developed models, which aim to represent documents in such a way that allows many types of operations to be performed on them. There are different types of models, e.g. those which consider a document as an abstract logical structure and those which put the emphasis on knowledge representation.

Another trend in the development of electronic publishing consists of improving existing techniques and extending them to make them better suited to the manipulation of more complex documents. Sophisticated and powerful tools are being developed, with user-friendly interfaces, that make electronic publishing accessible to new users communities.

Architectural issues in document processing systems constitute another evolving trend. As tools for electronic publishing become powerful, it is tempting to make more and more applications integrate with these and thereby benefit from their rich functionality. The problem is designing an architectural structure for applications to easily and efficiently integrate document processing tools. Such concepts as active documents or document-centred applications are proposed for addressing this problem. Toolkits are available for providing application developers with the functionality they need. There is also research done into distributing document processing functions across networks, thus allowing users to interwork through the medium of shared documents. The World Wide Web initiative is an example of this style of approach.

All these techniques described for manipulating documents are not restricted to pure text documents. Most of them are applicable to pictures, video or sound, thus extending their field of application to multimedia. It then becomes possible to manipulate multimedia documents in data bases, authoring environments or viewers, just as with conventional documents.

The following papers illustrate the current trends in Electronic Publishing by describing the various avenues followed by some researchers in the field.

Please contact:
Vincent Quint - INRIA
Tel: +33 76 63 48 31