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What compound document formats mean to you

Ed Tittel discusses a new initiative published by the W3C and explains how compound document formats may impact the future of Web page design.

In most respects, I track the World Wide Web Consortium's activities pretty closely. But somehow I let a subtle but potentially powerful initiative from that organization slip past my radar. In mid-April, the W3C published a first draft (technically, a "first requirements working draft") for something called compound document formats(CDF).

While CDF may not sound too exciting, this could have a profound effect on the way users (and the tools they prefer) design future Web pages, especially interactive pages. Part of the general CDF activity at the W3C, this initial effort seeks to create recommendations on how to combine XML-based component technologies from separate namespaces to create documents, with a special emphasis on user interface markup.

What makes this work interesting and possibly significant is that it identifies a core set of XML applications and namespaces, with an emphasis on specific markup elements and attributions that document designers and developers would be well-advised to learn and use. These include the following:

  • XHTML: (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language) A reformulation and reworking of HTML in XML that includes numerous backward-compatible versions and newer, modularized versions of XHTML markup.
  • SVG: (Scalable Vector Graphics) A way of describing 2D graphics and graphical applications in XML.
  • CSS:(cascading style sheets) Used to control document presentation and appearance when rendered.
  • SMIL: (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) To support simple authoring of interactive multimedia presentations.
  • XForms: Next-generation XML-based Web forms markup with advanced interactivity features, input management functions and subsets defined for all kinds of devices, including computers, handhelds, PDAs and more.

This work is already interesting because it identifies key markup languages. After defining the attributes and elements within XHTML, SVG, SMIL, CSS and XForms that most aid user interaction, it will be interesting to see if designers buy into the W3C's vision and adopt this model as they build New-Age interactive (compound) documents for online access and use. Even more interesting will be to see if tool builders follow in this train of thought and start building design tools that incorporate all these things.

About the Author
Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT certification and information security topics. E-mail Ed at with comments, questions or suggested topics or tools for review.

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