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Re: FOs considered helpful

Subject: Re: FOs considered helpful
From: Marcus Groeber <mgroeber@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 03 May 1999 12:08:01 +0200
Re: FOs considered helpful
Paul,

> In other words, I am making the probably controversial statements that the
> formatting object document *should* be viewed as a replacement for RTF and
> PDF and this should only be viewed as "abuse" in situations where RTF or
> PDF would be abuse -- i.e. where the semantic markup exists but is hidden
> or where the benefits of real semantic markup outweigh the costs.

Your statement echoes my own sentiment on this matter quite precisely. I have always looked at Formatting
Objects on their own as something akin to RTF or PDF markup, just a way that is better integrated with todays
web standards. In this respect, I believe that splitting up XSL into XSL-T and XSL-FO is actually a good thing
because it helps giving FOs an existence in their own right.

I agree with the proposition that presentation-only markup is only the second best alternative in many cases. On
the other hand, as some people here have pointed out before, a truely useful "semantic web" requires more than
just the availability of *some* semantic markup. The markup must be based on some commonly agreed upon
semantics, it must be applied correctly, and there must be enough material using that particular document type
out on the web to get somebody interested in creating an application that takes advantage of it. All this cannot
be enforced by simply making the deployment of formatting-oriented markup more difficult.

People are deploying RTF, WinWord, PDF, TeX, PS *today*, knowing or not caring about the fact that this prevents
their information from being covered by most full text search engines. (I wonder how much scientific work is
already duplicated each year simply because a keyword search on a certain subject doesn't bring up the relevant
information that people hide in TeX or DVI files on their web pages... ;-))

In addition, one shouldn't forget that the most frequently used class of today's applications is inherently
non-semantic: I'm talking about Word Processors. If one is really deliberate about it, one can add a weak
semantic component through the use of named style sheets, but often the reuse of these doesn't go far beyond an
individual's document collection, and in many cases these styles are also used only for guiding presentation
rather than structure. Most attempts of infering semantics into word processing documents during export fail for
all but the most simple and generic cases (headings, numbered list items).

All this information collected in the form of word processing documents cannot be transformed into
semantics-based markup by any means, so we should at least give users a chance of publishing this content in a
form that is *more* "accessible" (to both machines and people with special needs) than the existing half-cooked
solutions used for this purpose.

Making a braille screen reader compatible with a single FO browser would still be a lot less hassle than having
to deal with the seperate applications for each of the formatting-oriented file types that have emerged already.

ciao marcus





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