W3C Desktop Publishing (8th August 2008)

An idea popped into my head whilst pacing the downstairs rooms, waiting for my vegetables to boil. Actually, several did. But one of the more interesting ones was this:

Are widespread W3C formats adequate for use in desktop publishing?

This would involve some combination of the following:

This combination would replace a proliferation of formats, including:

The following are some quick scribbles about how it might work out.


PDF is sometimes used to share documents which must appear “pixel perfect” to everyone who views them.

Yet even this format is ever more permissive of zooming, colour changes, reflowing and other adaptations by end users to improve their experience. Primarily useful for disabled users, of course. But zooming technical diagrams and ferry timetables is something I’ve seen my dad do, without disabilities.

Office documents are usually editable by the end user. You can tweak font sizes, font styles, colours, anything you like. Even if edits have been disabled in some way, you can still zoom. The viewing application should inherit any special colours from the operating system, too.

W3C technologies are designed from the ground up to be adaptable for user needs, along with the limitations and innovations of devices. This is especially the case for HTML and CSS.

Given the adaptability which is creeping into even the most lock-down desktop formats, this seems like a bridge towards a W3C desktop rather than a barrier against it.


PDF readers on mobiles. Microsoft Office formats supported by Linux and Apple systems. Maybe vendor lock-in is no longer the goal of proprietary formats? The biggest businesses want their format to work everywhere, it seems.

This is another area where the W3C process excels. Their formats are designed to be device independant, so the format can be shared between platforms without conversion by authors. The newer formats reduce or remove the always necessary but previously somewhat unacknowledged guesswork and reverse engineering required by new implementors.

So again, this is a key area were W3C formats would fit like a glove.

Author, Store, Publish, Share & Print

W3C formats cover all uses of your documents, without conversion or exporting different versions:

CSS can be embedded in a <style> element for a single HTML document. Images can’t really be embedded into HTML. Separate files will normally be used.

I guess you could wrap them up in a Gzip archive. Or you can just keep them close to each other when sharing.


With fewer formats to support, applications could concentrate on their user experience. Performance, interface, reliability, security and so forth. Ultimately there would be a tiny number of formats in use, creating a simpler ecosystem of products and content.

There will always be a legacy content problem, of course. Old documents can be supported by:

This is broadly what happens inside each proprietary ecosystem already. The big difference is a W3C desktop converges all applications and platformson one small set of carefully designed formats.