Adobe MARS: Looks Interesting
In this post, I want to talk about Adobe MARS.
MARS is an XML-based format that is intended as a functional replacement for PDF. It's not really accurate to call it an XML version of PDF because it's not a simple transliteration of PDF into tags (which could be done easily enough) but a ground-up exercise in designing and XML-based scheme for doing what PDF does.
After seeing Adobe's presentation and talking to the guys from Adobe it's clear that what they've done is a sincere and well-thought-out attempt to Do The Right Thing rather than a cynical recasting of proprietary stuff into markup so it's "open."
MARS tries to use standards as much as it can and it seems to do so to a remarkable level of completeness. It uses SVG for representing each page, supports the usual standards for media objects (bitmaps, videos, etc.). Uses Zip for packaging, and so on.
Philip Levy, the chief engineer for MARS, did appologize that they had to add a few extensions to SVG to handle some high-end typography stuff that isn't in SVG but said that if you were, for example, using MARS for office documents that you could get by with pure SVG.
Within Acrobat, the user experience off MARS is identical to that for PDF: all the behavior and functionality is the same. There is a MARS plug-in for Adobe 8 (reader or professional).
From a creation and manipulation standpoint, the advantage of MARS over PDF is obvious: you can use all the usual XML infrastructure to create and manipulate the data. That would certainly make things like PDF data extraction easier. The use of SVG would make embedding foreign name-spaced data into the PDF much easier (for example, to preserve structural indicators from the original source, something you can do with PDF today but that very few tools do in fact do).
The Adobe guys made it clear that MARS is not intended as a replacement for the current PDF format--there's just too much installed infrastructure and dependency on PDF for that to happen quickly and MARS isn't 100% complete over PDFs features (mosly around support for high-end printing workflows, I would guess). But it seems reasonable to think that, like MS Office, Adobe will slowly raise the profile of the XML version of PDF until it can make it the default format rather than the alternative. But I would expect that to take at least five years or more, given the speed with which the publishing industry, in particular, changes (which is more or less glacial).
Dr. Macro says check it out.
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