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Free-format documents

Documents not tied to specific applications
  [vote for,

Taking three different applications - Word, Excel and Photoshop, the process I have to go through to generate a document which contains content sourced from each is to first decide on the application my document is going to be tied to (probably Word), and then to cut and paste data from Excel and Photoshop. This is OK, but for creating this kind of document, I'd rather follow the metaphor of creating a paper document more closely and have the document rather than the application as the primary object and use the applications as tools which I apply to the document, rather as you might use different pens on a piece of paper.
So, I'd open up a free-format document - this should probably be a function supported by the OS - and bring various 'tool' applications to apply on it. Word would allow me to create blocks of text; Photoshop would be sensible enough to know that it couldn't edit the text but would allow me to create images; Likewise, Excel would allow me to create spreadsheets in the document.
So, not a dramatic change from the way it works now, but a change of emphasis; The ability to open a free-format document and display different formats should be supported by the OS, then to edit or create content in a document I'd have to get my toolbox out and get out, for example, my Photoshop or Word tool.
hippo, Sep 07 2000

Document-Centric Computing http://www.esi.es/H...tric_Computing.html
[hippo, Sep 07 2000, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Document-Centric Computing http://www.elementk...95/9601/w959611.htm
Article arguing that Windows95/OLE is document-centric computing. I don't think they're right though. [hippo, Sep 07 2000, last modified Oct 21 2004]

OpenDoc http://www-4.ibm.co....aug95.opendoc.html
Big Blue's version of document-centric computing [hippo, Sep 07 2000, last modified Oct 21 2004]


       well, i assume you havent checked out Gobe productive. This software for the BeOs does just what you are asking for, images, diagrams, text, spreadsheets, can all be edited in a efficent way with Gobe productive. check it out at : www.gobe.com
bananfisk, Sep 07 2000

       The phrase here is "document centric computing". As others have mentioned, it's very far from new. Microsoft's OLE and Apple's OpenDoc are both steps in this direction, and any number of "integrated office suite" products work this way as well.   

       It's hard to make such a system scale well to many developers and diverse applications, unfortunately. There are also some usability issues.
egnor, Sep 08 2000

       I think the point might be to make a document-centric model that actually works well, thus making this idea completely bakeable. (I'm one who considers the Apple and MS solutions to still be half-baked.)   

       It may be difficult, but not impossible to do such a thing. MS OLE works from file associations based in the Windows registry. Based on the file's extension, Windows attempts to launch the application associated with that file extension. Thus, .jpg and .gif files open with Photoshop, .doc open with MS Word (if it's installed), and so on. The process works, after a fashion, but there are sometimes problems with file associations- who wants to use MS Photo Editor (the default editor) for JPEGs when you've installed Photoshop?   

       As operating systems evolve, documents like the ones described above are almost a certainty.
BigThor, Sep 11 2000

       That is so not how OLE works.   

       You're describing the process by which the Windows shell decides which application to launch as the outermost "container" of a document. Embedded objects are linked and rendered through a much more sophisticated registration system built on top of COM.   

       For example, open a Word document, open an Excel spreadsheet, select a range of cells in Excel, and "Paste Special" them into Word. The cells will remain editable; when you click on text from the document you get Word toolbars, and when you click on the spreadsheet cells they change to Excel toolbars. Recalculation, external references, and so on continue to function just fine.   

       I'm no Microsoft apologist, but you do have to give them more credit than you have. OLE is far more than file extensions.
egnor, Sep 11 2000

       [bananfisk] Thanks for the link to Gobe - Once again the innovative personal computer stuff is happening on a platform other than the Wintel one that I have to use... - Looks very nice though.

[egnor, BigThor] OLE *is* a lot more than file extensions, but isn't really enough for what I'm after - You still have to think about Word, Excel, etc., as separate applications, and at the document level you're still tied to one application or another.

So this idea is sort of baked (see links). If crowds clamour for me to do so, I'll delete it.
hippo, Sep 13 2000

       I've been thinking about this for years, as the "killer app". I've been toying with developing this idea in java - the problem being, I have to essentially write a complete suite of apps - a tad ambitious for me. perhaps a document modeler as a central app, with an extensible interface for third party integration. In its most abstract form, you would just start writing, drawing etc, and the app would form around the input, although realistically, a menu for text, images, spreadsheet, graphs, etc. with the ability to size a canvas for each one on the page.   

       Not so different from the way word works, just more third party compatability. and platform independence - it could even work as a distributed app.
Scott_D, Sep 13 2000

       [DafyddRees] - XML is perfect for the task of creating an open format document. You just define an XML grammar for each type of document element you want (text, numeric computation, mathematic notation, vector graphics, raster images etc.). The great thing about XML is that each piece of data in an individual XML grammar can still be combined with other pieces of data in other grammars into a single XML document. Once applications are using XML as their storage format, the possibilities it opens are huge.
Peej, Aug 06 2001


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