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Open eBook Promotes New XML Spec

The Open eBook Forum, a group of publishers, software makers and interest groups, has advanced a new XML specification for promoting interoperability among a variety of eBook formats and readers.

Called the Open eBook Publication Structure (OeBPS), the latest version (1.2) can directly accommodate in-house XML vocabularies with little or no modification, the group said.

The advances in the latest version also represent an agreement on specifications among software companies that make different-format ebook readers such as Microsoft, Palm's Digital Media division, Adobe Systems and Gemstar's eBook group (all of which are involved in the Open eBook Forum).

The latest version of the XML-based format helps publishers and others involved in digital book creation describe content, structure, and presentation of electronic books. But now, publishers have greater control with presentation layers in different formats, which has been a major issue for them in advancing interoperable file formats. The latest version is available for downloaded here

OeBPS 1.2 is a tightly constrained update to a prior version (OeBPS 1.0.1), which was largely an effort to remove ambiguities and errors in the publishing dialect.

The group said version 1.2 provides a great deal of new functionality in the area of presentation control, including, among other things, improvements in the basic markup vocabulary (now a pure subset of XHTML 1.1), and greatly expanded support for CSS (cascading style sheets, which help define how different elements, such as headers and links, appear in a Web page). The version is fully compatible with existing OeBPS 1.0.1 content, working group members said.

Allen Renear, a professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the chair of the OEBF Publication Structure Working Group, said the latest spec "allows publishers to easily present their content on almost any ebook device."

As a result, the XML dialects for publishing are ready to be integrated into major publishers' production systems. The addition is significant because publishers would no longer have to retro-fit the ebooks, post-publishing, into a wide-ranging number of file formats for different ebook readers such as the Palm reader, or Microsoft's .lit file extension, said Nick Bogaty, executive director of the New York-based Open eBook Forum.

Some of the companies involved in the forum are Adobe Systems, the Data Conversion Laboratory, Gemstar-TVGuide, GlobalMentor, the Library of Congress, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Nokia, Overdrive, and Random House.

Next up for the Publication Structure Working Group: Version 2.0 of the specification. The goals, members said, include enhancements in navigation and linking, "internationalization" and metadata, and further support for more advanced formatting that is common in textbooks and educational materials.