The Seybold Seminars, Ziff Davis Events/Softbank's premiere venue for discussion of publishing technology, has emerged at last from trying times.

For the past three years, Seybold attendees have been examining publishing's future: Would web-based publishing become dominant, and therefore deserve the lion's share of seminar time, or would the Internet remain an auxiliary to mainstream print publishing? The debate aroused tension on the show floor, because for two decades, the bills have been paid by the printing hardware and software vendors in the exhibit space. There were also distinct rumbles of dissatisfaction from exhibitors who felt that the emphasis on Web publishing was interfering with the number of real business contacts made with visitors to the exhibits.

One thing helping the atmosphere of Seybold San Francisco, held September 1-4, was that the technology itself seems to be maturing, moving the seminar's attendees toward a more integrated and inclusive vision of where publishing's technology is headed.

Apple Resurgent

A good example of this new vision is Apple Computer. Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs described a reinvigorated company in his keynote address. Jobs named two target markets-high-end publishing and the low end of educational, home -- use desktops -- and demonstrated software and hardware aimed at the core requirements for each. Publishers, Jobs noted, need versatile programs, such as Canto's Cumulus asset management system, that will enable them to publish in whatever form their markets demand, rather than having to chose between print and electronic versions.

Apple's plan for recapturing publishing rests on capitalizing on such accepted de facto industry standards as Color Sync, Apple's color management software, while continuing innovation in operating systems and other software. Jobs also referred to the long-awaited OS X, which incorporates features from the NeXT OS: it is due in the market "by this time next year."

Tools for Tomorrow

Three topics dominated technical discussion: Adobe's Portable Document File format; XML, the extensible Internet markup language; and asset management software.

The speed of PDF's acceptance has shocked the printing community; it has gone from concept to acceptance in just two years. The reasons are easily understood: PDFs can be created and read on any kind of computer, and several companies are close to making PDFs editable. Also, PDFs are much smaller than PostScript files, often as little as 10% of the PostScript, making them faster and easier to transmit by normal modem lines.

There are still a couple of problems with PDF, however. Color trapping isn't quite automated yet, and designers must be careful about whether they are working in pre-separated or composite color formats. Adobe promises that these glitches will be cleaned up by version 1.3, due out in spring 1999. XML, designed as a more flexible variant of HTML, is just beginning to prove its versatility. Mazda, for instance, showed how it is using XML as a kind of e-commerce manager, enabling customers to search parts lists and inventories, and arrange the sale of the parts, all by proper tagging.

Asset management was popular again at the seminar, with more than 75 systems exhibited. Two garnered Seybold "Hot Picks" (best of show) attention: Banta Integrated Media's Centrus asset manager, which is product-oriented rather than page-oriented and includes a security manager for controlling access to individual assets, and Bitstream's MediaBank asset manager with PageFlex variable page-layout printing manager, which combines information from the customer database with predefined layout rules to produce unique printed documents on an IBM InfoColor 70 (though, in theory, it could drive any Xeikon-engine printer).