Adobe issues CSS Web publishing prototype

Ahead of the Google I/O show, the publishing tool power releases a trial browser to let developers test its ideas to bring magazine layouts to Web publishing.

Adobe's CSS Regions and CSS Exclusions technology lets text flow  within defined regions or around defined regions.
Adobe's CSS Regions and CSS Exclusions technology lets text flow within defined regions or around defined regions. Adobe Systems

SAN FRANCISCO--Hoping to bring magazine-style layout tools to Web publishing, Adobe Systems tonight released a prototype browser specifically designed to let Web developers test the company's proposed formatting technology.

The technology, called CSS Regions, lets programmers easily create multi-column layouts, place text in various polygonal shapes, and flow around objects in the middle of text. That technology has existed for years in the print publishing world, but it's generally missing from the Web, and its absence grows ever more conspicuous as magazines and newspapers move to digital publishing, especially on tablets such as Apple's iPad.

The formatting features are notable, particularly because they're dynamic, said Arno Gourdol, director of engineering for the Flash runtime at Adobe. With them, layouts adjust automatically as people resize browser windows or roate tablets from portrait to landscape orientation.

"The quality of what you can build is so much better," Gourdol said in an interview tonight. "What we want is designers using InDesign [Adobe's layout software typically used with print publications] to push a button and up comes HTML."

Adobe plans to show off the technology tomorrow at the Google I/O conference , which kicks off tomorrow. A major theme of the conference is the advancement of Web development.

Adobe's CSS Regions technology can be downloaded from Adobe Labs. Based on feedback from earlier work, Adobe actually split CSS Regions into two parts so it would merge better with other CSS developments such as Flexbox and Grid, Gourdol said. The second half is CSS Exclusions for defining how text flows around defined areas.

The technology is notable for one more reason: it's from Adobe.

The company has long promoted its Flash Player technology, which for years let programmers reach beyond the capabilities of Web standards such as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for describing Web page content and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for formatting. The company is committed to keeping Flash competitive--the present efforts are support for mobile devices, hardware acceleration, and the "Molehill" interface for 3D graphics. But it's also trying to convince the world that's serious about Web publishing.

Adobe's proposed CSS extensions would, among other things, let Web developers confine text to a specific shape.
Adobe's proposed CSS extensions would, among other things, let Web developers confine text to a specific shape. Adobe Systems

Convincing the world that Adobe cares about more than Flash is something of an uphill battle. However, it does offer the Dreamweaver Web publishing software, and the CSS developments show Adobe is doing real work to reshape what the Web can do. Another example is improvements to the jQuery Mobile library of pre-built JavaScript software.

The company's CSS Regions work follows the prevailing Web standards process: discussion at a standards group, in this case the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), that occurs simultaneously with work to implement the software in the real world.

Adobe built the technology into "Minibrowser," Adobe's variation of the WebKit browser engine used both by Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome. Gourdol looks slightly appalled at the idea of Adobe releasing a real browser, but the company has a strong ally in Google when it comes to carrying its ideas beyond developers.

"We have a very good relationship with them," Gourdol said.

Text can reflow automatically across multicolumn layouts, adjusting as the window size changes.
Text can reflow automatically across multicolumn layouts, adjusting as the window size changes. Adobe Systems

Google also has been a tight ally helping bring Flash to Android phones and building Flash Player directly into Chrome. The partnership goes both ways: Adobe plans to build Google's WebM video technology into Flash Player, a move Adobe Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch announced a year ago at Google I/O.

Actually, Lynch announced only that Flash Player would get VP8, the video encoding component of WebM. Gourdol confirmed tonight it would get the full WebM support, which also includes the Vorbis audio encoding technology and a container to bundle the data together.

However, he wouldn't say when that software would arrive.

"We don't have a timetable for it," Gourdol said of WebM support in Flash. Important factors include hardware support, just getting under way today, and broad use of the technology, he said.

An alliance with Google is nice, but Gourdol clearly hopes CSS Regions will catch on broadly as a real standard, not just some isolated subset of the browser world.

"We've talked to everyone," Gourdol said, noting that all the browser makers, though; all of the major ones are active in the CSS working group. They're all very excited about it.

Next stop is getting the software accepted. Adobe has a team of 12 programmers in the United States and Romania who work on WebKit, Arno said. Adobe hopes to build its CSS software into the browser engine, making it easy for Google, Apple, and others "downstream" of the central project to incorporate it into their actual browsers.

"Webkit is the most interesting area to focus right now because of its mobile presence," said Paul Gubbay, vice president of engineering for Adobe's design and Web group. "We'll see if the [WebKit] community takes it."

 

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