Wolfram launches CDF, a new document format

New Computable Document Format is designed to turn documents into interactive applications, but determining how it relates to and competes with existing PDF format will be a challenge.

A demonstration on Wolfram's site shows how its new, interactive CDF document format could be used. In this example, a user could slide puzzle pieces into place.
A demonstration on Wolfram's site shows how its new, interactive CDF document format could be used. In this example, a user could slide puzzle pieces into place. Wolfram; screenshot by CNET

Wolfram today rolled out its Computable Document Format, which is designed to turn documents into interactive applications.

The goal is to turn "lifeless documents" into ones that bring data to life, show the data behind assumptions and illustrate concepts. Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram, said the CDF effort has now reached the point where the company can open it up to developers, publishers, and other interested parties.

Wolfram is still working out the business model behind CDF, but publishers have reportedly shown "great interest." For now, CDF is delivered via a free player that can bring infographics, journals, and math lessons to life. It's not a stretch to see how a magazine like Popular Science could publish in the CDF format.

The rub is that Wolfram needs adoption and there's already a dominant document format in Adobe's PDF. One big challenge would be figuring out the interplay between CDF and PDF. Would someone want to embed a CDF document into a PDF? Conrad Wolfram said that "the CDF format will be open" with the goal of becoming a public standard.

For now, Wolfram needs developers on board. CDF has reached the point where a developer with the know-how to author an XML document can bring publications to life. Indeed, the use cases for CDF revolve around journal articles, knowledge apps, textbooks, infographics, and presentations and reports.

This story originally appeared on ZDNet's Between the Lines.

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