Adobe proposes standard for magazine-like Web

Hedging its Flash and AIR bets, the company proposes a way to endow ordinary Web pages with fancy magazine-like layouts.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise Processors | Semiconductors | Web browsers | Quantum computing | Supercomputers | AI | 3D printing | Drones | Computer science | Physics | Programming | Materials science | USB | UWB | Android | Digital photography | Science Credentials
  • Shankland covered the tech industry for more than 25 years and was a science writer for five years before that. He has deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and more.
Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Adobe's CSS Region proposal would permit much more complicated layouts on Web pages.
Adobe's CSS Region proposal would permit much more complicated layouts on Web pages. Adobe Systems

Adobe Systems has proposed a standard that could make it easier to create Web pages with fancy layouts seen more often in magazines.

The company proposed a technology it calls CSS Regions (PDF) yesterday to the World Wide Web Consortium, which standardizes the Cascading Style Sheets technology widely used to control formatting on Web pages. Adobe also described the technology at a CSS Working Group meeting in Silicon Valley.

"This proposal is intended to support sophisticated, magazine-style layouts using CSS," said Arno Gourdol, director of engineering for runtime foundation at Adobe, in a mailing list posting.

The proposal marks an important change at Adobe, one toward increasing engagement with Web technologies. The company continues to try to keep its Flash Player in the online programming vanguard, most recently with yesterday's Flash Player 10.3 beta and last week's Flash Player 11 preview. But it's also contributing both to the WebKit browser engine, via a partnership with Chrome developer Google, and to the mobile version of the jQuery project for conveniently packaged JavaScript libraries that make it easier for programmers to bring polished user interfaces to the Web.

CSS, though, is the heart of where formatting work happens on a modern Web page.

Not coincidentally, magazine layouts are central to Adobe's InDesign software for combining text and graphics into newspapers or magazines. Better features in Web standards would make it easier for Adobe to offer InDesign customers the ability to render a version of their designs for the Web.

And there are plenty of signs Adobe is headed that direction. This week's was Wallaby, a prototype tool to convert Flash content into Web content using CSS, JavaScript, and HTML. The obvious use case is Apple iOS devices such as the iPad that bar use of Flash.

Another sign: last week's Digital Publishing Suite, which takes InDesign content and produces downloadable versions for the iPad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, and BlackBerry PlayBook.

More complicated text flows also are part of Adobe's CSS Regions proposal.
More complicated text flows also are part of Adobe's CSS Regions proposal. Adobe Systems

There's already work under way to improve CSS's layout abilities. CSS founder and Opera Software Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie has been advocating CSS grid layout abilities.

And apparently that's met with some success, because one of the items on today's CSS meeting agenda is a "request for resolution to move Grid Spec from editor draft to working draft," a step closer to standardization.

Of course layout is only part of the challenge of bringing the polish of professional publishing to the Web. Another is better typography. That's being solved through the Web Open Font Format, a downloadable font technology that dovetails with CSS's font control. It's gradually gaining browser adherents and, significantly, also has support from typeface designers.

Perhaps the bigger challenge, ultimately, will be an opposite one, though: building technology from the Web into traditional publishing.

The Web increasingly is a dynamic place at odds with the static world of magazines and newspapers. Even basic interaction such as comments profoundly change the nature of the media. Video, animations, 3D, and any number of other technologies promise even more changes for the publishing industry--and for Adobe.