And before someone brings up the “Tower of eBabel,” this is exactly the road already taken by both IDPF’s Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS) and the similar OpenReader Format. Both of these compatible e-book formats take the XHTML+CSS approach advocated by Håkon Lie. The only difference is that both of these formats add a special document (OEBPS “Package” and OpenReader “Binder”) to enable certain useful e-book features (including some important for accessibility) which are otherwise kludgy to enable using the bare-bones XHTML web content approach.
In essence, both OEBPS and OpenReader can be described as “turbocharged XHTML+CSS.” They thus fit into Håkon’s vision.
The last piece just fell into place: the Generalized Container Format
The IDPF OEBPS Container Format (IDPF/OCF) was released last September to define a portable container to conveniently distribute OEBPS Publications as e-books. The recently announced draft Generalized Container Format (GCF) builds upon and generalizes the excellent foundation established by IDPF/OCF. We now have an e-book optimized means to distribute e-books formatted as web content (XHTML+CSS) for use by web browsers. Because GCF is ZIP-based, it will be almost trivial for most web browsers on most platforms to support it.
Certainly, OEBPS and OpenReader enable a superior e-book reading experience compared to ordinary web content, but the release of the first OEBPS/OpenReader capable readers are still a few months off (OSoft’s interactivity-capable dotReader and Adobe’s Digital Editions), while standards-capable web browsers are ubiquitous, on almost every handheld (including cellphone), laptop, and desktop computing device in the world.
This suggests an intriguing step-by-step strategy to topple the Tower of eBabel: start off with bare (X)HTML+CSS contained and distributed in GCF. Then naturally evolve web browsers (in addition to the specialized readers like dotReader) to support the turbocharged OEBPS/OpenReader formats. Current web browsers like Opera and Firefox could support (anytime they want) the OEBPS/OpenReader formats with pretty much the same quality of presentation planned by Adobe’s Digital Editions — they are tantalizingly close!
We live in interesting times.