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[Axiom-developer] PDF/A and pamphlet support on MathAction

From: Bill Page
Subject: [Axiom-developer] PDF/A and pamphlet support on MathAction
Date: Sun, 9 Oct 2005 01:20:35 -0400

Since this is not directly related to the original issue
tracker entry for Pamphlet support in MathAction, I decided
to move this discussion to the axiom-developer email list.
Later I can put a summary on the web site if it seems useful.

On 7 Oct 2005 at 14:15, C Y wrote:

> I must be misunderstanding something - AFAIK pdf isn't
> proprietary. It's fully documented, and there is no
> restriction on creating either viewers or generators for
> it. In what sense it is more or less proprietary than
> postscript or dvi or mathml?

On October 7, 2005 10:37 PM michel.lavaud wrote:

> The pdf format is proprietary _and_ fully documented - as 
> is the Word format. And what Microsoft did, Adobe can do
> it: that is, he can decide some day to change the pdf format
> in a way incompatible with previous versions (as MS did for
> Word) ...

I think this comparison to WORD is at best inaccurate. Even
Richard Stallman - defender of free software - was willing
to accept PDF format email attachments as early as 2002.

In his recommended response to the receipt of an email
with a WORD attachment he wrote:

"You sent the attachment in Microsoft Word format, a secret
proprietary format, so I cannot read it. If you send me
the plain text, HTML, or PDF, then I could read it."

> The most critical community against pdf lately were not 
> scientists but lawyers, because of Enron and other affairs,
> that generated "tons" of electronic documents, and they
> fear that these documents could become unreadable in 
> the long term. The problem of defining an A-pdf format
> (Archival-pdf) was resurrected on this occasion.

Apparently this movement was successful. :)

So I think C Y is right. At least now there is a version
of PDF that is no longer proprietary. It seems that PDF has
recently been accepted as a standard by the International
Standards Organization.

"More exactly, it's ISO 19005-1:2005, "Document management-
Electronic document file format for long-term preservation-
Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1)".


"ISO Approves PDF/A
By Nettie Hartsock
September 14, 2005      

The International Organization for Standardization has
approved PDF/A, a standard for creating PDF documents for
long-term archiving.

"This document will ensure that a PDF document will be
rendered as it was created 50 years from now regardless
of the reader used," said Betsy Fanning, director of
standards and content for AIIM, a non-profit international
organization dealing with enterprise content management.
AIIM and NPES, an organization representing suppliers for
the printing and publishing industries, initiated the work
on a standard in 2002, said Fanning."

"Fanning said the PDF/A standard defines an open file
format for PDF archiving of electronic documents, with no
proprietary language. PDF/A is a subset of PDF."

On October 7, 2005 10:50 PM Tim Daly wrote:
> --
> Actually, I continue to maintain the position that documents
> should be available in SOURCE form, not pdf, not dvi, etc.
> Only source allows you the ability to use the information
> in any way.

Of course this depends on what you mean by "use". If you
were a lawyer or historian and your purpose was to prove a
point about authorship or priority of discovery, then most
source documents in and of themselves would be of little
use. PDF format at least does contain some limited information
about the document (meta data) in addition to the ability
to render (when it was created, by who, by what software

On the other hand original source is ok *provided* that it
is accompanied by a reliable long term archival storage.
This is one of the functions provided by the eprint archive

Although the arXiv still prefers to archive TeX source
if possible (and derives other formats like PDF from these
sources), it does permit submissions in PDF format.


But in Axiom we are primarily talking about sharing scientific
research via literate programming, i.e. mathematical documents
that contain embedded computer algebra programs. Providing a
document format like PDF which would allow source code to be
extracted in a compilable form but not the original source text
seems rather pointless. Perhaps what we need instead is a widely
accepted archival service something like arXiv but which would
accepts e-prints in a literate programming format. From this
point of view, it seems to me that Tim's choice of noweb as the
basis for Axiom's "pamphlet" format was a wise one.

So one thing that I am trying to do with the new support for
Pamphlet format on MathAction is to allow the creation of an
archive of this kind. And because this approach is fully
general, this also provides the basis for further development
of the Axiom system itself which is already represented in
the form of a complete set of pamphlet files.

On MathAction pamphlet files are stored in their original
source format but can be delivered in a variety of ways:
as PDF documents (either embedded in HTML in the browser
or downloaded as a separate file), dvi format documents,
as complete noweb source documents, or individual source
code chunks.

MathAction also allows pamphlet files to edited directly
over the web either within a browser text window or via the
interface to an external editor such as emacs. Like other
content on MathAction, notices of changes will be sent to
email list subscribes and a history of recent changes to
the source is also maintained (currently set for 30 days).

I am also considering adding some typical developer tools
such as 'diff' and 'patch', to allow pamphlet source to be
compared to an offline copy and to update pamphlets by
uploading and applying a standard patch file. Since it is
also quite easy to directly extract the source text
programmatically, say by a makefile running remotely, this
means MathAction could function as a fully collaborative
literate programming development environment. One could
simply build a new completely up to date working copy of
Axiom directly from the pamphlet files stored on MathAction.

Although this is technically easy to accomplish with existing
tools, given the rather low participation rate in developing
collaborative content on MathAction so far, I am quite
uncertain how successful this experiment might be with Axiom

Bill Page.

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