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Subject: Re: [office] auto-play presentation file format like PPS

"David A. Wheeler" <dwheeler@dwheeler.com> wrote on 03/26/2008 02:48:26 PM:

> > >  To play devil's advocate, wouldn't PDF be a better format for the use
> > >  case of viewing (and not editing) a document?
> No.  If it's SOLELY for viewing, AND you can be guaranteed that your
> display has the capabilities required, PDF works well.  But if you
> want varying displays (e.g., on a handheld which can't display the
> "full" width), PDF doesn't work as well.  Raw PDF doesn't edit well.
> It's possible to co-insert an editable format file into a PDF, but
> that greatly increases its size, and when space is a premium that's
> undesirable.

That's an important point.  The immediately noticeable difference between ODF and PDF is the edit versus non-editable aspect of it.  (But even that difference will sooon get blurred as OpenOffice adds PDF import capabilities.  But I think the fixed layout versus reflowable layout aspect is even more important.

But back to the original question.  The traditional way this works has pretty much been defined by Windows:

1) The document has a file extension

2) The file extension is associated in the Windows registry with a set of "verbs", like "open", "edit", or "run"

3) Each verb can be associated with an application and a set of command line arguments.  You can have a single application support multiple verbs, or have a different application for each verb.  This gives some needed flexibility to the user or the desktop administrator.

4) The user invokes a particular verb contextually, perhaps by right clicking and choosing the action from the menu.

So, with file extension .foo, the registry might define "open" and "view" verbs, that say to run bar.exe with "-open <filename>" or "-view <filename>" command line arguments.

That's not the only way, but it is one conventional way.  The good thing about this mechanism, I think, is it gives a level of indirection, giving the user or admin some flexibility in how the configure the system.  Do you want to launch PDF files in Acrobat Reader by default, or in the full Acrobat?  Do you want to view PPT files in PowerPoint, or in the PowerPoint Viewer?

One downside of this solution is that file extensions can be ambiguous, and in the case of streamed files, may not even be known.  You might just have a MIME content-type.

So how do we want to solve this for ODF docments, in a cross-platform way?  I think a good start would be for someone familiar with this to give a brief outline, maybe parallel to the above, on how this dispatch works on MacOS and on Linux.  If all three OS's partition things similarly between the OS and the document, then this is easier.  We just need to agree on how we encode the preferred invocation "verb" in the document.

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