Monday, January 21, 2008

How Green Are Your Documents

Over the past 6 months, I've seen some of my hunches about growing awareness of environmental issues and concern about fossil fuel supplies (and prices) confirmed. Although oil never did close at $100/barrel, prices are sky high by anyone's estimate. In the autumn of 2007 I tried a different theme in my Information Insider column – one that I believe has never been done. I laid the groundwork for this series with the EContent 100 annual issue, in a column titled “ Content 2.0 Converges.” I titled the follow-on column in this series “ How Green Are Your Documents?” (the editor since changed that to “ It Ain't Easy Being Green” -- a fine alternative). I sent out queries to a variety of vendors for any thoughts they had about their products and the green theme, and waited. And waited. And began to think that this was the craziest idea I'd ever had and wondered how I'd meet the deadline with a different (unplanned) column in case this didn't pan out. Then the vendors began to respond, all except Google, but I blame that on the difficulty of finding the right contact there rather than Google's lack of interest – since Google is indeed showing itself to be very green indeed.

Who did respond? Adobe, MarkLogic, and Olive Software – the latter a vendor I'd never heard of but found (yes) with a Google search. And it was an avalanche of interest.

Let's start with Adobe. One obvious Adobe product is Acrobat, which has become a default electronic document standard, bulked-up with collaborative features in version 8 with Acrobat Connect, formerly Macromedia’s Breeze web conferencing but now integrated with Acrobat. I get the idea that web conferencing can cut down travel and thus save travel and carbon costs, but I was looking for more, and Adobe provided it. First, they've done as Google and now Microsoft have also done: begun adding online documents to their product set. In this case, Adobe acquired Buzzword, a web-based text editor. Interesting, but not the green lead I was looking for. Then it got interesting.

Adobe's new AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) lets web applications run offline – key, IMHO, to assuring the acceptance of online, collaborative documents and reducing the use of paper (with all the energy savings that implies). AIR is a cross-OS SDK, a mashup of Flash, HTML, Ajax, etc. AIR can target applications to the desktop and get the rich abilities expected in local clients plus the web. The key here is that you get persistent presence on the desktop, offline/online with re-synching of web content when you go back online. Traditional media has been moving to the web for some time; now the web is also moving to the desktop, with traditional functions on a browser or paper migrating to the desktop. All financial documents for example could give you reports, etc. and also perform applications that would require paper, such as loan applications required swapping excel spreadsheets, etc.

Developers (not end users) are beginning to develop AIR-basedonline-offline catalogs --that bane of the mail box. You download the application that would include the catalog, navigate through them, sort and search, flag them within the application and get notifications when available (reminders when back in stock). As you walk through the catalog, you could add electronic notes. You could share them with friends etc., send them an email with the relevant information. Collaborate on different desktops. Adobe says that Linux support for AIR is coming.

A 10 MB PDF catalog could be the whole size of the AIR application, and with progressive images or assets on demand, could make the “catalog application” smaller than the PDF.

Hot AIR? Yes, but in a good sense – reducing global warming in its own way.

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