Seybold Gets Back to its Roots

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The past few years, every Seybold conference has been rife with feelings of conflict. Professionals who make their livings in the world of paper publishing have looked, with a mixture of anger and fear, at the oncoming charge of the Web horde. What had once been a safe haven for print publishers was becoming, more and more, a show about the Web.

This year, the tide has turned back toward the print side. Whether it's due to the ascendance of Web-specific trade shows or a specific decision by Seybold management to re-emphasize print publishing, one walk through the Seybold trade show floor makes it clear that this is a print show. In fact, most of the Web-related booths I stumbled upon were for products featuring one of the more recent industry catch phrases: media-asset management.

Media-asset management is not a new idea, as anyone who cataloged their stock images in Fetch (the one originally from Aldus, not the free FTP client) or Canto Software's Cumulus can tell you. But these days, media-asset management isn't just about storing your photographs where you can get to them later. It's about keeping track of the text and graphics you use in print so that you can also use them on the Web.

That's the bulk of the Web stuff I've seen here in Boston this week: tools to make the flow of work from print to the Web work better. As someone who had to deal with that from the Web side at MacUser and has to see it from the print perspective here at Macworld, you don't have to twist my arm to convince me it's a big deal. Most of the people who read the Web versions of print newspapers and magazines would be shocked at just how much work goes into transforming everything from one medium to another.

The old bickering couple of the graphics industry, Adobe and Quark, seem to be ready to open a new front in their war on this very ground. At Wednesday's keynote, Quark chief Tim Gill showed off Troika, a tool that lets you quickly tag different parts of a Quark layout using XML, design HTML templates that use those XML tags, and then mass-generate Web pages right out of Quark. Tuesday, Adobe showed off the Web publishing system they got when they bought GoLive in January -- a promising tool that also mass-generates pages based on templates you design.

Adobe is also showing off GoLive 4.0, a product that will probably generate a yawn for most of its loyal Mac followers. It's really a minor update to CyberStudio, with a few feature tweaks and a new QuickTime editor. But don't discount what might be the most important feature update of all for this Mac design stalwart: It'll also be available for Windows... eventually.

Before you charge me with heresy and tie me to a gasoline-soaked stake, hear me out. While it's true that the release of GoLive 4.0 will mean that one of the Mac's crown jewels will now be available on that _other_ operating system, that may be a blessing in disguise. The reason is that many large organizations simply refuse to buy software that's only available for the Mac. Their thought process -- and I'm not defending this, just reporting it -- is that they don't want to have to settle on a Mac-only product, only to be left holding the bag if Apple goes out of business.

Some organizations, especially universities, want to give their students, staff, and faculty the freedom to choose what platform they want to use -- something most Mac users would applaud. But it cuts both ways. Those same organizations need to buy and support software, and the software they choose is software that's available for both Mac and Windows.

Several times over the last year, I've heard from people who loved GoLive CyberStudio 3.0, but were being forced to use Dreamweaver 1.0 by their organizations. But CyberStudio's better, I'd tell them. They'd agree with me, but explain that because it was Mac-only, they weren't allowed to use it.

Now those people will have a real choice. Not only will they be able to choose between Dreamweaver and GoLive, but the dramatic improvement in Dreamweaver with version 2.0 should lead to a constant back-and-forth between Macromedia and Adobe that will benefit the users of both products. Let's hope so.

Another company showing off an intriguing Web content tool is MetaCreations, which is using this show to promote their newly-released Headline Studio. Headline Studio is an authoring tool for animated GIFs targeted at a specific set of users. A _very_ specific set of users.

That's because unlike Macromedia Fireworks or Adobe ImageReady, Headline Studio isn't really a tool for all sorts of Web animation. It's targeted at the people who design ad banners. More specifically, it's really a tool that lets you do lots of fun text animations. It's not meant for cel animation, but if your trade involves creating animated text and using static (or mostly static) art and logos, Headline Studio may be right up your alley.

My favorite Headline Studio feature? Unlike other GIF animation tools, it doesn't force you to pick the number of frames you'll use in your animation up front. Instead, you create your animation as if it contained an infinite number of frames, and choose the length of time it takes to run through one complete cycle. Only when you export to a GIF image do you need to pick how many frames to divide it into, and you can increase or decrease that number until you find a file size that suits your task.

My least favorite? The interface. In true MetaCreations style, Headline Studio sports an interface it generates itself, rather than a standard Mac interface. That means windows draw slowly and behave oddly, and even your cursor just doesn't seem quite right. Worst of all, the Headline Studio interface features a solid background a la Windows, so you can't see any windows of any of the applications you're running behind Headline Studio. There's no clear benefit to designing the interface this way. As a results, ease-of-use suffers in return for the ego-gratification of MetaCreations' interface designers. It's a shame.

It may seem silly, me writing about Web products at a trade show I've already described as being much more print-oriented. But just because the trade show portion of Seybold isn't very Web heavy doesn't mean this show been a bust for the Web-head. For the second straight year, the east coast edition of Seybold has been home to a solid set of panels about Web publishing, whether you're a Web business type, a designer, or a producer.

A lot of people talk about the Web being one big interrelated community, and you'd expect that by now every single Web designer has met every other Web designer. But it's simply not true. Different designers run in different circles, and the Web's big enough that there are lots of circles out there, many of which never interact. That's the appeal of a conference like this: Web professionals from huge sites like MSNBC and The Wall Street Journal can talk with people designing the Web sites for their local colleges and medium-sized businesses. Cutting-edge designers from New York's Silicon Alley can finally meet face-to-face with their soul mates from Seattle. And so on. So what if the wind's gusting to 55 mph outside and snow looms in the distance? We're all hermetically sealed in the Hines Convention Center having a dandy time. Wish you were here.

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