John Gruber has an interesting new post on Daring Fireball in which responds to criticism of Apple’s new iBooks Author file format by Daniel Glazman, Co-chairman of the W3C CSS Working Group. Glazman dislikes the fact that Apple has extended the CSS for that format beyond the standards set by ePub3: “All in all, Apple has worked entirely behind the curtains here. If someone tells you that iBooks format is EPUB3, don’t believe it. It’s not EPUB3, it’s only based on EPUB3.”
The result — and I’ll take his word for this, as I don’t myself have access to the iBooks Author tool — is that “[b]ecause of these extensions, editing or browsing the html documents with a regular wysiwyg editor (BlueGriffon or DreamWeaver for instance) or a browser (Firefox, Chrome or even Safari) shows a total mess on screen. It’s not readable, it’s not usable, it’s not editable. Just forget it, Apple (re-)invented the Web totally incompatible with the Web.”
Glazman enumerates the nature of the particular extensions to CSS (and hence to ePub3):
- Template-based layout including special areas (gutter)
- Extended underlining
- Ability to control the size of each column and column gap in a multi-column layout
- something equivalent to Adobe’s Regions and Exclusions.
Now, again, I don’t have iBook Author, so I can’t speak with much assurance about what these extensions “mean,” except to say that they sound like rather good things.
Gruber’s response to Glazman is pretty unsympathetic, but both logical and reasonable. Glazman feels that Apple should have proposed these extensions to the W3C CSS Working Group before implementing them — an unsurprising opinion coming from Co-chairman of that committee. Gruber responds that
. . . if Apple had taken this route, the books generated by iBooks Authortoday wouldn’t have any of the layout features Glazman cited above. The iBooks format isn’t different just for the sake of being different, it’s different for the sake of being better — not better in the future, after a W3C review period and approval, but better today, in the textbooks you can download and read in iBooks right now.
Now, I’m a strong believer in open standards, and in standards compliance. And I don’t particularly like, even if I understand, the thinking behind changes to standards that make a particular format proprietary rather than open.
That said . . . Apple has apparently produced a beautiful product here that employs format features that are better than could be produced through rigid compliance with ePub standards.
So what would happen if, instead of merely complaining about Apple getting the jump on standards-compliant eBook publishers or undercutting the attempt to produce such standards, the co-chair of the W3C CSS Working Group had additionally said something like: “But wow. They shouldn’t have done it this way, but we’re glad they did, because now we can see that these are extensions that should be added to the ePub specifications! We can all benefit from Apple’s decision to innovate and push the envelope here!”
Even better — what if those creating the open standards for things like ePub3 were to take the same kind of imaginative approach, and had the same kind of concern for the overall excellence of interface design, that Apple’s designers and engineers apparently have? What if the w3C CSS Working Group were itself producing these kinds of forward-looking innovations, and in so doing making it more attractive to be standards-compliant?
Wouldn’t that be cool?