Developers address publishers' needs for cross-platform workflow tools.
Integration, not segregation, is being practiced in an increasingly multi-platform print production world. Your editorial crew, for example, may prefer to work on PC-based word-processing programs, while your creative staff members hold on tight to their beloved Macintosh workstations.
Fortunately, there are a number of hardware and software solutions to facilitate communication between multiple platforms. Without them, the publishing world might be up the proverbial creek.
Quite a predicament
It's a bullish market for print buyers interested in analyzing operating systems. UNIX continues to be a popular solution for driving networks and Internet sites.
Even Linux, the UNIX-offspring OS developed in the early 1990s by Finnish gent Linus Torvalds, is starting to pique the curiosity of many, particularly software developers and hardware investors. Intel was recently reported to have taken an interest in investing in Torvalds' "grassroots software." Still, while operating systems and platforms appear to come in many flavors these days, the two most familiar to those in print publishing are the operating systems from Microsoft (Windows 95/98 and Windows NT) and Apple Computer's MacOS.
At a February MagazineTech seminar, several industry representatives spoke about the current state of publishing, including Chris Gulker, Apple Computer's director of strategic relations: "Certainly, Apple appreciates that it's a cross-platform world out there. We do some things really, really well. Designers, creative people and many production people really like what Macs can do.
"There are other parts of the enterprise where—perhaps in job-flow tracking or invoicing—they feel … Windows is better," Gulker adds. "And so we wind up in a world that is cross platform."
In cross-platform publishing, "there are two things that you can run into," notes Steve Yellen, Windows product manager, DataViz, Trumbull, CT. "One is as simple as moving a file from one platform to another. And there are a couple of solutions to this very physical problem. You've got a file; you just need to get it from one machine to the other. You can do it via a network, … or you can move it, typically, via media."
As Gulker points out, Apple is addressing the publisher's need for communication between Macs and PCs: "Apple has a product called AppleShare IP 6.1. Giga recently did a report about it and said, 'Hey, Apple scored a hit with this one.' This is our new IP-based server that supports both Windows workstations and Macs; it's a plug-and-play server. It will support—depending on how intensely you're using it, of course—between 200 and about 500 users."
Workstation provider Intergraph Computers, Huntsville, AL, is also addressing the cross-platform concerns of publishers with its ExtremeZ IP software for Windows NT 4.0 Server and Workstation that provides AppleShare IP file services to MacOS clients. The program, according to Intergraph, will operate on any Windows NT workstation, but provides the best performance with processors of 266MHz or greater and 128MB or greater of free RAM.
Greg Goodman, director of product marketing, Miramar Systems, Santa Barbara, CA, joined Gulker and Yellen on the MagazineTech panel in February. "You can solve the problem of (cross-platform) connectivity a couple of ways. You can either (connect multiple platforms) with a server, with something from Intergraph or Xinet, or an NT Server or a UNIX box. Or you can do it on a workstation level, and that's where we come in," Goodman remarks.
"We feel that both (server and workstation) solutions are very important," Goodman adds. "Both Microsoft and Apple ship peer-to-peer solutions in their base (operating systems), so, all Macs can connect to other Macs, etc. …We provide the peer-to-peer solutions for Macs and PCs, so a Mac can see a PC, and a PC can see a Mac. They can even share the same printer."
Miramar's connectivity solution—PC MACLAN—runs on either Windows 95/98 or NT platforms. The latest version (7.2) of the Windows 95/98 offering allows PC-to-Mac inter-operability, with IP support. Windows users are able to access AppleShare IP 5.0 (and higher) servers. Remote access via the Internet is also supported.
Brian Chin, senior online producer, Hearst Corporation's New Media Department, notes that Miramar's PC-MACLAN is intended to make the PC-to-Mac file exchange "as transparent as possible to the end user. … Basically, users don't need to worry very much about what type of computer a file resides on."
Chin, who is a self-professed "staunch believer in automation" adds that the latest version of the program offers better performance and an open-standards approach, "which is really important to any new media operation."
What's in a name?
"There are some subtleties to (moving files back and forth across platforms)" DataViz's Yellen explains. Windows and Macintosh operating systems handle file naming, for example, in two different fashions. Windows uses file extensions to inform the workstation which application program should be launched when the user double-clicks on a file name. The Macintosh solution offers a more intuitive system based on file types and creators, he explains.
Goodman concurs with Yellen's assessment of the rival platform's naming
strategies. "A Mac has a much stronger file-naming convention than on the PCs. (With a Mac), you can (name) with any character you want. On the PC, you can't have backslashes, forward-slashes or … a variety of other characters. So, if you try to move that file across, you either get strange or ugly looking names versus what you (find) on the Mac.
"We have a utility that plugs into our products that allows you to move your files between a Mac and PC," Goodman proclaims. "It changes those names and adds the correct extension for it, so that you can just double click on them and open them."
Providing the impetus to move files across platforms, Miramar's PC Migrator, a PC MACLAN enhancement, adds proper PC file extensions to Macintosh files while transferring either single or groups of files over to a PC drive or server. Miramar reports when moving Mac files, PC Migrator prompts the user to add extensions to files it does not recognize. It will also identify and replace illegal characters.
In April, Miramar Systems announced the commercial release of A.K.A., the company's Macintosh-based file renaming program that allows PCs to recognize Mac files by adding PC file extensions to Mac files and automating the replacement of characters that are illegal in the PC environment.
A.K.A.'s resident database allows for additional automation by storing file-renaming parameters in its databank, allowing the program to recognize future Macintosh files with the same type and creator and instantly recall the correct PC extension to add.
Making a convert out of me
Once you get past the "physical problem" of moving a file from one workstation or platform to another, the next hurdle that must be crossed, in many cases, is file conversion. If the recipient of a file lacks the original or compatible application programs, additional help is required to open and translate that file.
"File conversion is a technology that will help you to manipulate the structure of the file or actually modify the data of the file, so that it can work in a specific program on either platform," Yellen explains. "(Working with an) EPS file would be an example. If somebody was working with copy, and, on the Mac, they were using Claris Works, but on Windows, they were using (Microsoft) Word, that would be a case in which you'd have to get the file over with a certain solution and then convert the file once it's there."
For Macintosh-based customers, DataViz offers MacLinkPlus, which runs on the Mac OS. DataViz boasts that MacLinkPlus offers the publishing industry a "survival kit" for those die-hard Mac users living in an increasingly popular "PC world." Operators are able to decode, decompress and view virtually any PC file, once again, without the original application.
"MacLink Plus lets you open up Windows files on the Mac through a series of file translators we have," explains Scott Thomas, Mac Product Manager for DataViz.
The program "takes a file in one format, whether it comes from Windows, DOS or another Mac … and essentially creates a new document with all of its updated formatting available. It's as though the file originated in the program that you've converted it to," Thomas concludes.
DataViz also offers a suite of Windows-based solutions called Conversions Plus. The suite, which runs on Windows 3.1/95/98 and NT 4.0, offers several components, including MacOpener (a solution that allows users to read Mac-formatted media on Windows workstations) and Attachment Opener for viewing those pesky e-mail attachments.
Combined, the programs allow publishers to read, write and format Macintosh media on a PC workstation. Files may also be decoded, decompressed, viewed and printed without the originating Mac software residing on the PC desktop. To cut down on processing time, file processing may be fully automated to bypass user intervention. Actual file conversion is also offered, allowing users to reformat word processing, database and graphic files.
"Essentially, Conversions Plus offers the exact same process as MacLinkPlus, only in reverse. … Both products will convert a file, regardless of whether or not you have the original application on your system," Thomas adds.
Released in February the latest versions of the suite and its primary component, Conversions Plus v. 4.6 and MacOpener 4.1, are Y2K complaint, according to DataViz.
The products featured here are just a few of the solutions allowing print buyers to tackle the challenges of cross-platform publishing. Talk to your vendors about a solution that best suits your workflow.
-Gretchen A. Kirby