Inside Technique : More Legacy Data and the Web: More Steps to a Successful Marriage
Legacy Data and the Web Series
When last we gathered to discuss the solemn union of the web and your legacy data we looked at the types of applications that might blend into the web easily. We looked at some files formats and laid a plan for embarking on the project by making lots of lists and then checking them over and over to ensure that everyone involved had a clear picture of how much stuff really moves through your print operation. And not just from the printing point-of-view, but from the set-up point of view as well. There is some process that makes it possible to merge all of the data into the forms and formats that turn data into bills, invoices, policies, statements, and all of the other business print we deal in. That's the process we have to understand.
The lists still need a bit of work, though. Knowing what you print and how it gets to the printer is only part of the story. We also need to know a bit about the components of the things you print, such as fonts, graphics, external resources like overlays or electronic forms, and the real tricky component -- pre-printed forms. For each of your target applications you are going to need to know the real story on each of these building blocks, and it may not be as easy as it looks!
Let's start with the obvious, the fonts that you see on the paper or on the screen, regardless of where the data originates. The fonts are what the people using the documents see, and most really don't care where they care from or how you got the them into the file. They care that they can read them. Those that do care tend to be the guardians of the corporate logo standards, and they may pose a small challenge. The application developers who added in fonts containing small graphic objects, signatures, and a few other font pieces may have a couple of words for you as well. And let's not forget environments where there are printers from a variety of vendors, most using their own unique fonts.
Before this gets overwhelming, let's start with with the basics in most corporate print shops. We're talking about the MIS/IT type of printing here, for the most part, and not the type of printing that goes to the big web presses. Even though these areas are converging, we'll save that for a later column. Our baseline are the Xerox, IBM, Oce', and similar printers that populate most corporate print environments. In reality, your company may own one or more of each vendor's offering as a hedge against being able to switch easily between vendors. Or, you may have acquired the "other vendor's" hardware in a merger/acquisition. We see this all of the time. Let's not worry too much about the variety, let's just get comfortable with everything that you have.
The primary print file formats you encounter in big corporate environments are Plain Text formats (sometimes with a few twists), the IBM AFP (Advanced Function Printing) Format and the Xerox formats called DJDE (Dynamic Job Descriptor Entry) and Metacode. As we noted above, it isn't unusual for a company to have print files in all of these formats, or to use a third part product to turn one file format into another. The important part to remember for the moment is that all of these types of files use fonts that are in a specific format. You cannot use the nice Book Antigua from your PC and use it in a corporate report destined for print on the company IBM 3900 AFP printer. The printer and its software will not understand the information in the file.
IBM fonts have variations of their own and you will need to track down which ones you have and use to get ready for a migration to the web. The oldest style of IBM font is the type that supported their oldest line print devices (many of which are still in use). You'll find these fonts used in files we often refer to as line data the looks remarkably like what you might have produced in a typewriter. Line data in this format has a few more bells as whistles, which we will discuss in another column. The important part is that it calls fonts, usually by designating their position on a pre-existing font list. Whether it is font three or font four isn't nearly as important to us as what fonts are on that font list, and what format the font files are in. By format we mean the character set, the resolution, and information about how the intercharacter and interword spacing is handled. In these old type of fonts you will often see names like Elite and Prestige, reminiscent of the old typewriter balls from the early IBM electric typewriters and word processing systems. Note the name of any font you see identified because we are going to need to try to match it to a web font down the road.
In addition to the oldest of the IBM fonts there are the middle aged IBM fonts that arrived iwth the dawn of AFP printing in the middle 1980's. There are also a set of fonts IBM distributed called the PSF Compatibility Fonts which were designed to allow the users of their newest printers to continue printing the jobs they had already created with little or no change to the code that was in use. You'll know these fonts by looking for names like GT-10, GT-12, Prestige, OCR-A. These fonts were built with the specific requirements of older data in mind, so they do pose some challenges as we try to migrate to the web. They next generation, the IBM Sonoran family of Typographic fonts were intended to provide a complete font family that the document designer could use reliably to get great looking documents from their high speed printer. IBM faced a small challenge in that their printers were running at 240 dots per inch squared while most of their competitors were running at 300 dots per inch squared or more. That meant that IBM had to shave pixels out of their font characters yet still appear to achieve perfect, art-director approvable print. And they did it! But those Sonoran fonts don't have a web-matched version either. While they are based on the standard Arial and New Times Roman, there are real differences which might cause a few formatting problems during migration.
The latest generation of IBM fonts moved on to Adobe's technology so you will generally find that documents created using fonts with the familiar names like Arial, New Century School Book, and Times New Roman are based on the same masters as those fonts you are familiar with on your desktop. That makes our job a lot easier. Let stop in the IBM realm with the requirement to make a list of every font you think might be used in a print file. Talk to your System administrators and find out what fonts are in the test and production font libraries, which will be the best place to start. If the fonts are in those libraries they cannot end up in one of your documents.
Now let's look over at Xerox. Here things look quite a bit different because the folks at Xerox settled on a standard font tape early in their adventure in laser printing. If you were a North American client you became the proud owner of the A03 tape, and in Europe you received the R03 tape. These tapes contained font files in standard Xerox font file format for fonts that Xerox thought that you would use to build your forms and documents. They also tried to emulate fonts that they expected you might have used in your line printer data, and tried to provide a sampling of typographic fonts.
Where the IBM fonts live in a library on that big mainframe that hums along in MIS, the Xerox folks took a different approach and the fonts because part of the system files on each individual machine. The logic was that while IBM printers were true system printers and would always be attached to the mainframe computer, the Xerox printers could be set up to run in what was called offline mode in printer farms. This meant that as long as you kept all of the fonts you owned, including those you created or purchased, on every machine, you could print any job at any time on any machine. This was a huge selling point, but it is also the place where your life becomes interesting if you have Xerox printers to deal with.
Let's start with the fact that Xerox was making several types of printers at the time, and they did not share file formats or font formats. These big, high-speed machines sometimes came with a free XES machine, which Xerox would should you how to use for office printing, and sometimes job proofing. But that's another set of fonts again! And sometimes jobs began on those printers and were never migrated to the big printers. I think you get the picture.
So, in the big world of IBM and Xerox fonts, here are the kinds of things you need to be looking for and writing down.
That's enough to overwhelm anyone. Let's take a break here and next month we'll look at graphic formats. Remember that the goal is to be able to create lists of exactly what you have so that when it comes time to migrate your documents to the web you'll be able to ensure that you have the same types of resources waiting on the web-side of the world. As always, we'll take questions, too! Address them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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