Documents built in different OSes find Common Ground

Enter Common Ground Publisher 3.0.1 from Hummingbird Communications. It isn't perfect,
but it lets users of disparate operating systems read and annotate documents produced in
one another's environments.

Common Ground is an Adobe Acrobat look-alike. But itisn't a single application; it's a
family of them. DigitalPaper Maker is the app in the package that converts documents to
DigitalPaper, the proprietary Common Ground file format.

I tested the software on a 200-MHz Pentium PC running Microsoft Windows 95. Judging by
the manuals, Common Ground's features are similar in the Apple Macintosh version. PC users
convert documents by choosing the Print command from the File menu. Mac users select the
Common Ground Maker as the printer in the Chooser.

The print dialog specifies which pages to convert. Select All to print the whole
document or designate specific pages. Conversion takes about the same amount of time as a
normal print job.

The DigitalPaper Express component can convert collections of documents into
DigitalPaper in a batch mode without crashing other desktop applications. Common Ground
Publisher will monitor designated directories and automatically convert new files as they
are added, which is useful for offices that create many documents.

To read, print and navigate the proprietary Common Ground files, users must have an
appropriate viewer. The Publisher package comes with a half-dozen viewers for different
operating systems and Unix flavors. You can embed the miniviewers in documents or
distribute them as standalone applications.

Unlike Adobe Acrobat, which requires embedded fonts for faithful document reproduction,
Common Ground uses Bitstream Inc.'s TrueDoc fonts and anti-aliasing to produce
high-fidelity duplicates.

Both Acrobat and Common Ground compress documents that are, more often than not, less
bulky than the originals. But the Common Ground viewers and files are smaller than
comparable Acrobat viewers and files.

The Common Ground Windows miniviewer adds 311K to a DigitalPaper file, the Mac
miniviewer 293K. Plug-in viewers for World Wide Web browsers take up about 700K. A Java
applet viewer, still in beta testing, occupies 150K, but the final version likely will
require about 100K.

Common Ground's DigitalPaper ProViewer offers advanced collaboration features: tables
of contents, bookmarks, thumbnails, sticky notes, hyperlinks and even document stapling.
These features are much easier to use than the typical office suite's word processor.

Common Ground can encrypt documents with the Data Encryption Standard algorithm.
Because DigitalPaper documents can't be modified, the format is suitable for distributing
legal documents or contract amendments. Access controls give the administrator further
control over classified, proprietary and copyrighted information after distribution.

The Common Ground Search program indexes DigitalPaper documents, Hypertext Markup
Language text and PostScript files using Verity Inc.'s TopicSearch engine. Organizing,
indexing and searching collections of DigitalPaper documents takes only seconds. Returns
are almost instantaneous.

If you publish documents online, the small size of Common Ground files translates into
shorter download times and reduced bandwidth. For diskette or CD-ROM publication, you can
organize, link and index DigitalPaper collections after batch conversion.

Anyone involved in designing HTML documents knows there's no such thing as
what-you-see-is-what-you-get Web editing. Converting highly formatted documents into HTML
is generally a formidable task.

Common Ground's Web Publishing System automatically generates HTML pages for
DigitalPaper documents, eliminating the need for special coding in most instances.
Documents can hyperlink to and from conventional HTML documents.

A page-on-demand Common Gateway Interface script lets Web servers download only the
pages requested rather than entire documents as with other digital publishing systems.
Page-on-demand uses uniform resource locators that identify the page to be displayed to
the server. The attributes are handled for you when you create hyperlinks.

Although I didn't test Common Ground Publisher on a Mac, I used its PostScript
converter to read Mac documents on my PC. I began by printing the Mac documents as
PostScript files to disk. Then I imported the PostScript files into Common Ground and
converted them to DigitalPaper. Of course, I could have converted them directly by
installing Common Ground on the Mac.

Hummingbird Communications provides unlimited customer support via toll lines and
e-mail. Documentation is extensive and well-written, and online help is similarly strong.

Common Ground can't beat Acrobat feature by feature, but it has the advantage of
smallness. And the page-on-demand feature gives it an edge over Acrobat, which requires
loading the initial page.

When its Java applet viewer arrives, the company stands to gain some ground.

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