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P.Ink Press: A Model For Publishing Systems for the 1990s
ONE SELDOM HAS the opportunity to see a fundamental change that alters the structure of publishing systems development, and particularly the manner in which computers are used in publishing. The last time this really happened was in the early 1970s, with the Third Wave in publishing systems, which we have defined in earlier issues of this Report. Companies like Atex and Hendrix built systems that allowed publishers to change totally their methods of operation. They became driven by editorial and advertising rather than by production.
Initially, the Fourth Wave did not really change Third Wave methods of working. Third Wave methods were merely ported onto standard-platform hardware and software. As a matter of fact, this port often reduced productivity, and we saw no redefinition of the manner in which systems should be developed and used.
Later, as we moved into what could be considered the second generation of Fourth Wave systems, they began to be comparable in terms of efficiency and performance with the established Third Wave systems. They were still only doing the same things as the earlier systems, albeit using standard hardware and software.
The newspaper system built by the German vendor P.Ink may well be the start of the third generation of the Fourth Wave. It is the first system we have seen for a long time that fundamentally changes the manner in which a publishing system works.
The real Fourth Wave. When we identified the Fourth Wave development, we foresaw systems like the one P.Ink is now offering as the real potential of the "new wave." Such a system forces a rethinking about how computer-based publishing solutions should operate, taking into account the development of computer hardware and software, and not being reliant upon principles developed for previous waves or generations of systems.
This "true" Fourth Wave would be the real result of change. It would exploit the available hardware and software structures while providing what has always been the goal of publishing systems since the early 1970s: a complete control system to allow us to handle by computer all the functions we handled manually in earlier systems, particularly process management.
All professional publishing systems that are worthy of the name have been built around file management facilities for organizing and tracking stories, classified ads, chapters of books or whatever. The classic way of doing this in both third-and fourth-wave systems has been either to build upon the file structure built into the computer operating system or to write special file management programs and facilities that worked in conjunction with the native computer filing system.
Over the past half dozen years, a number of companies have set out to build systems around industry-standard database programs--especially database programs that use the standard SQL database query language. Companies ranging from CText to Camex have taken this approach for part or all of their system data management requirements. Other companies (e.g., Atex for its PPN) have set out to tie together several data files and data management schemes by layering on top of these a central database that tracks every element to appear in a publication.
A unifying database. The P.Ink Press system is one of the first systems we have seen where the whole foundation is the database, into which every system element is tightly linked. It conforms to established Fourth Wave principles by being an open architecture system running on standard hardware and software, not locked into any specific database.
Support for standard SQL principles in its design enable it to utilize any SQL-compliant database. So far, the system runs with P.Ink's own SQL Server running on the Apple Macintosh. P.Ink has begun the development work for porting its application to use the IBM RS/6000, Next and other Unix platforms, running Sybase instead of SQL Server. It is currently demonstrating some elements of this using Sybase.
Transparent links to Xpress. The system's other main element is again an off-the-shelf product: Quark Xpress, the Macintosh-based page makeup and composition engine. However, it is the integration of Xpress into the database via a range of P.Ink Xtensions that makes this system so unique and impressive.
Where we have seen Xtensions in use before, they have largely been as add-ons to applications. By providing a link between an established multiterminal publishing system and Quark Xpress, they have provided both layout-based and interactive pagination. We have, however, usually seen the joins between the two systems.
In the P.Ink system, the linkages are truly transparent, and one often forgets that one is working in Xpress. So many Xtensions are tightly embedded into almost all Xpress menus that unless one is a dedicated Xpress user, one does not realize when one is using an Xtension and when one is using a standard Xpress function.
The P.Ink Press system is a lot more than just Xpress linked to a database. It is a complete system for the total editorial and advertising process with an advanced text editor, which is linked into the database and generates Xpress-compatible style and text data. It also is an impressive advertising booking system that is tightly linked with the database and utilizes the text editor for entering ad text.
Work still to be done. As a system, P.Ink Press is perhaps a role model for what we see as a true Fourth Wave system, and it is probably the first member of the third generation of such systems. It should not, however, be considered the model against which other systems should be judged, or the ideal system for everyone, as much is still needed to make it a total solution.
At present, it is reasonably complete for both advertising and editorial applications for a specific range of customers. But it is largely unproven in the market, with fewer than ten installations, all in Germany. How well it will succeed in other languages, and in markets that are appreciably different from the German market, has still to be seen.
Naturally, there are areas where further development is needed. From what we have seen, though, this is perhaps the most advanced and impressive new system since Atex first appeared in the early 1970s.
The largest P.Ink installation is at the Leipziger Volkszeitung in Leipzig (in what was East Germany), where more than 150 Macintosh computers are in use for editorial production. This newspaper was produced by hot metal until September 1990, but now it is totally electronic, with full text and graphics pagination.
The other eight P.Ink installations are handling advertising only, and in relatively small configurations. But P.Ink has a large order book that will keep it busy until well into the third quarter of this year, including some orders from major German publishing groups for substantial new systems. A number of these customers plan to use the IBM RS/6000 with Sybase as the file server to build very sophisticated large systems. At present these orders are confidential.
P.Ink was founded in 1987 by Andreas Poliza and the German publishing house Verlagsgesellschaft Madsack to develop special software for newspaper production. Poliza came to P.Ink with a background in personal computers, having worked for the German PC dealer Polisoft. A daughter company of Polisoft was the exclusive German distributor of Aldus PageMaker.
Madsack was a large customer of Polisoft, and Poliza had developed a system for it while at Polisoft to handle a large classified advertising publication. This system ran on PCs with a Novell network.
Based in Hannover, Madsack is one of the largest publishing houses in Northern Germany. Besides two newspapers, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung and Neue Presse, it publishes many other titles. It also prints several newspapers for other publishers. It has a central publishing data processing facility using IBM mainframe hardware, Gutenberg Rechenzentrum, into which 40 publishing houses are linked. In addition to publishing, Madsack is involved in communications; its TVN subsidiary, Television Programme and Nachrichten GmbH, supplies news and commentaries to several German TV stations, including RTL and SAT1.
One of the key elements of the planned newspaper publishing system from P.Ink was a relational database. At the time of the company's startup, it could find no suitable product on the Macintosh, its preferred platform, although a number that sounded feasible were in the planning stages. It therefore decided to develop its own database as an interim solution until a suitable one came along.
By December 1989, no suitable product had emerged. P.Ink decided to form a separate database group to complete its own database and make it into a separate product line to be sold through the Macintosh dealer network. This database, P.Ink SQL, is now available; it is distributed in Germany by Prisma (a daughter company of Polisoft), and in the …