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Standardized extensibility for ODF? July 11, 2007

Posted by samwyse in Uncategorized.
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I just discovered Rob Weir’s blog and have been reading some of his past posts. One thing that has occurred to me is an old annoyance with HTML, especially from ten years ago or so. HTML never standardized a way to implement work-arounds for new elements. For instance, lets say that I implemented a new elements , <PSYCHIC> that beams information directly into the viewer’s brain. Obviously, not all browsers will support this tag, especially immediately following its introduction; even worse, if the idea dies then information encoded within that tag will become increasingly inaccessible over time. To get around this, there are various different work-arounds. IMG elements can have ALT attributes, which hopefully shows a description of an image that can’t be displayed. Frames introduced a NOFRAMES element (that mostly tells people to upgrade their browser). And IIRC, OBJECT elements are supposed to ignore textual data contained within, although again this is mostly used to suggest an installing a plug-in.

The issue is that there is no one standard technique for handling unrecognized elements; instead each new tag had to figure out its own way to work around the issue. Since ODF supports vendor-specific extensions, I’m wondering if there is any standard way to include an alternate view of data for programs that don’t understand an extension. (Obviously, there has to be a provision for such programs modifying the alternate data and getting it out of sync with the “natural” representation. This is where having a standard really helps, since you can also standardize, for example, a method for safely deleting the unrecognized elements and hoisting alternate representations into their place.)

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