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8.4. DEVICE INDEPENDENCE: INFORMATION ANYWHERE
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Knowledge workers are increasingly working both in multiple locations and while on the move using an ever wider variety of terminal devices. They need information delivered in a format appropriate to the device at hand.
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The aim of device independence is to allow authors to produce content that can be viewed effectively, using a wide range of devices. Differences in device properties such as screen size, input capabilities, processing capacity, software functionality, presentation language and network protocols make it challenging to produce a single resource that can be presented effectively to the user on any device. In this section, we review the key issues in device independence and then discuss the range of device independence architectures and technologies, which have been developed to address these. We nish with a description of our own DIWAF device independence framework.
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8.4.1. Issues in Device Independence
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The generation of content, and its subsequent delivery and presentation to a user is an involved process, and the problem of device independence can be viewed in a number of dimensions. 8.4.1.1. Separation of Concerns Historically, the generation of the content of a document and the generation of its representation would have been handled as entirely separate functions. Authors would deliver a manuscript to a publisher, who would typeset the manuscript for publication. The skill of the typesetter was to make the underlying structure of the text clear to readers by consistent use of fonts, spacing and margins. With the widespread availability of computers and word processors, authors often became responsible for both content and presentation. This blurring creates problems in device independent content delivery where content needs to be adapted to the device at hand, whereas much content produced today has formatting information embedded within it. 8.4.1.2. Location of Content Adaptation Because of the client/server nature of web applications there are at least three distinct places where the adaptation of content to the device can occur: Client Side Adaptation: all computer applications that display information to the user must have a screen driver that takes some internal representation of the data and transforms it into an image on the screen. In this sense, the client software is ultimately responsible for the presentation to the user. In an ideal world, providers would agree on a common data representation language for all devices, delegating responsibility for its
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representation to the client device. However, there are several mark-up languages in common use, each with a number of versions and variations, as well as a number of client side scripting languages. Thus the goal of producing a single universal representation language has proved elusive. Server Side Adaptation: whilst the client is ultimately responsible for the presentation of data to the user, the display is driven by the data received from the server. In principle, if the server can identify the capabilities of the device being used, different representations of the content can be sent, according to the requirements of the client. Because of the plethora of different data representations and device capabilities this approach has received much attention. A common approach is to de ne a data representation speci cally designed to support device independence. These representations typically encourage a highly structured approach to content, achieve separation of content from style and layout, allow selection of alternative content and de ne an abstract representation of user interactions. In principle, these representations could be rendered directly on the client, but a pragmatic approach is to use this abstract representation to generate different presentations on the server. Network Transformation: one of the reasons for the development of alternative data representations is the different network constraints placed upon mobile and xed end-user devices. Thus a third possibility for content adaptation is to introduce an intermediate processing step between the server and client, within the network itself. For example, the widely used WAP protocol relies on a WAP gateway to transform bulky textual representations into compact binary representations of data. Another frequent application is to transform high-resolution colour images into low-resolution black and white. 8.4.1.3. Delivery Context So far the discussion has focussed on the problems associated with using different hardware and software to generate an effective display of a single resource. However, this can be seen as part of a wider attempt to make web applications context aware. Accessibility has been a concern to the W3C for a number of years, and in many ways the issues involved in achieving accessibility are parallel to the aims of achieving device independence. It may be, for example, that a user has a preference for using voice rather than a keyboard and from the point of view of the software, it is irrelevant whether this is because the device is limited, or because the user nds it easier to talk than type, or whether the user happens to need their hands for something else (e.g., to drive). To a large extent, any solutions developed for device independence will increase accessibility and vice versa.
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