We have publicly stated that ColdFusion “Blackstone” will provide a way to generate printable output. I first mentioned this at MAX 2003, and both Tim Buntel and I have publicly demonstrated PDF generation prototypes as well. But we have made no public statement about the planned print formats, and I’d like your opinion as to what format is most important to support. Share your view using the new poll on my blog page (http://www.forta.com/blog on the left hand side).

32 thoughts

  1. Gee, thanks Dave. Ok, let me rephrase the question, assuming that each additional format takes time and will thus delay getting the product into your hands, which is the most important? (I am assuming that you’ll be willing to sacrifice some formats so as to have the product sooner). πŸ™‚

  2. Ben,
    in this order:
    Flash Paper
    Tab/Comma/Tilde Delimited (.TXT) – programmer defined for txt files.

  3. "I am assuming that you’ll be willing to sacrifice some formats so as to have the product sooner",
    Erm.. no πŸ™‚ I’d rather want quality before a faster release date. What is more important, is the way PDF reports are generated, is it native or is it software based.

  4. While your at it, is it possible we could have some sort of image resizing facility on Blackstone? Just spent hours trying to find a solution for installing on a shared server (with some decent documentation) to no-avail.

  5. To Clarify, are we talking about taking a Coldfusion ‘string’ made up of HTML tags and converting it to the appropriate language.
    I have generated Excel / Word documents on the fly, however syntax is not the prettiest.
    I guess in the case of above it would be cool to have in this order
    PDF / Flashpaper / DocRTF / Excel(including formatting options)

  6. I think HTML and PDF are musts. Beyond that, I’d really like to see .XLS (as a binary as opposed to just writing out HTML tables and sticking an .xls extension on the file – huge file bloat). Flash Paper is ok to, but I’m guessing that one’s a no brainer for MM.

  7. Ben,
    For printable format my order would be PDF, XLS, DOC/RTF, FlashPaper. It is not for printing purposes, but I would also like a csv format.

  8. 1) PDF
    2) RTF
    3) HTML/CSS (though this is less preferable since IE’s CSS implementation is hideous)
    I really don’t like using FlashPaper. I can take PDF everywhere into so many applications (especially in Mac OS X). FlashPaper just doesn’t transport.

  9. PDF is #1. We can already do HTML/CSS reports with Cold Fusion. Flash Paper – while it’s a cool technology – is slow and doesn’t allow for emailing, etc (yet).

  10. <cfset variables.driver = createObject("java","org.apache.fop.apps.Driver").init()/>
    <cfset variables.driver.setRenderer(Driver.RENDER_PDF)/>
    <cfset variables.driver.setRenderer(Driver.RENDER_RTF)/>
    Seriously though… if you are on CFMX, and need PDF generation, and HAVEN’T tried FOP, what are you waiting for? (Blackstone, I guess…)

  11. I agree, PDF is more important than Flash Paper.
    I would like to see it using XSL-FO and FOP. I have successfully used it and it is really flexible.
    Most of the solutions I have seen that convert HTML into PDF utilize deprecated tags and awful stuff like font tags. I hope that will not be the case with Blackstone.

  12. exactly… we have used activePDF in the past… + I can’t wait to go through and toss all that stuff in the garbage in favor of FOP. It has been so successful for us… I’m just questioning why those that really want doc generation haven’t tried it.

  13. Dave, Laura,
    We’ve looked at just about every option out there, and evaluated and tested each (including FOP). I can’t comment on what we’re using yet, but wait for the beta to start.
    And no, don’t ask me when beta will start. πŸ™‚
    — Ben

  14. Ben,
    While clearly PDF is by far the most useful I do hope you take the time to add Flash paper as well.
    I think doing so would do more to drive the wide spread acceptance of Flash paper than any other single thing Macromedia could do.

  15. My clients would all like PDFs. I’m pretty sure they have no idea what flash paper is πŸ™‚
    We currently generate all our reports in RTF and the are fantastic because they allow for very unusual page numbering (everyone we work for has that issue) In PDF I have to "Count" pages so it makes most of the PDF solutions hard to if not impossible implement. I don’t always know when something needs a new page nor do I know as I go how many pages I will have.
    So if you go PDF make sure there is code to calculate page numbers !
    Just my 2 cents.

  16. Without a doubt, PDF MUST be first on the list – and I imagine this has long been decided upon by MM.
    The FlashPaper format is interesting. The player is so ubiquitous that it’s a nice alternative for allowing users to view multipage document inline, as opposed to downloading or spawning a help application.
    As for the MS Word formats – ho hum. So many people have so many different versions, patches, hotfixes and other stuff that you’ll never get a large portion happy with the output.
    PDF and FlashPaper are the way to go. And if you can’t do both, do PDF.
    Oh, and Ben, when does the beta start?! πŸ˜‰

  17. My preference would be rtf and pdf. My users need to be able to download a report and then manipulate and add text to it. Right now I use a custom tag that generates a word document.
    Right now the reporting piece of my application outputs a professional activities report for college faculty members so we’re talking about large blocks of free form text (rather than summary reports with tabulated numbers and the like.) that requires some additional formatting of the Word doc by the end user. In the future we will likely offer the ability to output their data in a Vitae format.
    The bottom line for me is that whatever format is used in Blackstone it needs to be easily editable by my end users or it will not be of value for this particular application.

  18. Jeff… FYI, I know i’ve been singing FOP here too much already, but it does do the page number calculations you are looking for. No need to count pages… just put a ref block at the end of the content, and then you can say:
    Page <fo:page-number /> of <fo:page-number-citation ref-id="last-page"/>
    in the header or footer definitions. Unlike others, a format like pdf is a must for us because we typically don’t want users to be able to modify a document.

  19. PDF is certainly the most needed. It would be great to have the flexibility to print "normal" full-page reports, but also print labels and envelopes. We currently do this with XHTML/CSS only, and it’s a pain to have to have people turn off all the headers/footers that browsers normally print, try to accommodate different printers and browsers, etc. PDF would solve these problems!
    Also, to those that are saying "just use FOP". Well, that’s great, except in a shared hosted solution where you can’t add JARs to the installation!

  20. PDF would be great.. we would like to see the pdf generator allow stylesheets and the latest html standards. Most pdf generators that are at a reasonable cost, and do the job reasonably well, dont allow stylesheets and dont compile a lot of html standards correctly. In summary what we would like to see is correct support in the PDF generation for page headers, page footers, CSS, and all the table standards like colspans.

  21. Waiting for a few more months is better than waiting for another version. So I am in favor of waiting for a few months to have pdf, doc, xls formats and the image manipulation feature too.
    BTW, will we be able to generate flash version with CFTree and CFGrid in Blackstone like CFChart? Java applet doesn’t work when users don’t have admin privileges to download the plugins.

  22. How about PDF’s Grandfather, PostScript? I know it’s huge and unweildy, but it’s still required by a lot of the higher-end print shops.

  23. I noticed Dave & Laura’s comments about FOP. FOP is really flexible, free, and easy to implement. I wrote an article for the CFDJ that will be in this month’s issue. I also recently did a presentation on it at the Denver CFUG and everyone really seemed to like FOP. You can get code and .ppt here http://www.denvercfug.org/index.cfm?function=Presentation&PID=32
    But either way, I think it’s awesome that we may have some input on this.

  24. I would recommend studying the other products in this space. Right now I use ColdFusion to generate XML for a program called Miramo (http://www.DataZone.com) that turns the into Adobe FrameMaker format and then uses Distiller to make the PDF (a seamless process to the user from the web front-end). I think the ability to generate files for a publishing-quality app would be a big plus for reporting applications – generating PDF from HTML, for example (something Corda’s Highwire does) simply does not provide the level of layout, color and font control necessary if you want to deliver a truly professional looking printed document.

  25. 1) PDF.
    2) The Office-type formats — DOC, XLS, PPT (tested to be compatible to be opened in OpenOffice and WordPerfect)
    3) Plain text (this is easily enough done with what we have now)
    And you’re done. I’ve no interest whatsoever in FlashPaper; we don’t need another ‘standard’.

  26. Thanks for all the input on this one. PDF is the hands-down first choice, and we are actively working on that. Hey, if you get a chance to drop by one of the Summer Tour stops I may even show you examples of what we’re working on. πŸ™‚
    Johnny, Flash form controls are being worked on, but I can’t give specifics yet.

  27. It’s cool that Ben said PDF is the first on the list. However, instead of having list upon list of different formats (would there be an end to it?), Blackstone should have an API that allows third party formats to seemlessly plug.
    Making it smoother, I thing XSL-FO should be embeded inside. It’s neat and cross-platform and would work anywhere.

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