More standards – less functionality. What benefits does XJDF offer the online print industry?

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Yes, I admit that I too am a JDF fan. Yet what’s this XJDF all about? We got one of the “perpetrators” to explain this issue to us – a conversation with Dr. Rainer Prosi.

You occasionally hear the term “XJDF”, a new job ticket standard or proposed new standard, mentioned. Since almost the entire online print industry would be totally lost if production automation did not involve job tickets or XML, you may well ask: what are they up to now? Weird sub-standards dreamt up by XML nerds or a genuine step forward? For years I have been communicating on this subject with one of the “founding fathers” of JDF, Dr. Rainer Prosi – CTO of CIP 4 and Head of JDF Development at Heidelberg – and what’s the obvious thing to do? Just ask him!

Bernd Zipper: Rainer, you have been one of the masterminds behind JDF for years. Suddenly CIP4 is trumpeting XJDF. Has the concept of comprehensive print production operations management using JDF therefore failed?

Dr. Rainer Prosi: No, XJDF is merely an adaptation of JDF to new developments in XML and the IT industry. The idea of a print company operations management system is also what underpins  XJDF, but instead of an all-encompassing master JDF file,  XJDF assumes that only specific job steps need to be defined in a XJDF file and that the overall context is modeled in the database of an MIS or production control system. That makes XJDF a pure and also a much simpler interface.

Bernd Zipper: Right, but if XJDF tends to be regarded as a “pure information interchange interface” – why do we need JMF – the  Job Messaging Format within JDF – anymore?
Dr. Rainer Prosi:  XJDF continues to be the job description, but only that of a specific operation. Operating data logging and status reports, which are defined using JMF, continue to be essential to ensure transparent monitoring of presses and processes in the print room.

Bernd Zipper: That means that you have launched XJDF as a “streamlined” version of JDF?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: That sums it up really well, although we are striving to avoid any loss in functionality as far as possible.

Bernd Zipper: Can you highlight a couple of online print provider application examples, where XJDF has provided a benefit?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: XJDF, together with PrintTalk, a standard that describes the commercial aspects of a job, enables customer jobs to be accepted in a standardized format. Previously most MIS systems have only written JDF, but have scarcely read it.  XJDF enables MIS and production systems to accept jobs from any online portal. A second point is that online print providers can now directly integrate XJDF-capable presses themselves much more easily, since the learning threshold required to use XJDF is significantly lower than that for JDF.

Bernd Zipper: Well now, the range of online print applications that communicate with each other is huge. Many users have, in the absence of a suitable standard, developed their own XML structures. Are there any advantages in switching?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: Linkages that include self-defined XML are typically actioned faster as prototypes than when using standards. But here comes the big “but”: as soon as more than one interface needs to be integrated or whenever a module is replaced, the entire interface has to be redefined and rebuilt. In the long run that is significantly more time-consuming and expensive than implementing the standard just once. Given our many years of experience with JDF, XJDF terminology has been defined in a much more structured way, meaning there don’t have to be long discussions about the importance of specific attributes. Last but not least, the idea behind XJDF is precisely that “It’s just XML”, meaning the complexity of XJDF is no greater than that of self-defined XML.

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“Even though XJDF is a sub-standard – it is an extract of the most important JDF elements that works and therefore vital to the survival of any online print provider.” – Bernd Zipper

Bernd Zipper: What plans have you got next for XJDF?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: Specification is 80% complete. The last few loose ends are now being tied up and then a patent law check will be undertaken to ensure that XJDF use remains license-free. That will take around 9 months, meaning the specification is finally scheduled to be published in 2017. CIP4 will also provide open-source software to convert from JDF to XJDF, as well as from XJDF to JDF, meaning the switch will be made easier. Furthermore plenty more examples will be generated and last but not least the ICS (Interoperability Conformance Specifications) for XJDF are still to be drafted. ICS are documents that describe the use of XJDF in specific applications, e.g. involving printing presses or during prepress, or for digital printing presses, in more detail.

XJDF finally scheduled to be published in 2017, Source: Heidelberger Druck
XJDF finally scheduled to be published in 2017, Source: Heidelberger Druck

Bernd Zipper: Of course what’s interesting is what’s going to happen with JDF in the future – what does its roadmap look like?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: When Adobe launched PDF, Postscript didn’t disappear overnight. The same will apply of course to JDF when XJDF is launched. JDF will continue to be maintained and there will be a matching JDF version for every XJDF release, i.e. JDF 1.6 for XJDF 2.0, JDSF 1.7 for XJDF 2.1 etc. That is actually the result of having a shared “master” specification, in which the details about individual processes share common updates. This ensures that descriptions of new technologies are incorporated in both specifications.

Bernd Zipper: If a user has questions about the whole issue of JDF – who should they contact here…?
Dr. Rainer Prosi: CIP4 has a new technical website, https://confluence.cip4.org, where anybody with an interest in this kind of technology, even non-members of CIP4, can sign in, ask questions and find all sorts of material on the subject of JDF/XJDF. CIP4 software, such as the JDF Editor, which can also create XJDF, and the APIs are available here to download. Members of CIP4 and those who want to become members are also cordially invited to participate in the twice-yearly InterOp Convention and discuss JDF and XJDF requirements with manufacturers and other interested parties. The next convention takes place from October 10 to October 14 in Strasbourg.

My take: JDF is indeed a really complex subject and many users, particularly in the online print sector, are afraid of using JDF. Users quickly resort to using their own XML formats in order to make automation a reality in their own companies. And this course of action very quickly gives rise to isolated applications. XJDF is therefore a logical development for the purposes of driving standardization in a growing market forward. When XJDF is launched in 2017, it will be an upgrade that works and certainly a genuine enhancement from the perspective of the online print industry.

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