Codex Toolbox

Some years ago we developed an extremely cost-effective way for a small publishing house to publish their print products on CD Rom. That client has since decided to publish on the Internet rather than on CD Rom, but the project is still one I'm rather proud of.

The decision to publish on CD Rom was driven by demands from the market, not by any expectation of additional turnover. They were a small publishing house operating in a niche market. Their core business was publishing collections of legal documents known as "codexes". No more than a few hundred copies of each codex could ever be expected to sell. All codexes were regularly updated, some as frequently as four times per year. Existing solutions for publication on CD Rom were cost-prohibitive.

First we designed a structure that reflected the way the printed codexes were divided into sections and subsections. The design also made full advantage of the interaction that is possible in an electronic format. The basic ground rules, which were more or less the same across all products, were as follows:

  • The product runs off the CD without any installation on the end user's PC.
  • When the CD is inserted, a "super startpage" opens automatically in Adobe Reader.
  • Navigation through the publication is highly intuitive.
  • The super startpage links to the section startpages.
  • The section startpages link to the individual documents.
  • The section startpages allow you to easily jump sideways to other sections.
  • The whole collection is indexed and can be searched from any startpage and from any page in any document in any section.
  • Each section is indexed separately and can be searched from its own section startpage and from any page in any document in that section.
  • Some codexes include a keyword index that can be displayed from any startpage and from any page in any document in any section.

The challenge was to get from the PDF files prepared for the printed version to the finished product as automatically as possible.

We developed a whole battery of scripts and routines in Adobe JavaScript, Perl, VBA, and even PostScript. Once these were in place, whenever there was a new update the publisher simply sent us the PDFs used for the print version. A few days later we returned to them a ZIP archive containing the complete CD Rom contents, ready for burning and distribution.