Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Electronic document means any computer data (other than programs or system files) that are intended to be used in their computerized form, without being printed (although printing is usually possible).
Originally, any computer data were considered as something internal — the final data output was always on paper. However, the development of computer networks have resulted in that in most cases it is much more convenient to distribute electronic documents than printed ones. And the improvements in display technologies mean that in most cases it is possible to view documents on screen instead of printing them (thus saving paper and the room required to store the printed copies).
However, using electronic documents instead of paper ones have created the problem of multiple incompatible file formats. Even plain text files are not free from this problem — e.g. under MS-DOS, most programs could not work correctly with UNIX-style text files (see newline), and for non-English speakers, the different codepages always have been a source of trouble.
Even more problems are connected with complex file formats of various word processors, spreadsheets and graphical editors. To alleviate the problem, many software companies distribute free file viewers for their proprietary file formats (one example is Adobe's Acrobat Reader). The other solution is the development of standardized non-proprietary file formats (such as HTML, SGML, and XML).
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