Introducing Newgen Image-File Format (NIF)

a Breaking News Report by PlanetDjVu, May 7, 2003
Updated and Revised February 4, 2004

Editors note: This article was originally written in response to to the news report of a new competing format to DjVu, called NIF. The article was written in order to comment on certain statements made about DjVu and about LizardTech. In October, we removed this article because the statements about LizardTech were no longer correct. Now we are republishing with the news that DjVu is making a strong comeback, and is now the leading alternative to PDF for digital document delivery.  Formats like Newgen and LuraDocument can try to compete, but we do not believe that they can come close to the maturity level and true open-source nature of DjVu.

The latest May 5th issue of Express Computer , India's Number 1 IT Business Weekly, features an article on the new NIF digital document format, from document management and imaging solutions provider Newgen Software.

Remarkably similar in design and architecture to DjVu, Newgen Software expect to gain market share by by integrating the NIF compression scheme into Adobes PDF format.

NIF is an open standards-based scheme. This means it will be available for all to read and implement and will create a fair, competitive market for implementations of the standard. Thereby not locking in the customer into a particular vendor or group and maximising end-user choice. Being an open standard, NIF will be free for all to implement, with no royalty or fee. Newgen will be making a restricted version of NIF available as a freeware on the Internet for individual users. However, the SDK and advanced level viewer will be priced.

According to the Express Computer report, "The failure of an almost similar document compression offering from a US-based company LizardTech, (which had acquired DjVu colour document compression technology from AT&T Labs) to garner expected market share tells adequately on the tough market scenario and the competition Newgen will have to face."

"It portends that more than the technology, the company has to get its business strategy right. Learning a lesson from LizardTechs case, Newgen think tank has tried to induce more flexibility and risk capacity into its NIF strategy. NIF being an open standard format, Newgen has decided to use it to leverage on Adobes PDF market share as well, thereby increasing the scope of addressing the market. This means that not only will Newgen be able to address the untapped market, but also cater to Adobes market."

"According to an expert, what ails LizardTech is its proprietary format due to which it has not been able to take PDFs market share head on. Besides, the pricing of DjVu was also prohibitively high ($20,000 for SDK and about four cents per document conversion fee)."

Where LizardTech and DjVu Stand Today (February, 2004)

DjVu can again today lay legitimate claim to being an open standards based scheme. This is documented at the DjVuLibre site (

While the "old" LizardTech failed to garner market share, largely because of overpriced software licensing, the "new" LizardTech, under the management of the new owner and parent company Celartem, has reformed the pricing for the licensing of DjVu technology, making it competitive against the main rival format, PDF, and the products that support PDF. If fact, LizardTech has now published it's prices for DjVu technology, a move that can only strenghen the market acceptance of DjVu.

The Newgen competition clearly will be DjVu, now and into the future, and it will be hard to catch up to DjVu, which has been under continuous development for over 5 years now.

We have not seen any evidence yet that the Newgen technology has been implemented for PDF. They may learn some lessons from Algovision-LuraTech, who last fall converted their LuraDocument format encoder to output segmented files. While this produces smaller PDF files for sure, these PDF cannot stand up to DjVu in size and performance, as you can clearly see for yourself in the comparison we made recently  in another PlanetDjVu news report.

The real success criteria for a digital document format that can stand up as an alternative to PDF is in its implementation and integration into document management systems.  Here, DjVu has has taken hold, and is rapidy being adopted.

We cite as an example Computhink's Integrated Document Management solution, ViewWise. ViewWise was the first to offer built-in viewing and encoding of DjVu documents to a worldwide audience as standard. ViewWise provides the option to natively view, scan, export and print to file.

Computhink's decision to provide DjVu as an option to its customers, at no additional charge, has and continues to bring major advantages to the IDM arena which include reduced storage requirements and network bandwidth usage - without having to sacrifice quality for size.

The remainder of the original text of this article (clarified below) is retracted. It was written before the acquisition of LizardTech by Celartem, and the subsequent reform of DjVu pricing and licensing policies. Now that DjVu is "back in action", both commercially and in open source, it is going to be tough to beat.

If any format can stand up to Acrobat PDF and distinguish itself as a better alternative, it is DjVu, with its mature code base and and its adoption by esteemed document management solutions like ViewWise.

Any other alternative format will have a very hard time catching up to DjVu.

- PlanetDjVu
updated 02/04/2004

Note that these quoted prices are actually lower than what they really are. JRA was quoted $35,000 for the SDK + use of the Reference Library, and the conversion fee (what LizardTech calls a LizardTech Cartridge fee) starts at ten cents per PAGE, not four cents per document.

NIF SDK will allow integration of NIF technology into all applications. It will include a collection of ActiveX controls, automation servers, Applets and platform-independent APIs for viewing, loading, saving, extracting text layers, annotating, etc.

We have to say that this one area is where LizardTech has failed miserably, and seemingly deliberately. The ActiveX viewer control for DjVu, which is an embedded part of the DjVu browser plugin, is not licensed by LizardTech. The ActiveX control for viewing DjVu in MS Office documents, which is actually a finished product, was abandoned by LizardTech. Other API's for DjVu have been developed by DjVuLibre, not LizardTech, and released into open source, but LizardTech refuses to cooperate in licensing them for commercial use. An OCX control for encoding DjVu, released in Japan by LizardTech affilitate Image Reality, is not available in any other country, and neither Image Reality or LizardTech will comment why.

DjVu is a proprietary, not an open standard as NIF promises to be, despite the fact that a good portion of the DjVu code was released into open source. The latest Version 24 of DjVu, introduced by LizardTech in March, 2003, is incompatable with the open source version of DjVu, and on top of this it is undocumented. LizardTech is seemingly attempting to make the format completely proprietary and exclusive again.

Not mentioned in the Express Computer review of NIF is the significance of third-party developers in assisting a new format to gain market share, but certainly if NIF is an open published standard, this is a good head start.  Certainly the ability to display NIF-compressed files in Acrobat Reader will bring NIF into the world of PDF, where third-party developers are always welcomed and catered to with an architecture and licensing policies that permit the development of third-party plug-ins and extensions, resulting in well over one-thousand third-party PDF products today.

JRA has several third-party DjVu products ready for release, yet they are not released do to prohibitive and restrictive licensing terms from LizardTech.

One thing is certain. The document imaging industry is moving rapidly toward color document scanning, and an efficient document format that will compress these color images for web delivery is increasingly in demand.

Whether NIF will succeed, we cannot say. Whether DjVu will survive, we cannot say either. We haven't worked with NIF yet, however, from what we read and understand, we believe that DjVu still has a clear technical edge. Yet it is not the technical edge that is the primary factor in the success of a format. It is format and product positioning and licensing. Remember Beta vs. VHS?

What is happening with DjVu today is basically this - the original DjVu format authors and other volunteers are busy making brilliant technological innovations in the DjVuLibre library, yet LizardTech has made sure that these technical innovations do not reach the commercial marketplace. Third-party software developers like JRA have also made brilliant technical innovations that cannot be released. LizardTech has the reduced and myopic view that DjVu equals nothing more than Document Express products from LizardTech. This is a doomed point-of-view, and it is dragging DjVu down, as LizardTech continues to cut staff, lose money and lose the ability to recover. How can they recover when they have already laid-off almost all of their software engineers?  Well, they might turn to outside developers for help and assistance now, but don't hold your breath.  Instead of working with us here at PlanetDjVu, for example, we have always been ignored as if we do not exist.

We admit that we have a bias toward DjVu, we are "PlanetDjVu" after all, not "PlanetNIF", but if NIF turns out to be the way to bring color document images to the web in the future, we will certainly re-think our name. It is the objective of paper-to-web, not the format used to achieve this, after all, that is the primary interest for us all.

Do you have an opinion about these developments? Please express it in the Forum of PlanetDjVu!
(end of retraction)

Read the source article about Newgen .NIF technology, in PDF format:

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