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Electronic document

An example of a text file icon, one of the common representations of an electronic document.

An electronic document is any electronic media content (other than computer programs or system files) that are intended to be used in either an electronic form or as printed output. Originally, any computer data were considered as something internal — the final data output was always on paper. However, the development of computer networks has made it so that in most cases it is much more convenient to distribute electronic documents than printed ones. And the improvements in electronic display technologies mean that in most cases it is possible to view documents on screen instead of printing them (thus saving paper and the space required to store the printed copies).

However, using electronic documents for final presentation instead of paper has created the problem of multiple incompatible file formats. Even plain text computer 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 code pages always have been a source of trouble.

Even more problems are connected with complex file formats of various word processors, spreadsheets and graphics software. 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 and OpenDocument), and electronic documents for specialized uses have specialized formats – the specialized electronic articles in physics use TeX or PostScript.

logically distinct assembly of content (such as a file, set of files, or streamed media) that functions as a single entity rather than a collection, that is not part of software and that does not include its own user agent. (after WCAG2ICT)

NOTE 1: A document always requires a user agent to present its content to the user.

NOTE 2: Letters, e-mail messages, spreadsheets, books, pictures, presentations, and movies are examples of documents.

NOTE 3: Software configuration and storage files such as databases and virus definitions, as well as computer instruction files such as source code, batch/script files, and firmware, are examples of files that function as part of software and thus are not examples of documents. If and where software retrieves "information and sensory experience to be communicated to the user" from such files, it is just another part of the content that occurs in software and is covered by WCAG2ICT like any other parts of the software. Where such files contain one or more embedded documents, the embedded documents remain documents under this definition.

NOTE 4: A collection of files zipped together into an archive, stored within a single virtual hard drive file, or stored in a single encrypted file system file, do not constitute a single document when so collected together. The software that archives/encrypts those files or manages the contents of the virtual hard drive does not function as a user agent for the individually collected files in that collection because that software is not providing a fully functioning presentation of that content.

NOTE 5: Anything that can present its own content without involving a user agent, such as a self-playing book, is not a document but is software.

NOTE 6: A single document may be composed of multiple files such as the video content, closed caption text etc. This fact is not usually apparent to the end-user consuming the document/content.

NOTE 7: An assembly of files that represented the video, audio, captions and timing files for a movie is an example of a document.

NOTE 8: A binder file used to bind together the various exhibits for a legal case would not be a document.

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