This first issue of Optics Express is the beginning of a new venture (and adventure) for the Optical Society of America, its members, and the readers of its journals world-wide, and for optics publishing generally. With the enthusiastic and steady support of the OSA Board of Directors, a small group of volunteers dedicated themselves over the past 12 months to the design and development of a new publishing vehicle for scientists and engineers in all areas of optical science and technology. The volunteers, who constituted an informal Development Consortium for Optics Express, were OSA members and non-members from many US institutions and at least half a dozen other countries. They are recognized today on the masthead page, where their names will be published for the coming two months.
Optics Express is the first peer-reviewed journal of optics that did not begin its existence printed on paper or with a library subscriber base in mind. Uncertainties and actual risks are clear and present, since library subscriptions have traditionally served the largest community of readers, those without personal subscriptions; have provided the main financial revenue stream to OSA; and have served as a secure indication of archival status. However, in this age of rapidly growing common access to electronic databases, which libraries themselves are actively encouraging, it makes sense to consider other means of distribution and financing.
Access to information presented electronically through the Internet is far from perfectly smooth or seamless, but there are advantages to the existing Internet that can’t be overlooked, and Internet II is already being developed. Readers will find electronic searching to be convenient, of course, but may in the future find irresistible the chance to specify in advance which key words and phrases will trigger the instant delivery of a reprint electronically as soon as it is published. Readers will always have the chance to make their own printed copy of an article or to re-read articles published earlier if they wish. The use of the word ‘always’ is deliberate. OSA is committed to maintain a permanent archive of all articles published in Optics Express.
Authors should be attracted to journals that are free to readers in any part of the world where the Internet reaches, whether or not library subscriptions can be afforded and paid for in local currency. Authors should also be attracted by the opportunity to publish material that is either not compatible with the print medium at all (video clips, for example), or relatively very expensive in print (color graphics). Incidentally, the first article of this issue was designed as a demonstration of multimedia options, and it contains various types of plots and graphs, with and without color, a short movie, and a reader-controllable Java applet, with links to helpful information sites, but it has no audio clip. This oversight was nicely corrected in another article where a narrator’s voice accompanies another movie. One feature that is not demonstrated in the opening issue is electronic linking of articles to each other. We expect that this will become a highly valued feature in the future because we intend to link every Optics Express citation to its archival site, so that a reader can call immediately to the screen the .pdf version of a cited article.
Naturally there will be difficulties associated with the startup. We think that these will be trivial and will disappear with experience. It will take some time for authors to learn all of the characteristics that make an electronic article best-suited for reading, reviewing, and reprinting. For example, limited experience already shows that a multimedia insertion much larger than about 1 MB is perceived negatively or skipped in the reading. Still, we have not imposed a limit on multimedia size. By the same token, short articles are more easily read on-screen, and we recommend lengths under 6 printed pages where feasible, but again no strict limits have been imposed. We will try to be attentive to comments and suggestions, positive and negative, from authors, readers, and reviewers, especially during the coming six-month period when submissions will be published without cost. For this purpose, my e-mail address and those of the principal OSA staff are available on the masthead page by links to our names.
Editorial policy will be straightforward, in line with the mandate given by the OSA Board of Directors. Optics Express will be OSA’s lead electronic journal and it is committed to the peer-reviewing standards traditionally associated with OSA journals. We will publish an issue every other week during the second half of 1997. In order to introduce Optics Express to as many optical sub-fields as possible, as rapidly as possible, a number of these issues will contain sections with articles focused on selected topics, usually a selection narrower in scope than the familiar feature issues of other OSA journals. We will exploit as thoroughly as possible the potential for shorter times to publication associated with style files and author-formatted articles, and we will continue to expand the range of multimedia options available. Optics is an international discipline and overseas readers should welcome the elimination of delay in their receipt of issues. We are exploring the availability of mirror sites in Europe and Latin America to improve access further. An electronic journal, without a paper counterpart, is completely new in optics, and we can expect to learn in a detailed way what electronic publishing can do best only gradually. However, judging by the enthusiasm shown for Optics Express already, there is no doubt that the journal will play a key role and be widely and rapidly accepted as the newest member of the OSA publishing team.