pdf

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No,
this isn't a rant,
though I know it
sounds like one.
Sorry.
Several years ago I took an Adobe seminar with an old print-industry guy from Chicago. Photoshop 5 was poised for release, and most of what we reviewed covered Photoshop v.4 with a few hints about what was coming. The one important take home was—like "plastics" in the Graduate—"PDF": Learn all you can. Sure enough, the guy was right. PDF became the language of Illustrater and the Mac desktop. It was the format of choice for every print house and applications that did them well (InDesign...) would rule the roost.

PDF was also a platform for delivering multimedia content, for making and giving presentations, and for presenting professional portfolios with high resolution images and guaranteed layout. Good or bad, anybody could stick a pdf on a web server and they had an internet deliverable with it's own unique uri.

Modbook review web page.Like a lot of people, I'm not usually very happy when I click a link that turns out to be a PDF. Downloading those tomes that feature "Active Web Links!!!" and the very annoying "Turning page effect!!" makes me scream. I've discontinued several subscriptions because of it. Too damned difficult to use, and it doesn't fit into my work flow at all. To anyone who claims PDFs are easy, I have to ask, "For whom?"

I won't go on; building an argument is just silly and too much of a pain. HTML is easy, is linkable, searchable, findable, metadata-able. I can't think of a good reason to use PDF to deliver content on the web. If I was looking for a technology outfit, found their yearly report and it turned out to be a PDF I'd have serious concerns about the group's vision.

Modbook review print page.We could think about how information is used, how it's stored and maintained, and consider print stylesheets for anything we now have in a PDF. I won't argue the point any further. I'm not a code jockey, but as an experiment I've managed to create an html version of what I might call a "Modbook Whitepaper". It's completely readable in the browser. If you want a PDF version, just print it to your harddrive as a PDF (Or print to paper if you must; it has high res images.) It will look like the layout in the second image because the html is styled one way for screen, and another way for print. If deemed valuable, we could even come up with a separate stylesheet for PDAs.

And if I screwed something up (remember, it's an experiment…), I just have one place to correct it.

5 Comments

E. Pyatt said:

PDF is "easy" in two situations (only one of which is valid)

1) If a document contains exotic scripts or math expressions that you know few Web browsers can realistically display, then PDF may be an option. However, browsers are able to handle more exotic notation all of the time.

And PDF is better than either Word or Powerpoint.

2) But I think the real issue is that PDF is easy for developers if they're starting with a print doc. Just print to PDF and voilà, you're on the Web!

It ignores the fact your readers may have to scan multiple columns, a page taller than the monitor or potentially download a large file.

dave said:

Agreed; if PDF is the best method of delivery we should certainly use it. There's no ignoring its feature set. Your second point nails the problem.

Brad said:

I agree that pdf on the web breaks the workflow of the web in a way that I find highly annoying.

I still wonder if HTML can provide the level of confidence in page layout rendering that PDF can. Maybe this is an outmoded idea, but I always felt that it couldn't.

Is a document meant to be primarily print, but available on the web, or is it meant to be primarily a web page, but with a print version? PDF still probably has a place for online document publishing.

dave said:

I've never been a believer in "pixel perfect" web layout and judging by the way the web is created and consumed, don't see an ROI in it. I have confidence in what I design my CSS to do: For those who don't, perhaps another field would be more satisfying? And I say that sincerely, not to be flip.

If I were responsible for a group's image and had made the decision, for the convenience of our clients, to make materials from a print campaign available online-I'd insist on specifically designed web materials. There could be an option to request a print version.

"Print" implies more to me than pdf layout on 8.5X11 standard office sheet rendered by someone's "approaching the end of life" imaging unit and empty cartridge. Print CSS can design with that eventuality in mind and would be my preference.

As for web information with a "print" version, print CSS can be the real convenience for clients. I think we'd be remiss in offering that version with no margins or other possible, helpful styles. (Like the very elementary stylesheet on my 2004 annual report experiment, for instance.)

Jamie Oberdick said:

I am so glad someone else hates pdf's. I have mentioned this in the past around here and elsewhere, and I swear some people act like I am insulting their mother.

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