Distributables in PDF vs HTML?

Subject: Distributables in PDF vs HTML?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Caroline Tabach <Caroline -at- radcom -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 01 Jan 2006 09:59:46 -0500

Caroline Tabach wondered: <<It was suggested we distribute Release Notes in HTML rather than PDF, What are the advantages/disadvantages of HTML vs PDF.>>

You should probably turn the problem around and ask what you're trying to accomplish with the release notes, and only then ask whether each format supports that goal adequately. Starting with a tool-based approach ignores the reader's needs, and those should be most important, not a secondary consideration.

For example, if the release notes are going to be modified by someone like a system administrator (e.g., to reflect a customized local installation of a tool) and posted on a corporate intranet, HTML is arguably better because it's an editable format; moreover, it's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't have a browser installed on their computer these days.

You noted that HTML display is browser-dependant, and although that's true, it should be irrelevant for something as simple as release notes. If browser compatibility is a concern for the basic display of text, it probably means you're getting way too complicated; emphasize the content, not all kinds of fancy tricks.

If precise control over formatting is important, go with PDF. PDF lets you control the printout with maximum precision, but it's not an editable format; that may be an advantage if you don't want people mucking about with your text and you're also willing to consider protecting the document (locking it so people can only read, not copy). On the other hand, not everyone has Acrobat Reader or an equivalent on their computer, and there have been significant incompatibilities between a few of the recent versions of Reader. This might force your readers to install something new, and that can be next to impossible in a tightly locked-down corporate environment.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Distributables in PDF vs HTML: From: Caroline Tabach

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