Subject: PDF vs. HTML
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 1996 11:15:23 -0500

A few folks have taken me to task for suggesting that if
formatting is important to your design, then you should
consider using PDF instead of HTML. The main objections,
and my rebuttals:

1. Don't just dump pages online, they won't fit: Agreed. I
never proposed anything of the sort. Putting a page the
shape of a typical screen (in general, a VGA monitor or
something similar) can be quite effective if you design
your information specifically for the new medium.

2. HTML lets viewers choose the format: Agreed. But we're
not talking about cases where the viewer should choose the
format. If a specific visual appearance is important (which
it can be), then PDF is the only way to go. If visual
appearance isn't important, than HTML is fine. As a
designer, you have to understand which situation applies
and choose the appropriate medium.

3. PDF files are huge: Agreed. Big files are big files, and
small files are small files. If all you need is text, HTML
is just fine, and smaller. If you are producing a layout
where the graphics and text must work together (e.g.,
manuals), HTML is a poor second choice. For such files, the
PDF file isn't that much bigger than the HTML. PDF is
surprisingly compact.

4. PDF doesn't print well: News to me. Several commercial
printers use it as a preferred format for sending large,
complex color graphics files for separation across the
Internet. (See the article on this a few months ago in
_Publish_.) The same criticism might be applied to any DTP
application, with equal justice or injustice: there's no
software so robust that users can't figure out a way to
prevent it from printing properly.

Serious objections against PDF that haven't been raised:
distribution costs (some circumstances require a royalty
payment?), PDF files can't be fully indexed by Internet
search engines (or can they?), repurposing information
isn't as easy as changing the page size.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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