Re: HTML vs. PDF

Subject: Re: HTML vs. PDF
From: Penny Staples <pstaples -at- AIRWIRE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 26 May 1997 08:06:28 -0500

Hi folks,

I responded off-list to Michael Rugo's HTML vs. PDF questions; he
suggested I might want to post this to the list. Here it is:

> The actual full HTML document is much like those you describe, but it
> doesn't seem like something you'd refer to online while working through
> procedures. My boss said it might be something someone could read on an
> airplane or at home the night before. I was going to provide PDF text
> instead.

I like a mixture of both HTML and PDF. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
As I mentioned before, I use our web-site project page to organize the
information that we have about the project. The "home" page is in HTML, as
are a number of other connecting pages. They tend to be lists of links to
other information. However a lot of information they link to isn't in HTML.
I develop some of the information myself, but other information
(specifications, for example, or parts lists) come to me from other people
on the team. My job is to organize it so that it's easy to find. I follow a
informal set of guidelines:

If it's a spreadsheet, then the information is clearly meant to be in a
spreadsheet format, and I leave it that way.

Word documents:
I tend to leave these in Word (internally, all of our browsers can handle
Word and Excel documents), unless the material cries out to be marked
up in HTML. That way, the document can still be readily updated, and it's
less work for everyone.

Sometimes PDFs are clearly the best answer. I use it:
- if people are unlikely ever to look at it on-line, except to print it.
- for large and complex graphic files (autocad drawings, schematics)
- if layout is very important.
- if the information is reasonably static.
- if I'm short of time (to be honest). Converting a document to PDF is
faster than marking it up and carefully designing all of the necessary
hypertext links. Documents designed to work well on paper generally
need a bit of work before they'll work well on-line.

I use HTML:
- for meta-information (pages of links)
- for documents where people won't read the whole thing (or large
portions) at one sitting. If they'll only need small parts (i.e., a
work), you can usually break the material down and use hypertext
links to help people navigate quickly to the piece they need.
- if layout doesn't matter much.
- if the information changes often.
- if links between documents and parts of the document are important.
HTML is ideal for dealing with meta-information ("Here's a page full of
links to parts datasheets"), and reference type information. For example,
I have an HTML file that lists all of the names, addresses and phone
numbers of the vendors we deal with. If the vendor has a web-page, I
link the vendor name to the vendor's home page.

Personally, I prefer HTML. It's more flexible than PDF, the files are
smaller, and it loads faster. And I like designing hypertext documents.

> Do you see the online HTML docs as working better than PDFs. The idea of
> easlily updating and having the latest doc available is probably why,
> but I was thinking of a user who'd merely print out the full doc, and it
> seems as though that would be easier with PDFs.
Each has its place. It depends on the nature of the information, your
audience and why they need the information. Keep in mind that you can
print HTML documents -- you just can't provide the same kind of tables of
contents and indexing, etc. as you can on paper. If your procedures change
a lot, you could consider organizing them in HTML, with a separate file for

each procedure. Then people could print individual procedures as they need

Hope this helps!

Penny Staples
pstaples -at- airwire -dot- com

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