Re: Editorial Against PDFs (long)

Subject: Re: Editorial Against PDFs (long)
From: Charles Cantrell <chc -at- ONTARIO -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 09:14:37 -0500

To Mark Gibbs, from a TechPubs Manager that uses PDF, about your Feb 16
editorial, quoted on the techwr-l listserv:

> I'm at a complete loss as to why they supply =
>their manuals in PDF. Is it laziness?

No, it has to do with time pressure and the resources to make the conversion.

>That doesn't make a lot of sense. The vendors could just as easily =
>export the document to HTML, which would be generally more useful.=20

This statement is not true. Turning a page layout into HTML is a lot of
work. I know, I have done it. And, in most cases it can't be automated
(with the possible expection of using SGML, but I don't have those
resources), scripted, or programmed. Some tools are doing a better job of
it, but none of them do a reliable, repeatable job, and they all take a lot
of tweaking after the fact to get an HTML page that gets close to what I
might (or rather what my reader) might be able to use.

>PDF files are a hangover, a retro technology that serves to keep us in =
>the data age.

I agree, it is "retro", but that does not make it "bad." Just not where we
want to finally end up. But, it is a temporary solution that works for the
moment. But, then, HTML and the other "partial" technologies that are
hanging around aren't final solutions for all situations. They just all
work for particular needs.

>Is it simply =
>because it is easy? Or is it because document layout fidelity is a real =

I use a lot of images which provide context with call outs to specific
areas where the reader needs to concentrate their attention. Layout
fidelity is an important issue. In general, this can't be done RELIABLY in
HTML without large graphics that are just "page captures" of the layout.

Yes, there are all kinds of "electronic" technologies that are supposed to
do this, but not every one has them, and they DON'T always work. (As
evidenced by your companies website and its horrendous Java scripts.)

The Adobe reader is free, I can distribute it on disk if I want. I can
embed my fonts so I know how it will look. And I get a reliable,
predictable delivery mechanism in which I can automatically embed the toc
links, the index links, and can create links to other files, web pages and
all kinds of other PDF files, so all that stuff is there for the reader if
they want to use it.

Also, it is reliably cross platform. I may or may not be able to read your
Word 98 document on my Mac, and what if I don't happen to have that
application at all. But, with PDF, I can read it on nearly any platform.

So, before you trash PDF, you might consider the broader issues in document
delivery. It may not be a perfect technology, but PDF definately works for
the moment, within the realities of technical document publishing.

mailto:chc -at- ontario -dot- com

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