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This page contains a few ill-tempered rants. Please ignore it. It doesn't really matter to me if nobody reads this. It just cheers me up to write it.

pdf - Spawn of the Devil

Those very kind people at Adobe, freely give away as many copies as possible of their Acrobat Reader. It is portrayed as a nice way of presenting documents on-line. It is not. It is an absolute curse, a blight upon the fair face of the web, a dratted nuisance. It is, in fact, the spawn of the devil.

The web began as a way of ensuring that a common and democratic standard would be establshed. Anyone sat at a computer could look at any page on the web, irrespective of the computer/screen they used. Thus was born HTML. It isn't perfect - ok, it is a long way from it. It has however enabled a revolution which is fundamentally changing the world we live in.

A central principle of the web is just this, that a designer is not in control of how the page looks. It can after all be viewed in many different ways, on black and white screens, low resolution, high resolution screens, and through browsers designed, for example for the blind.

Acrobat says to all this 'Bugger you, pal. I, as wonderful, all powerful, and all knowing typesetter, will tell you how to look at this page. It doesn't matter if half the people who might read it can't, and the rest curse me for being so lazy. I will use acrobat format.'

Over several years, I have taken the opportunity to ask many people about what they feel about .pdf.

Some people like it. They tend to be those who live in large companies, have been transferred to the web as a last desperate resort. They remain people who think of paper pages. The web is a temporary incovenience, which will not take off.

Others like it who, again have a large technical department behind them to set everything up and make it work.

Over the years I have come to find out how to make much of it work - just not enough.

What goes wrong?

First, different pages are/seem quite different in the way they load and run .pdf files.

  1. Some simply download them. Acrobat reader isn't troubled.
  2. Some open up Acrobat reader in a new window, and load the file into that (allowing it to be saved locally.
  3. Others load the reader out put within the current window, with a copy of reader running in the background.
  4. On many occasions (a third?), something else happens. I do not know what it is because it hasn't worked. I have sat there downloading a bl**dy large file for ten minutes for nothing.

There is simply no way of predicting which way will be used. One approaches the '.pdf' sign with great hesitation, and not a little trepidation. 'What will happen when I press this button?' If that were the only problem, I might just forgive .pdf - but it isn't.

Nov 2000. I have now set up Acrobat reader on several computers, and more or less got it working. It still has real problems, and I do not like it, but it is much better than it was.

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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 293 18 October 2013