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  1. #1
    Forensic SEO Consultant Webnauts's Avatar
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    Are PDF files usable?

    The article of Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, July 14, 2003 PDF: "Unfit for Human Consumption" http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030714.html is mentioned that PDF files are not usable.

    A while ago, working on a project for the US city Dearborn, MI, I had also the same oppinion, so I have provided the files in RTF instead of PDF.

    What is your oppinion?

  2. #2
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    PDF files are very usable, it just depends on the application. For high quality, pre-formatted documents, there is nothing better. For online catalogues, it leaves something to be desired. Remember that visitors will not sit around and read 5 or 10 pages of text on their screen when they can easily print it out. It is really a judgement call if and where you use it.

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    SitePoint Guru bronze trophy blufive's Avatar
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    PDFs are good for reproducing a printed document, but lousy for most other uses. Reading a PDF on screen can often be a horrible experience, with problems getting the zoom level correct, pagination getting in the way, etc.

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    Forensic SEO Consultant Webnauts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blufive
    PDFs are good for reproducing a printed document, but lousy for most other uses. Reading a PDF on screen can often be a horrible experience, with problems getting the zoom level correct, pagination getting in the way, etc.
    But what if the PDF files are accessible? There is a possibility to produce accessible PDF files. And I thought that the PDF files are offered mainly for a print version / option, or?

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    SitePoint Wizard rbutler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webnauts
    But what if the PDF files are accessible? There is a possibility to produce accessible PDF files. And I thought that the PDF files are offered mainly for a print version / option, or?
    Usually PDF files are made to print off legal documents, an order form that you print from a browser, processed documents that are created in word then made into PDF to be printer friendly and easy to look at. I would prefer a PDF file anyday over a word document or a numerous html pages.

    You can make PDF's for free at http://www.pdf995.com or purchase their license for $9.95.
    Ryan Butler

    Midwest Web Design

  6. #6
    Yugo full of anvils bronze trophy hillsy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webnauts
    But what if the PDF files are accessible? There is a possibility to produce accessible PDF files. And I thought that the PDF files are offered mainly for a print version / option, or?
    There's a difference between accessibility and usability, although they're related concepts. Accessibility refers to whether the information can be accessed, usability refers to how easily it can be accessed. So usability takes more account of things like visual design.

    For example, a text-only website is very accessible. It may not be very usable

    As far as PDFs are concerned, they can be made quite accessible. Search engines can index them and everything, and there's all the new things with tagged PDF and so on. But as a rule they're not very usable online due mainly to their poor use of screen real estate, antialiased text, page-based formatting etc.

    For output that's intended to be printed, you can't beat PDF. Or for things like brochures etc that need to have pinpoint-accurate formatting both online and in print. But as a rule of thumb Nielsen is right (never thought I'd say that). For reading text and graphics online, PDF is almost always a bad choice.

    Tip: You can make PDFs scroll in the browser (much like a web page) rather than viewing page-by-page by changing the document viewing options to "continuous". This small change alone vastly improves the usability of PDFs online.
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  7. #7
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    PDFs can be created to be "more" accessible..however, the main problem lies in how the PDFs are created in the first place. how often do we get PDFs that have been exported straight from a DTP application, and are therefore not structured in any reasonable way (heck, try selecting some text in a multi-column layout exported from, say, Quark, and chances are you also select random bits from a completely different column. copy and paste, and what you're left with is a weird, quasi-linearised mixed version of the various columns). another example would be PDFs generated from Word...again, if the original Word document is not structured (and hands up, who defines proper headings etc for their Word documents, rather than simply increasing the font size and making it bold ?), the resulting PDF only reflects the "visual" representation of the document.
    in a large site i'm redeveloping at the moment i'm taking a two-level approach: any PDFs should be created in a structured way, but also made available as either RTF or, in the very worst case, pure text...
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  8. #8
    Forensic SEO Consultant Webnauts's Avatar
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    Jakob Nielsen continues this topic with a new alert, which may be found here:

    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030728.html

  9. #9
    SitePoint Zealot fmavituna's Avatar
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    I prefer RTF, DOC etc. instead of .PDF

    A simple reason;
    For a Celeron 333 128 RAM - Adobe PDF is really slow down. You can't read a PDF while listening a mp3.

    Also putting pdfs in a webpage directly really bad.

    But In other case it's good to read. Scalable etc.

    Also I think Linux PDF readers really better than Adobe Acrobat. Fast and clean.

  10. #10
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webnauts
    The article of Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, July 14, 2003 PDF: "Unfit for Human Consumption" http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20030714.html is mentioned that PDF files are not usable.

    A while ago, working on a project for the US city Dearborn, MI, I had also the same oppinion, so I have provided the files in RTF instead of PDF.

    What is your oppinion?
    Short, answer... No PDF's are not usable in the context that you are using this term in. They are not accessible to blind people.

    PDF's are not meant to be usable in this context either. They are a platform independant method of transmitting data that you want to be uneditable. They allow you to combine text and graphics in a scaleable format that is surpassed by any other document format. For that purpose they are the best solution. If you want to transmit editable documents then use a different format. If you want to make sure that clients don't modify your contracts, proposals or terms or service then send them in PDF format. If you want to send the next month's ad for Glamour magazine in a printable format, then PDF is a good format. If you want to create an electronic book with locking capabilities and to prevent people from copying the text then PDF is a good format.

    If you want your stuff to edited then use something else.
    Wayne Luke
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  11. #11
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fmavituna
    Also I think Linux PDF readers really better than Adobe Acrobat. Fast and clean.
    Speaking as a Linux user, I prefer Acrobat Reader.
    Wayne Luke
    ------------


  12. #12
    Forensic SEO Consultant Webnauts's Avatar
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    So if I get you all, I better build print friendly versions, or if there is no budget for that, I shall build the pages print friendly. But in both cases I could also provide a download option in RTF.

    Or?

    http://www.boxesandarrows.com/archiv...ng_the_web.php

  13. #13
    SitePoint Addict
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    personally I consider PDFs to be very unusable, and will not usually click on a pdf link unless I am desparate for the info.
    They are just not good for the web!
    check out flashpaper
    http://www.macromedia.com/software/c...fo/flashpaper/

    looks interesting, obviously not gonna touch PDF on the print front but for online documents...
    plus there is the penetration of flash player vs PDF reader (and footprint of the plugins)

  14. #14
    SitePoint Zealot fmavituna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pissant
    personally I consider PDFs to be very unusable, and will not usually click on a pdf link unless I am desparate for the info.
    They are just not good for the web!
    check out flashpaper
    http://www.macromedia.com/software/c...fo/flashpaper/

    looks interesting, obviously not gonna touch PDF on the print front but for online documents...
    plus there is the penetration of flash player vs PDF reader (and footprint of the plugins)
    Flash papers looks like great but needs to check out generator (contribute) for is it easy to publish ?

  15. #15
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    I'm just playing with the demo... but you basically just print to file from any application to do it
    it seems good so far, smaller than PDFs, prints fine (desktop printer)
    but the biggest boon so far is the ability to embed it in an html page...
    hence allowing people to view docs while still having any necessary site info or nav available!

  16. #16
    ☆★☆★ silver trophy vgarcia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by W. Luke
    Speaking as a Linux user, I prefer Acrobat Reader.
    . I'd rather have a Word/HTML document, but if I'm going to read a PDF I'd rather use Adobe's reader.

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    Robert Wellock silver trophybronze trophy xhtmlcoder's Avatar
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    I personally have created "tagged pdf" as an interim for accessibility regarding the PDF documents on my WVYFC site. When my workload diminishes after charitably helping someone get a Canine Degenerative Myelopathy site re-launched within a four days I'll be placing emphasis on XHTML Basic 1.0 alternatives, and hope that the browser understands CSS to a high enough level for printed media.
    Last edited by xhtmlcoder; Aug 1, 2003 at 04:54.

  18. #18
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vgarcia
    . I'd rather have a Word/HTML document, but if I'm going to read a PDF I'd rather use Adobe's reader.
    Word/HTML serve different purposes to PDF.

    Why would I want to distribute my catalogs in Word format when it isn't supposed to be edited by the end-user? Or how about a legal contract that is supposed to be signed? What if they change a clause to suit them better?

    Word/HTML are great for formatting but for controlled presentation you need a controlled format.
    Wayne Luke
    ------------


  19. #19
    ☆★☆★ silver trophy vgarcia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by W. Luke
    Word/HTML serve different purposes to PDF.

    Why would I want to distribute my catalogs in Word format when it isn't supposed to be edited by the end-user? Or how about a legal contract that is supposed to be signed? What if they change a clause to suit them better?

    Word/HTML are great for formatting but for controlled presentation you need a controlled format.
    Oh I agree completely. I've just seen many unnecessary "control-freak" uses of PDF that I don't particularly like. A printed catalog, etc. is the perfect use of a PDF though.

  20. #20
    SitePoint Zealot
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    It's probably my old worn out computer but every time I click on a PDF link it crashes my machine. Not just my browser, but the whole machine.

    I hate it when I accidently click on one because I didn't notice a link was to a PDF file.

  21. #21
    Forensic SEO Consultant Webnauts's Avatar
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    Don't blame your computer. You are sure not the only one. Jakob Nielsen said in his Alertbox of 28 July 2003 (See Post #1):
    • Crashes and software problems. While not as bad as in the past, you're still more likely to crash users' browsers or computers if you serve them a PDF file rather than an HTML page.
    So do not worry. Doing a research, I found the right path, to have an excellent user centerd design:

    To create my pages in:
    • HTML
    • Word Document
    • PDF
    • RTF
    Then everyone will be happy!!! And I will have an excellent accessibility, usability, quality and therefore credibility!!!

    What do you all think?

  22. #22
    SitePoint Zealot
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    I would have to disagree on the useability part. They can be clunky if created by people who don't know what they are doing with them. I quite like PDF formats on screen and off.

    Our company just finished an annual report where part of it was intended to be delivered in PDF format. It was layed out and set up just for that purpose.

    When I go online and am looking for something to read I like the PDF documents over the word or text ones. I don't have to worry weither or not my software on the Mac will open it or not. I have sometimes gotten RTF and DOC files that are useless to me when i need then for a project.

    As far as proofing work goes. We constantly produce PDF's and email them to our clients who can view them on screen and make notes directly in the PDF and send it back to us.

    He proclaims PDF is only good for print; from my examples above it is obvious i would have to disagree.

  23. #23
    SitePoint Wizard samsm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jixxy
    When I go online and am looking for something to read I like the PDF documents over the word or text ones.
    Are you including HTML in the "text document" category?
    Using your unpaid time to add free content to SitePoint Pty Ltd's portfolio?

  24. #24
    Your Lord and Master, Foamy gold trophy Hierophant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jixxy
    I would have to disagree on the useability part. They can be clunky if created by people who don't know what they are doing with them. I quite like PDF formats on screen and off.
    Useability in this context is not on how easy it is to read but how easy it is to access with alternate devices and to be used by everyone. For the average users it might be nice to be able to zoom and scroll but how useable is PDF to the blind? Are there sound tags in the document? No. There in lies the failure of the format. It is not useable in the context of this forum nor how Jacob Nielsen is using the term.

    User's cannot easily copy and paste. You cannot save a bookmark to chapter 36 in a 40 chapter document within your browser. You cannot use the images from a PDF in another document unless you have the real ones. Once it is a PDF, there is no easy conversion to any other format and here again it fails at Useability because a PDF can only be read, it cannot be used.
    Wayne Luke
    ------------


  25. #25
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    Well either I or some of the people responding to my post misuderstood his article. It is the matter of comparing .doc files to PDF files. I'd rather have a PDF file over a doc file when given the choice of download. This does include HTML pages. I am sorry, i work in a print world and i like the idea that people can design a PDF to be more 'book readable' than an HTML document that will rarely read as nicely as an eBook.

    I still believe the question was raised for the convienence of downloading the files. Because .doc or rtf files will not open for your browser. So that too, would make them just as useless. Last time I opened up Acrobat with the file sitting on my machine I was allowed to bookmark and add notes to it. I am even able to embed sound files into it. Which is far better than any screen reader. Now I may be wrong and misunderstood this but i feel there is a viable solution to the supposed faults you posed.

    Even as far as images go, you can save PDF's at different resolutions and opening them in a program such as Photoshop will surely give you access to crop and use those images. Im fact; I worked on a project last year where we recieved a lot of our illustrations from the illustrator 1/2 across Canada in PDF format and had no troubles using them for the publications.


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