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Are PDF Portfolio’s A Bad Idea?

21 Nov 2009 | | One Comment

NiXPS say yes in their latest blog post.

But it’s not the concept of PDF Portfolio’s that troubles them per se, but rather the fact that in certain bleeding-edge PDFs, Adobe include a warning message that tells you to download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader if you want to view the PDF in question. No ifs, buts or maybes — if you want to view this PDF, then you’ll need to use Adobe’s software.

The reason for this, according to Adobe’s Leonard Rosenthol is that:

Apple’s Preview application doesn’t even support the complete PDF 1.4 specification, let alone the current ISO 32000-1 standard. Nor, unfortunately, do most other 3rd party vendors. That is why we (Adobe) are unfortunately forced to put such notices/warnings in PDFs files that use “more advanced” features of PDF so that users get SOME experience rather than blank pages…

His response sounds reasonable on the surface, but it raises a few other important questions.

  • these PDFs can’t be opened by any none-Adobe software, it doesn’t matter if the PDF reader supports the relevant advanced PDF feature or not. Why doesn’t Adobe recommend other 3rd party software along side their own?
  • should Adobe be encouraging the use of advanced PDF features, for widely distributed PDFs, before these advanced features have been implemented by the majority of other PDF software vendors?
  • a document that can only be opened by Adobe software, isn’t really portable, is it?
  • are PDFs simply becoming too complex? Perhaps there is a reason why the majority of PDF software vendors do not support certain advanced PDF features.

These questions will likely be quickly dismissed by Adobe, but there’s little doubt in my mind that a philosophical discussion about the future of PDF needs to take place. It seems that Adobe, and the ISO committee responsible for the next PDF specification update, are trying to make PDFs bend in a way that they were never originally designed to bend, and that without careful consideration, the Portable Document Format could lose its way.

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One Comment »

  • Leonard Rosenthol said:

    There is no question that PDF has gone in directions that its original designers never intended – but then it started doing so back in PDF 1.2 or 1.3 when it moved from electronic paper (with some simple digital advances like hyperlinks) to a rich container for various types of media (incl. sounds and movies, forms, etc). It is this movement that brought about the need for the various “ISO PDF subset standards” (aka PDF/X, PDF/A and PDF/E) where specific industries wanted a very of PDF “optimized” for their use case.

    And that is where we are today, which is a world of choice for users. Should you need to incorporate a video and interactivity into your electronic document such as the David Gilmour PDF () or just a simple white paper or legal document – PDF suits your needs. And if you need to control what goes into the PDF or produce a PDF for a specific industry, the choices are there too.

    And ALL OF THESE are international standards which define not only the file format BUT also how a “conforming reader” is to behave. These rules aren’t made by Adobe or any other single company, they are made by an international committee of people with various backgrounds from vendors to users and all things in between!

    If you (or anyone else reading this blog) is concerned about the direction of PDF – then don’t just write blogs about – GET INVOLVED! PDF is an open standard – ANYONE can participate at NO COST. We (the ISO PDF committees) WANT YOUR INPUT – but there is a proper, formal, channel for doing so – use it!

    Leonard Rosenthol
    PDF Standards Architect
    Adobe Systems

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