Why Acrobat(R)?

What’s the advantage of sending a file in .pdf format rather than .doc or .html or .txt or whatever other file format?

From my point of view, they’re cumbersome, they take forever to download, and then even longer to open, they take forever to close. Scrolling never works well (the page often gets “caught”), and magnification is hit or miss, so navigation is compromised.

Yet more and more, I’m getting things that were obviously Word Documents converted to .pdf documents when the original format would have been much easier to use and send. But, obviously there’s some reason that people are sending .pdf files. Why? For people who create documents, why would you choose this format? What’s in it for the sender and the receiver?

I went back and forth over whether this was a GQ or an IMHO. I might have decided wrong, I’m sorry if I did.

General info about .pdf.

It’s standard mainly, I would suppose, because you don’t have to be concerned with version differences between sender and receiver of programs such as Word, and it maintains the look of the document.

Layout. That, and compatability - not everyone has Word, and not everyone can run it if they did. (Forgetting version incompatabilities, etc). HTML is nice, but non-standard for layout. I think raw text is great, but it tends to make people with design diplomas hyperventilate. The Portable Document Format is a reasonable compromise.

At work we use PDFs for two main reasons. First, they are good for technical specs since what you put in is exactly what the person on the other ends sees, unlike HTML or DOC format which can show up differently. Second, once you have a document, you can be pretty sure that as it is passed around it stays intact. Most people won’t spring for the PDF writer, but everyone has Word or some sort of HTML editor.

I guess it is the P in PDF. I have neither word nor any html editor and delete stuff I can’t read. (Yes, I can read html files with a web browser, but I hardly ever get any html mail that I care about.) I regularly compose documents and convert them to PDF and either email them or post them on my ftp server. Besides, I don’t know that PDF files are any larger than typical word documents.

Plain text is great for, well, text. If I have a diagram to include, then it is not so wonderful.

I use PDFs because it isn’t likely that anyone can do much with the other file formats I use. Send a Latex document to a typical Windows user, and see how well that goes over.

One other thing. It has been my experience that a PDF of a complex Word document (we used Word where I used to work) is smaller than the original Word document - and as engineer_comp_geek says, it is unlikely that someone will edit the file.

Second that “smaller” issue, especially if you compress the PDF file.

The idea that the document can’t be edited is another big draw - no one can change a few words and then send it on to someone else. With the new version of Acrobat, you can edit the document, but you can always make the document read-only (you need a password to make any changes) when you create the PDF document.

You can also include form fields, JavaScript functions, and all sorts of other tricks. Granted, you can do this in Word as well, but it’s a personal preference.

While the title of the thread is “Why Acrobat®”, people shouldn’t think PDF and Acrobat synomous. PDF is an open format introduced by Adobe, and Acrobat is the reader they offer. There are other readers out there, including ghostscript/ghostview, xpdf, gpdf, etc.


Hallelujah, amarinth. I’ve thought about this myself - and I’ve come to the conclusion that PDF just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve considered opening a Pit thread on Acrobat, for the reasons you mentioned (and that it locks up your browser while loading huge, slow documents) but thought it was too lame. It does suck, though.

The PDF format has major advantages over other common formats in use today. Some are:
[ul][li]All graphics and fonts are preserved exactly as in the original[]It is text searchable[]Graphics can be scalable[]The file size can be made very small with little quality degradation[]It is readable on almost any computer in the world with only a one-time installation of a free Reader[/ul][/li]Some of these advantages can be defeated by the unknowedgeable. For example, scanning text into a bitmapped format, then creating a PDF defeats the “text searchable” feature and makes the file balloon in size.

Distilling (the process often used to create PDFs) can be done haphazardly or skillfully. If done well, the amount of compression and resampling done on images can have a significant impact on the file size and the overall quality.

I use PDFs exclusively for art work to be sent to a commercial printer because it is difficult to modify. My instructions to the printer are, “If you feel the need to modify my file in any way, either ask me for a new one or pay for the job yourself.” I have developed this attitude due to many years of grief, struggling with other file methods - DOC, EPS, etc., where fonts, independent graphics, etc., had to be supplied to the service bureau and I never knew what would result.

I can make hi-res PDFs for printers and low-res ones for the web from the same source, and except for the quality diff, both will look exactly the same. In contrast, a DOC or PPT file may look different on different computers, especially if the fonts don’t match.

As far as the Reader’s zoom & scrolll – I find the zoom quite flexible, but have some issues with the scrolling, too. But the full Adobe package has better tools and they seem to be improving it all the time.

Some examples of newsletters optimized for web download. The files sent to the printer were typically 10X this size.

I have had this complaint about some files I have posted. In EVERY CASE I have investigated, the user thought the computer was locked up when he didn’t wait long enough for it to load. For example, if a file says, “this will take 10 minutes to load on a 56K dialup,” if it hasn’t finished in 2 minutes and you are on a 26K dialup, perhaps it is operator error?

I have yet to find a PDF file that could actually cause a computer hangup by its own self – I’m not saying it’s impossible, just usually misinterpreted.

Musicat - yes, I understand fully that it’s just Acrobat taking forever to render the file, not a true lock-up (I’m a Windows software developer). I just don’t get their naive threading model that locks up the whole UI rather than letting you (e.g.) click, scroll, cancel etc. while it’s loading. I don’t think we can blame this on IE as it doesn’t happen with other plug-ins.

Musicat - you seem like a professional user of Acrobat, so maybe you’re seeing it from that point of view, rather than us end-users that just want a simple file to load quickly in the browser, be easily scrollable and zoomable, without making the browse unresponsive? I’m sure Acrobat has a lot of great feature, and I have a few beefs with other apps like Word too.

Aside - I’ve noticed in some places on the net (even on the SDMB) when posting a link to a PDF file, people add “Warning:PDF” - anyone know why that is? Is it because of the slow-loading thing?

It looks like you & I have a different implementation of Acrobat. In all the incarnations I currently use (5.0 with Netscape and IE browsers), I can read the first part of a long file, even scroll down a few pages before the rest is completely transferred. In fact, I consider that one of Acrobat’s strengths for the novice.

In any case, that particular ability is not a part of the file format, but the Reader/viewer. And there are other viewers out there besides Adobe’s – have you tried them?

My ideal file would have some of the same requirements as yours, and that is why I chose PDF many years ago for many tasks. Either your setup has some quirks, as per my previous post, or you are expecting too much out of the current state of the tech art.

I would love to have a complex graphic-filled file to load quickly, but given a certain amount of data, available bandwidth, etc., etc., the smallest, fastest possible download might still take a minute or two. If my client wants it to load faster, he is going to have to forego some of the graphics he loves so much. It’s a tradeoff, and I feel PDF is a great compromise for most material.

I always put an asterisk next to PDF links, but not “warning!” which seems a bit extreme. People who are used to clicking on an HTML link but have never installed a PDF reader will be disappointed. I always include a link at the bottom of the page to Adobe, and a short message about the advantages of having the free program installed. Yet there are some who don’t understand and won’t try it.

I think a typical PDF file is probably bigger than a typical HTML page – I often see humongous instruction manuals as a single PDF file. My solution to the “warning!” message is to post the file size and an estimated download time @ X speed as a courtesy. The only thing worse than being held up by a long download is the uncertainty that it IS a long download!

I have a good connection and never have this problem but I suggest you do what I do: I do not open the PDF document in the browser but I download it to the desktop and then open it directly with the reader. This way you know you have the full document already downloaded and also you get more screen space by not having the browser window.

      • Didn’t we have a thread on this just a short time back? What it boiled down to was that PDF was the most widely-accepted format that could contain content+layout information, widely accepted because the reading software was a free browser plug-in.

A lot of people are pointing out that Adobe Acrobat has a free Reader. While I don’t have any problems with Acrobat, you do all realize that Microsoft Word has a free Viewer as well, right? I don’t know if it’s a plugin or not, though. I found it through Netscape Plugins, but I haven’t installed it yet.

Most of the end user complaints stem from their computer’s inadequate power in navigating a PDF file. This isn’t their fault, really as Acrobat can lag even on decent systems. But the benefits (which many of the posters above have already mentioned) are far too good to ignore, and the format is here to stay.

I used to have sluggish interaction with PDF files, but with my new system, I can breeze through the most complex documents with ease.

Here’s the thread DougC mentioned. It’s hard to search for since “pdf” is below the minimum characters accepted by the search engine. Lots of good opinion back and forth, including my own thoughts on why Word is a horrible format for trading documents and PDF is at least an acceptable compromise.