PDF In-Depth

PDF Master: Pattie Belle Hastings talks with Planet PDF

March 05, 2003


As part of our ongoing reflection on the June 1993 introduction of Adobe Acrobat and PDF by Adobe Systems, Planet PDF CEO Karl De Abrew is conducting a series of brief "Masters of the PDF Universe" profiles with key members of the Planet PDF community. Today Karl talks with Pattie Belle Hastings, co-author of the "Adobe Acrobat 5 Master Class" book, published by Peachpit Press. A keen proponent for PDFs that are designed for on-screen viewing -- taking full advantage of Acrobat's interactive and multimedia capabilities -- she is an Associate Professor of Interactive Design at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and an accomplished artist and graphic designer.

KARL DE ABREW: Today many Acrobat & PDF users will be familiar with you because of your book, Adobe Acrobat 5 Master Class. When and why did you first get involved with Acrobat/PDF?

PATTIE BELLE HASTINGS: : "I come from the creative end of the PDF world - I make PDFs and teach others how to make them. I am in absolute awe of the developers and programmers that inhabit Planet PDF.

A few years ago, my design studio purchased a copy of Acrobat 4 to create PDF files of print collateral for our clients to distribute on their Web sites. I was also going to graduate school at the time and creating multimedia documents as part of my research, when I stumbled across references to buttons, sounds, and movies in the Acrobat 4 manual. I quickly realized that interactive PDF files would be easily distributable and that I wouldn't have to learn a programming language to create interesting interactive experiences. Ever since, I have been trying to come up with creative and unusual uses for Acrobat and PDF."

DE ABREW: Briefly describe the most significant change in the development or use of the technology, since you first began working with Acrobat/PDF, and why do you consider it significant?

HASTINGS: "I guess it would have to be Apple using PDF as the imaging model for the OSX operating system. They haven't gotten all the kinks worked out, but it was a brilliant move. OS X has to be the easiest (but obviously not perfect) way to create a PDF. There are problems such as file size, but since Distiller is not yet available for OS X it gives the Mac user another option.

I think another development related to this is the increasing number of applications that are able to save or export a document as a PDF without the use of Distiller or Acrobat. InDesign 2 is my favorite example, because in addition to exporting PDF files, it has powerful features that allow you to create all kinds of hyperlinks, bookmarks, and tagged PDFs to name a few. My hunch is that the next version of InDesign will have even more Acrobat type features."

DE ABREW: Acrobat and PDF are now used in so many industries and in so many ways, do you see new areas that haven't perhaps been tapped much yet?

HASTINGS: "I don't think that the existing areas have even had the surface scratched. How many people are really using PDF beyond document distribution? How many people are using PDF for editorial workflow? Or prepress? Or ebooks? Or ...? There is still a whole lot of room to grow.

I am still not seeing a large increase in PDF files designed for screen use or designed to take advantage of all the features of Acrobat. I was hoping that after our book came out, people would be inspired to create beautiful, elaborate, interactive PDF files. I still have that hope, but I think that it is going to take much longer than I had imagined."

DE ABREW: Acrobat has grown into a large, multi-function tool for use in so many areas -- including document management, presentations, collaboration, forms and prepress -- and it can be intimidating for new users. Is there a need for separating out this functionality to make it easier to use.

HASTINGS: "Acrobat has become this sort of Swiss Army knife application and at the same time it remains one of the most reasonably priced software packages for its capabilities. I have participated in some interesting Acrobat forum conversations where this very thing was discussed. There exists so much confusion among the general public about Acrobat and Reader (and Adobe's various naming schemes over the years) that if they start splitting it up, the confusion may increase. What I do 'get' is that there is a huge need in the Enterprise (Adobe's term - not Star Trek) for a scaled-down version, so that Acme Inc. doesn't have to buy 5,000 seats of the full version when they only need to be able to save, sign, and comment. Acrobat Approval doesn't quite fit the bill, though.

Me? I want the ability to do it all, even if I may never get around to it. Almost all software is intimidating to new users these days. Have you had a look at Flash, Dreamweaver, GoLive, or Director, lately? Even Photoshop has become incredibly complex. I teach all of these software applications (including Acrobat) to people who have never used them before and Acrobat is the easiest of the lot."

DE ABREW: Pondering the future of Acrobat and/or PDF, what most excites you about the next few years?

HASTINGS: "I'd love to see more and more PDFs that are designed for the format. I don't think we've even approached the edge of what is possible. Acrobat hasn't really been explored in terms of application's capabilities in the way that, say, Photoshop has been. I think that in the future there will be conversations about good PDF design in the same way that there are lengthy and detailed books and discussions about web design and book design."

DE ABREW: According to Adobe's development cycle for Acrobat, a new version is expected sometime in early- to mid-2003. What additions or enhancements would you like to see in the next major upgrade, and why?

HASTINGS: "I have a wish list (some may say pipe dreams!) and I think I'll get some of them, if not all of them. The first would be full functionality in OSX with all the features matched to those available in Windows. This also includes full parity between platforms of the Microsoft Office PDFMaker plug-in. I would love to have Rulers and Guides like in the other Adobe applications. I'd love a JavaScript interface with plug n' play behaviors for us code dummies. I'd love to have the ability/interface/instructions on controlling sound and movies through JavaScript. Give us more and better page transitions with an interface for embedding them in a document.

How about this - the ability to use movie skins (Quicktime feature) -- this would allow you better integration of movies into the design of a PDF? And what about embedding movies? It seems like this should be possible since you can embed sound - but then what do I know? I'd also like the movie tool to recognize native .swf (and MP3, etc.)

I'd love the point & shoot linking that you find on GoLive and Dreamweaver. How about better integration with GoLive and ImageReady, so that you can make a Navigation Bar in these apps and import into Acrobat? How about more controls/actions for embedded sound besides just "play sound?" And please give us the ability to play Sound Comments in Reader. You can read comments in Reader - why can't we hear the sound comments? OK. Enough. I could obviously go on about all of this and much more."

DE ABREW: Briefly describe a common misconception about or frequent problem you've seen with Acrobat/PDF that you'd like to try to clarify for others and/or provide a tip to address.

HASTINGS: "What I'm really afraid of is a future of PDF files that all look like Microsoft Word documents. Do I have a quick and easy solution for this? No.

I do have a tip, though, and if you are reading this interview you are already doing it. If you are interested in PDF for any reason and at any level, visit Planet PDF regularly and frequently. It is the best resource on PDF to be found anywhere and in any form."

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