PDF In-Depth

Internet Publishing & PDF

April 10, 2000

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Planet PDF were lucky enough to spend some time with Gordon Kent, acclaimed author of "Internet Publishing With Acrobat", to talk about his book, and the new Acrobat 4.0.

Planet PDF: Gordon, to spend those unending days and nights writing your book you must have had some serious motivation. What was it that attracted to you to PDF, and how did you get involved?

Gordon Kent: Thanks for giving me this opportunity.

My interest in Acrobat and PDF started in early in 1994 while working at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I worked very closely with Brown's Scholarly Technology Group, whose members notable accomplishments include the creation of hypertext. As the web was evolving and everyone was rewriting documents in HTML, I came across this great thing called Acrobat Distiller 1.0.

The notion of a file format that everyone could read and any application could create was compelling. I put up an Acrobat Web site and linked to all the resources I could. At the time, few people were publishing PDF files online. My peers, who were SGML purists and saw PDF as a threat to true structured documents, challenged my support of PDF. I became an evangelist of the technology. I really believe in its power, simplicity of use, and usefulness for Internet publishers.

The site attracted a lot of interest and the Adobe Press approached me and asked me to write a book on Acrobat's then potential use on the Internet.

Planet PDF: Your book, "Internet Publishing" provides a fantastic resource for those interested in the actual mechanics of publishing with Acrobat. Which are your favorite chapters for those who want to get up and running with the minimum of fuss?

Gordon Kent: The meat of the book is Chapter 8: "Publishing PDF files on the Internet". Anyone wanting a quick guide for getting PDF files online could start there. However, my favorite chapter and the one I still refer to is Chapter 3: "Selecting Content Strategies, Sources, Formats, and Services". That chapter covers the strategy of the process of publishing. Most web sites still re-purpose content. XML is clearly a direction towards a concurrent (or multi-purpose) publishing strategy.

The first part of Chapter 8 advances the idea of a concurrent publishing system. The second section of chapter 3 includes a checklist that allows the user to determine if the content they want to publish is best suited for HTML, PDF or both. This, I feel, is a helpful guide for beginners as well as the seasoned Internet publisher.

Planet PDF: Will you be releasing an updated version of your book to cover the new features?

Gordon Kent: Acrobat 4.0, and specifically PDF, isn't much different from 3.0 in how documents are served on the Web. So, currently there are no plans to revise the entire book. Rather than printing a second edition, I do plan to cover some of the changes and new features web publishers can take advantage of on my website and Planet PDF.

Planet PDF: As you would well know, Acrobat 4.0 has now been announced. It's certainly been a long time in the making and everyone is looking forward to using it. What do you believe are its most important features, and how can you see it simplifying "Internet Publishing"?

Gordon Kent: I'm impressed with Acrobat 4.0. For print publishers, Distiller's color management features are much improved. Every user will appreciate the expanded annotations and editing tools. Those using PDF as part of their document management process will welcome the digital signature feature. My favorite feature is something existing in an early beta of Acrobat 3.0 - the automatic "hotlinking" of URLs. With Acrobat 4.0's improved editing controls, these hyperlinks can be made to look like their HTML counterparts. These new tools and improvements will certainly speed the development of PDF documents, allowing publishers to get their PDF files online quicker and easier than before.

Planet PDF: How would you summarize the advantages of PDF as technology for Internet Publishers versus other on-line formats?

Gordon Kent: PDF is simply another useful tool for Internet publishers. PDF's strength as a publishing tool remains true through version 4.0: you can use almost any application to create documents that can be easily published on the Internet with no HTML markup required. PDF forms have a number of advantages over HTML forms including the ability to transmit the values of the fields without needing to reload the page. HTML and eventually XML will remain the dominant format on the web, but PDF will always have its place for long documents and special applications.

Planet PDF: Can you see PDF replacing HTML, and/or XML? or do you see it as a complementary technology?

Gordon Kent: Clearly PDF is a complementary technology. I've been discussing the relationship between XML and PDF with an U.K.-based PDF technology firm called Iceni (www.iceni.com). They have been shipping a PDF-to-XML conversion tool for almost a year now. One could look at PDF as the capsule that comprises a range of information about a document.

PDF can describe the look and feel of a document, and also provide an implied description of the document's structure that can be represented in a markup language like XML or HTML. We'll all be making another transition from HTML-generating tools to more flexible XML-compliant tools and strategies. PDF is one possible neutral format during the transition. There's a lot more work for Adobe to do to better position PDF with XML. I've heard some exciting rumors, but I can't reveal anything yet.

Planet PDF: Some call it a gimmic; others praise it. What is your impression of the much vaunted "Web Capture" feature?

Gordon Kent: Web Capture is really exciting to see work, and I'll be interested to hear how users make use of the feature. The most obvious application is to convert HTML to PDF for off-line distribution (e.g. CD-ROM, packaged distribution, etc.). I'd suspect that Adobe hopes to attract publishers to PDF who have invested heavily in HTML publishing tools and not traditional desktop publishing tools. Publishers who have made significant investments in database-driven or dynamic HTML content publishing technologies (e.g. Vingette, Inso, ASP, etc.) can use Web Capture to archive dynamic data.

While Adobe went to great lengths to embed what amounts to a web browser within Acrobat, they failed to improve off-line form submission. A number of users download PDF files that are lengthy forms (e.g. tax forms, tests, etc.), complete the form off-line in Reader and then want to submit the data back to the server. Both Acrobat 3.0 and 4.0 require a user to be viewing the form in a Web browser in order to submit the data back to a server. It would have been great to eliminate this annoying little inconsistency by making use of the embedded browser... maybe in the next revision...

Planet PDF: Other than writing books, what occupies your time now?

Gordon Kent: Currently, I'm Group Product Manager for large newspaper publisher just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. There I manage a range of online web sites and related commercial products. We use PDF files in our production processes to convert data from a range of formats to HTML.

I spend the remainder my time as a consultant working on projects for publishing and high-technology corporations. One such project I'm finishing up is a user guide for the U.S. Courts that focuses on Acrobat and PDF's use in the Court's electronic case filing system.

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