PDF In-Depth

FlashPaper vs PDF

Navigation, Extraction and Email




The FlashPaper viewer (i.e. Flash Viewer, ShockWave Viewer) has very little built in navigation. Two ways exist to navigate the document, the first is to use the vertical scroll bar to the right of the document and the second is using the 'Previous/Next' button at the top right of the interface.

There is also no concept of Hyperlinks. This is a major drawback, having a method to link from page to page or document to document or even document to web page is essential to making the document interactive.

The FlashPaper format seems to have been primarily designed as an on-screen reading format, not including interactive features such as Bookmarks, Thumbnails, Hyperlinks, Form Fields and also not including extended navigation features in the viewing interface seems to be either a glaring omission or a current limitation based on the viewing technology.

Unlike FlashPaper, Acrobat Reader/Adobe Reader often has too many techniques for navigation -- Hyperlinks, Named Destinations, Form Fields, Interface Navigation tools (x3), Bookmarks, Web Links and much more.

The reasons for limitations in FlashPaper/Flash Viewer are two fold. Firstly the format specification doesn't support interactive features for navigation and secondly the interface is the same application used to view normal Flash documents (or ShockWave in the case of Shockwave content). This separation of Flash Viewer and FlashPaper Viewer could certainly provide an easy way for Macromedia to provide better built-in Navigation in the Interface without changing the underlying FlashPaper document specification/format.

Whole page in Adobe Reader with Text selection

Whole FlashPaper page

Content Extraction

An unprotected PDF file's content is available for extraction. Text can be copied to the clipboard, exported in bulk to other proprietary formats and even have the entire contents of a structured PDF exported to XML for use in repurposing applications.

No such extraction, copying or repurposing facilities have been provided with FlashPaper, either directly via the document or externally via the interface. This leaves me wondering where Macromedia are going to take FlashPaper in the future -- will it remain a useful technology for sharing exact 'view-only' copies of source content or will interactive features and content extraction et al, be included bit by bit?

Sending via Email

Put simply, FlashPaper is meant to be viewed online via the Web. Although the FlashPaper document (SWF) could be emailed, there's no guarantee that the recipient would even know what to do with the SWF file. If the recipient didn't have a standalone Flash Player then they would have to rely on the Web browser to do the work -- and only if it had been correctly setup.

PDF on the other hand is completely Portable. It's a standalone document and can be emailed regardless of transport mechanism or underlying operating system functionality. However we could run in to two problems at the other end: The recipient doesn't have Acrobat Reader or the version of the PDF file you sent is newer than the Acrobat Reader they have installed.

The first problem is easily solved by simply downloading Adobe Reader from the Adobe Website, and the second problem is also solved by the solution to the first problem -- download the latest Adobe Reader.

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