Planet PDF's AcroPDF Weblog
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 8 July 02
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday


NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here.

THURSDAY

Tell It Like It Is: We all have those days -- no one seems to properly value our stunning insights, appreciate our clearly enlightened opinions or respect our obvious expertise. Well, today is *not* one of those days!

Today you have at least three important opportunities to tell it like it is, and/or like it should be. While there is a degree of similarity among the currently active trio of surveys -- the topic of each is Acrobat and PDF -- these are not mutually exclusive. Each has its own distinct purpose and value. And each host group places a high value on your frank and honest participation.

At Planet PDF we have a vested interest in your willingness to share your opinions about how we're doing to meet your needs as a primary, independent Acrobat/PDF resource site. I mention our survey first because it has the earliest deadline of the three -- in fact, the last day for this second round of our Planet PDF survey ends at close of business, Thursday, July 11. In other words, we hope you'll make time today to respond if you haven't already done so. We're offering opportunities for 10 survey participants to win free copies of ARTS PDF Tools, a $149 Acrobat 5 plug-in (Mac and Windows).

We covered the recent launch of an important industry-wide survey currently being conducted by the organizers of the Seybold PDF Conference, the first public, large-scale effort to study PDF usage. In fact, we even wrote *about* the development of the PDF version of the survey about PDF usage. If you have any interest in PDF Forms authoring, we think you'll find the accounting on the development of the interactive survey instrument by Prof. Donald Story to be instructive. Your input on this survey -- using either the PDF or the HTML version -- is important in helping to develop an accurate picture of how Acrobat, PDF and related products and tools are currently being used. The deadline for the Seybold survey is July 19 -- so it's down to the final week. Results will be first unveiled at the Seybold PDF Conference in San Francisco in September. Participants are eligible for one of a variety of prizes being offered.

Just a day or two ago in this very Weblog we mentioned that Adobe Systems has demonstrated on numerous occasions that it listens to Acrobat users. Almost on cue today, the Adobe Acrobat and Market Research Teams are launching a new "Acrobat Benchmark Study," and have asked Planet PDF to help promote its availability and mission. The online-only Adobe survey seeks your feedback on questions such as the reason(s) why you purchased Adobe Acrobat, approximately how many hours you spend using Acrobat in a typical week and the type of documents you currently convert to Adobe PDF. The deadline for completion of this survey is midnight, July 21. There are five cash prizes of $100 to be awarded by Adobe when the survey period ends.

Each of the surveys promises confidentiality, and seeks combined rather than individual results. Each has a specific purpose, and all three have the potential to help Acrobat and PDF users in different ways and on different levels. We strongly encourage you to make time to participate soon in as many as you can -- none should require a considerable amount of time to complete.

The expression often used about voting in elections applies equally to these kinds of important surveys: 'If you don't participate, don't complain.' Of course, we all cherish the right to complain regardless; but deep down, you may wish you'd spoken up when it counted, when people who could do something about your expressed comments were listening. These three surveys count.


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NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here.

WEDNESDAY

PDFs in my Email - Literally: Why some people still use fax machines remains something of a personal mystery. I'm willing to accept (if not fully appreciate) that under some circumstances and for some folks, a case can still be made to do things this old-fashioned way. But *please* don't send *me* any poor quality, second-generation (or worse) scans of documents for consideration. The truth is, they probably won't be (considered).

I adhere to the same school of thought as that indicated in an email signature file used by Scott Tully, a PDF Workflow Evangelist for the Vertis Digital Solutions Group, which offers several telephone numbers for voice communication, but not one for sending faxes. Instead, he suggests a better alternative:

"Fax? Attach a PDF!"
Ditto here!

Receiving PDF attachments *with* my email is a routine part of the Planet PDF workflow, as it is at many organizations. On the other hand, receiving PDFs *in* my email is a relatively new experience. Frankly, I'm not quite sure what to make of it just yet -- uncertain whether it's a particularly good thing or not. But as I discovered recently when moving to the Mac OS X version of the Eudora email software (from Qualcomm) that this new option had been added to the program's feature set. So naturally I've been experimenting with it to determine whether it's genuinely useful or simply a diversion.

Eudora Settings

Simply turning ON the Eudora Settings checkbox to "Display PDF files in messages" -- located in Special>Settings>Fonts & Display -- is not by itself sufficient to enable the feature, as Steve Dorner, the original author of Eudora confirmed. It didn't work properly until I had also enabled the "Display graphics in messages" setting. Once both were checked ON, all PDF attachments displayed inside my Eudora email message window, as did the recent issue of Adobe Magazine, as shown directly below.

adobemag_eudorapdf

My first impression was that this wasn't particularly practical for all but single-page PDFs, since without the Acrobat toolbar,PDF navigation in Eudora one had no navigational controls to look at -- with this example -- all 14 pages of the latest Adobe Magazine published in PDF. I quickly discovered that hitting the Mac's 'Return' key cycled me through the document's other pages. In addition, at the bottom of the Eudora message window displaying an inline PDF, a scrollbar or "movie controller" appears, providing the same basic page-by-page browsing.

"The way it works," says Dorner, "is that QuickTime can 'play it like a movie. QuickTime is also willing to 'play' text files, which is rather amusing."

This particular PDF probably isn't the best one for judging the true usefulness of this new Eudora feature -- Adobe Magazine is designed horizontally for on-screen reading. It's therefore quite legible when displayed inside an email message. Other more print-oriented PDFs may not be as easy to read "as is." You don't have access to any of Acrobat's important tools, such as zooming, and none of the interactive features, such as the hyperlinked cover, are functional when the PDF is displayed by Eudora.

In short, don't abandon the free Acrobat Reader (or full Acrobat) just because you are a Mac OS X-based Eudora user. [Neither of the Adobe products is required to be installed for this inline display functionality to work.] Inline display of PDFs is a far cry from a replacement for more traditional methods of viewing PDFs, even those that arrive as emailed attachments. But will Dorner be adding this functionality to other versions of Eudora in the future?

In a word: "Nope," he says. "But Apple could add it to QuickTime."

OK, so what *was* the motivation for adding this feature?

"Rather than including our own idea of what a 'movie' is, we simply ask QuickTime if a file is a movie or not, and QuickTime as of OS X started saying "yes" to pdf files," says Dorner. "We added a little extra control because some people don't care for the behavior, but it basically just fell out."

Whatever the reasons, the inclusion of this new feature in the OS X version (only) of Eudora is one more indication of PDF's expanding popularity. Increasingly we see more non-Adobe software companies seeking to seamlessly integrate PDF capabilities into their products. Such facts are good news for us PDF users. FAX, on the other hand, ... ohhh, don't get me started again.

"Fax? Attach a PDF!"

I might even read it inline.


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TUESDAY

Now Safe to Upgrade - to Acrobat 4.0: Just over a year ago respected Web design and usability consultant Jakob Nielsen posted his infamous (in some circles anyway) monthly column titled "PDF - Avoid for On-Screen Reading." Among his cautions posted in June 2001 was a recommendation to avoid using Acrobat 5 -- at least until 2004!

"Ensure that your PDF document format is at least one version behind the latest offering. As with any Internet software, many users are slow to upgrade when new formats ship. PDF version 5 was released recently, but I recommend sticking to version 3 until 2002 (at which time you can use version 4; version 5 should not be used until 2004)."
So the good news for Nielsen disciples is that it's now safe to upgrade ... to Acrobat 4 -- if you can find a copy, that is. Note that you'll need at least the free Acrobat Reader if you purchase any of the reports generated by Nielsen's group, such as the one on accessibility. (Also worth noting: Adobe stopped supporting Acrobat 3 when v. 5 shipped well over a year ago, so if you have problems with that nearly extinct version, maybe Nielsen will take your calls and emails.)

Fortunately, sales figures for Acrobat 5.0 suggest that a lot of people disregarded Nielsen's more-often-than-not prudent -- when not prudish -- advice on PDF. As we pointed out at the time, among other flies in his soup, he seemed to have a "glaring unfamiliarity with the PDF file format, using the acronym interchangeably with the name of the Adobe application used to create and work with PDF documents." We concluded at the time that "most of the alleged weaknesses cited in the column actually have more to do with user error -- poor authoring techniques and lack of understanding of PDF -- than with problems inherent in the format." And other members of the Planet PDF community -- not surprisingly -- expressed similar thoughts.

His company's vested interest in promoting sales of Acrobat 5 and PDF use notwithstanding, Robert McDaniels, an Application Engineer for Adobe's Web and ePaper solutions, offered Nielsen "some corrections on PDF uses to contrast what was in your article." In his publicly posted response, McDaniels said:

"It looks like what you are really criticizing is bad PDF design, not the PDF format, because PDF actually does all of the things you claim it cannot. Just as there are terrible HTML pages there are also terrible PDF pages, but this is a fault of the designer not the file format. I think this is an important distinction that you did not make."

Shlomo Perets of Microtype, who among the numerous examples of his own experience and expertise writes the "PDF Best Practices" series for Planet PDF, likewise noted flaws in Nielsen's thinking and facts. Perets wrote:
"In my mind, Dr. Nielsen's shallow observations and recommendations have seriously undermined his credibility as a usability expert."

For those who don't buy into Nielsen's main premise -- that PDF is suitable only for use with documents meant to be printed -- we invite you to enter a new promotional contest that we'll be launching yet this week. Master ClassIn collaboration with our friends at Peachpit Press, we'll be offering eight chances to win free copies of a new book titled "Adobe Acrobat 5 Master Class: Interactivity and Multimedia for PDF," co-authored by Pattie Belle Hastings, Bjørn Akselsen and Sandee Cohen. As you might guess from the title, this book -- which is being officially released by Peachpit on July 11 -- to a great extent promotes and showcases non-print applications of Acrobat and PDF. Here's a sneak peak at the Table of Contents; contest details, and several excerpts from a sample chapter, will be posted on Planet PDF in the next day or two.

Of course, we're hardly ones to suggest Acrobat and PDF are above criticism -- we've done a fair amount of it ourselves, not always publicly. In fact, we strongly encourage knowledgeable, critical commentary, believing it can lead to product improvements. During the course of Acrobat's development history, as we've noted before, Adobe has shown on more than one occasion that it listens to user feedback (constructive criticism, not soapbox ranting). Even though there hasn't been -- and likely won't be -- any public statement from Adobe about the pending release of a future version 6.0 of Acrobat until such a product is well along in its development, it's fairly safe judging by the product's typical upgrade cycle that a future release (no date) is no secret -- as we noted earlier, it was mentioned in a San Jose newspaper report last week. So this is as good a time as any to float any feature suggestions, air any gripes, post factual criticisms, etc.

In fact, if anyone personally would care to, or knows someone else who'd be glad to express what might be considered "anti-PDF" sentiments, we'd consider publishing a selection of any such commentaries. The main requirement is that they be attributed, not anonymous, so that the author has the challenge of supporting his or her criticisms (or living with the ensuing reader criticism that they hadn't done so). We aren't necessarily looking for sweeping condemnations of the technology, but specific criticisms, things that if addressed in a future release would make Acrobat and PDF even more useful to someone who's a current user -- which we presume to include most of our audience -- as well as something that might entice a non-believer to re-consider. Please send any relevant thoughts to us via email to editor@planetpdf.com. Or alternatively, post any relevant comments in the PDF-Talkback discussion conference within our Planet PDF Forum (forum.planetpdf.com).

On that note, anyone for taking up a collection to send Jakob Nielsen a copy of "Adobe Acrobat 5 Master Class" so he can see what he's missing?


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MONDAY

Return of the Prodigal Online Publisher: After a self-imposed, year-long absence from the online publishing scene, Jason Snell returns this week with Issue #55 of his free "Online Fiction Magazine" dubbed InterText. InterTextIf you've not seen an issue before, you'll want to download a copy -- probably the PDF version if you're a Planet PDF regular (or irregular) -- to check out the six stories in this just-posted Volume 12, Number 1 edition, the first published with Adobe InDesign 2.01. But make no mistake -- Snell is no newcomer to the world of multimedia publishing -- he was on the scene when was there *was* no scene. InterText has been around longer than ... well ... PDF, for one thing, with issue #1 dating back to 1991 -- and is currently avalaible in numerous formats (ascii text, HTML, PostScript and PDF) and for various alternate viewing devices (including Palm Pilot, Newton and Rocket eBook). All versions are available from the magazine's FTP site.

Snell's year-long hiatus was prompted by another in-house (pure speculation, of course) production -- culminating with the arrival of his first-born future assistant editor. According to the InterText Web site, Jamie Natalie Snell joined the editorial team on November 7, 2001. Snell had forewarned, in his opening "FirstText" column in issue Vol. 11, No. 1 published last summer, of a pending pause in InterText's regularly irregular publishing cycle.

No one would have blamed him and his publishing cohorts if they'd seized the blissful moment as an excuse to retire the non-profit publishing venture they launched a decade ago while he was still a college student hoping to land work with a newspaper. But after contemplating the possibility, Snell thought better of lightening his work load at the expense of abandoning his first-born fiction periodical, which publishes -- depending on the issue and the submissions -- "material ranging from mainstream stories to fantasy to horror to science fiction to humor." He promised in the Summer 2001 issue it would return ... at some point:

"A long time ago, I told myself that I would probably stop doing InterText once Lauren and I decided to have children. And I considered it. But then I realized two things: first, I've slimmed down InterText to an extremely light workload in terms of my time, so I wouldn't gain a whole lot from giving it up. And second, I enjoy doing it, so the net result of giving it up would be a loss, not a gain."

Snell's personal reflections -- in the form of his "FirstText" column -- used to open every issue, a bi-monthly for many years until scaled back to its current quarterly status. He stopped writing them routinely after a few years, resuming only when he "had something to say." Cumulatively the columns now offer a chronological look at the intertwined history of InterText, of his career and "paid" work history (he's currently an editor for Macworld magazine) and a glimpse of the early history of online publishing -- in which he's been something of a young pioneer. His fiction magazine proudly bears the tag line "InterText has been publishing continuously on the Net since March of 1991."

After a paternal respite, the proud father is publishing again. Congratulations are in order -- on both achievements! If you'd like to receive future issues of InterText in PDF, simply send -- and confirm -- an email message (intertext-pdf-on@intertext.com).


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