Planet PDF Weblog for the week of August 26, 2002
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 26 August 2002
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday


NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here. You can also catch up on last week's Weblog.

MONDAY

State of Fed on Web: Some of the buzz about "eGovernment," the anticipated state of public information nirvana where U. S. Government sources and resources will be available electronically to the country's citizens, has muted a bit in the past year -- relegated to the political backburner while elected (and non-elected) officials have tended to more serious matters like international terrorism and anthrax-laced mail.

That's not to say that progress hasn't been made in furthering the cause of online democracy -- State of Fed Websites in some areas, the federal government and its myriad agencies and departments continue to evolve in the direction of greater access to information and resources, if not to the officials themselves. The rate of that progress differs widely, according to the published results of a recently completed survey. In the "The State of Federal Websites: The Pursuit of Excellence" report, San Francisco State University's Genie Stowers evaluates 148 federal government Web sites after analyzing them by a standard set of criteria.

According to the report's introduction, the intent of and hope for the study is "that state governments and federal agencies will learn much from benchmarking both their Internet and intranet websites against other public-sector websites." The evaluation should help government executives "as they attempt to improve the quality of government websites and the services provided to both citizens and employees through websites."

"It is crucial that federal web managers develop and implement sites that are user-friendly as well as stocked with useful services and information," the report says, at the same time acknowledging the special challenges government Web administrators faced after September 11 to assess Web content for potential security concerns.

The 44-page report cites some of the successes to date, as well as highlights the related issues, including:

"More and more services are being conducted online, such as electronic filing of income taxes, buying stamps, applying for student financial aid, replacing a Medicare card, and applying for a job. All of these applications -- and many, many more -- require privacy and the ability to conduct secure transactions. To continue to enjoy the public's confidence, it is crucial that websites provide privacy and do not include sensitive information about private citizens, government employees, or contractors. In one instance in 2000, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget promulgated specific guidelines on the use of 'cookies' on the part of federal agencies to protect the privacy of individual users."

So who's currently leading the pack, at least according to Stowers' report? The highest-rated were the following agencies, many that also happen to offer significant PDF-based resources as part of their content mix:

  1. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov)

  2. Dept. of Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov)

  3. Dept. of Education (www.ed.gov)

  4. Dept. of the Treasury (www.ustreas.gov)

  5. Dept. of the Navy (www.navy.mil)

(NOTE: I didn't have to look up the URL for any of the five -- easy to guess: An important first step in being useful!)

That's the good news. The report also concludes that most government sites remain difficult to navigate, currently offer only the most basic eGovernment elements and "need work". For example, "Although federal websites were required to be accessible in June 2001, only 13.5 percent of the sites studied here were fully accessible."


   

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TUESDAY

Acrobat Good Deeds and PDF Do Gooders: Practicing "random acts of kindness" is supposed to be good for your soul, and possibly for your health. If true, the Planet PDF Forum is the virtual abode for some very spiritually and physically fit Adobe Acrobat disciples. On a regular -- even daily, in some cases -- basis, many Forum members from around the world repeatedly perform praiseworthy (but usually thankless) good deeds, sharing their respective levels of portable document format expertise with others. For their volunteer problem-solving generosity, most expect nothing in return (except perhaps that those seeking help abide by the accepted rules of Netiquette).

People who find trustworthy assistance in the Forum with some of their own Acrobat enigmas frequently are, of course, encouraged to re-pay the act of kindness bestowed on them by at some future point by helping another visitor with his or her own predicament. With luck, it's contagious: Generosity perpetuates generosity.

That's not to say, however, that all PDF-related problems -- real or perceived -- have an easy answer. And sometimes the answer is not what the person who publicly posted details of a personally challenging situation wants to hear, or even accept, for any number of reasons. Did I say thankless?

Recently, for example, there was a message posted regarding a PDF file that had been emailed from one company to another. The email recipient was "complaining that the PDF file is unreadable." After briefly noting how the file was created and that the client is using the full version of Acrobat 5, the member posed the not-infrequent Forum query: 'Why is there a problem viewing the PDF properly?'

Despite the fact there weren't sufficient details provided initially to rule out a variety of potential causes, one Forum regular offered a suggestion: Using an application like WinZip to compress the file before emailing it as an attachment, thus eliminating the nasties some mailservers inflict on electronically postmarked raw PDFs. If the end user can unzip the new file and then successfully open the enclosed PDF, the hitch with the original file likely was corruption during distribution.

So we requested a look at the particular PDF file in question, to determine if the problem was the file itself, or perhaps other factors related to the specific user/client. The same emailed PDF (not zipped) opened fine for us with Acrobat 5.05 running on Mac OS X, and nothing about it blatantly suggested possible trouble under other circumstances. At the same time, we noted there was some further Forum discussion on the matter -- the original author noted in a follow-up posting that other clients were able to open the same emailed file. Only the one client was reporting a problem.

That additional information quickly closed off a number of possibilities, and narrowed further investigation to the specific user and/or user's computer. We privately posed a few questions intended to help pinpoint the exact cause e.g. Verify the specific version of Acrobat (or Reader, if the user is mistaken) being used. Which computer platform and OS version? Sufficient computer memory available? Can other PDFs be opened on the same computer? Can this PDF be opened on any other computers within the same office? In trying to open this email-delivered PDF file, is the person simply clicking on the PDF file icon with the application closed? If so, can they launch Acrobat first, then try using the application's "Open" menu to view the PDF?

Unfortunately, it seems further interrogation was not possible -- or at least judged not prudent -- at this time. The client having the problem viewing the emailed PDF apparently represents a prospective new customer account. Being proactive about seeking a solution -- by asking a round of pointed questions intended to pinpoint the cause of the client's problem -- is deemed offputting, possibly to the detriment of gaining the account. Problem resolution efforts come to a halt. (Devil's Advocate: If the client can't open the PDFs you send, and you can't seem to come up with a fix, does that seem like the basis for mutual admiration and financial remunerations?)

Did I say 'Thankless?'


   

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WEDNESDAY

Seybold Picks and Plans: Seybold Hot Picks In case you missed it, the tech-savvy editors of The Seybold Report today announced the 16 "Hot Picks" products -- out of the 100 or so submitted by participating companies for consideration -- they've tabbed as "must-see" items at the upcoming Seybold Seminars SF 2002 event. The editors' choices represent a cross-section of all technologies being exhibited at the major publishing industry exposition, so in reality attendees are only like to find a subset of the chosen tools applicable to their particular needs and interests. After all, there are four distinct conferences unfolding concurrently under the Seybold bigtop (the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco) during the week of September 9-12.

Narrowing the view a bit to Acrobat/PDF-oriented products and companies, a handful did merit the high-profile recognition and extra traffic that comes with the prestigious "Hot Picks" endorsement. But there's no shortage of others being displayed and demoed well worth a close look by anyone in attendance. Without all the fanfare bestowed on Seybold's picks, here's our own 'spicy selection' of note: arguably the best place to see some of the latest and greatest PDF-related products during the show is at the always popular "Seven Minutes with a PDF Developer" session, this fall slated for Tuesday, September 10.

The current lineup for the fast-paced, no-sales-pitches session -- again co-moderated (refereed) by Planet PDF's Karl De Abrew -- features demonstrations of new or enhanced products by a cast of characters you'll probably not find assembled (maybe for good reason) any other time:

  • Vicki Blake, Director, Business Development, Enfocus Software, Inc.
  • Aandi Inston, Managing Director, Quite Software., Ltd.
  • Gary Armstrong, President, Lantana
  • Leonard Rosenthol, CTO, PDF Sages
  • Dan-Ari Feinberg, CEO, TeamPDF
  • Tim Brady, Managing Director, Organic Software Systems, Ltd.
  • Nick Carr, General Manager, Allette Systems
  • Peter Leu, VP, Product Management, Prinect, Heidelberg
  • Kenneth Fujimoto, President, BestNewspaper
  • Scott C. Withrow, President, ComplyX Structured Information, Inc.
  • Michael Patrick, CTO, Ansyr Technology Corporation
  • Mark Stephens, Managing Director, IDRsolutions
  • Michael Doernberg, President, SmartPath Inc.
  • Eugene Allred, President, Document Intelligence Agency
  • Martin Bailey, Senior Technical Consultant, Global Graphics Software
  • Frank Delanghe, CEO, D Soft

However, if you're not fortunate to witness the often-entertaining, always-enlightening vendor presentations live, Planet PDF will do its best to convey the highlights in our reports posted from Seybold. Trust me though, it won't be the same!

On a serious note, it's no secret that trade show attendance in general has been hurt this year by the economic climate and to an extent to the lingering aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorism. The Seybold Seminars events have served as one of the most vital, visionary and influential events for the publishing community -- in its various facets -- for several decades. For example, Acrobat and PDF were introduced here publicly by Adobe Systems almost a decade ago now. Organizers launched a day-long special program called PDF Day some years back, which eventually grew into a pair of PDF Days -- one focused on print, the other on electronic tools and issues. They've now been replaced by this year's three-day Seybold PDF Conference. Still growing, even in difficult economic times. This event deserves the appreciation and ongoing support of the PDF community. Planet PDF is proud to be a media sponsor for the Seybold PDF Conference again this year. Hope to see some of you there! And by the way, if you are or soon will be registered, here are a couple handy PDFs to pack in your laptop: the conference brochure [PDF: 2.5 MB] and a conference planner [PDF: 4.3 MB].

Seybold SF02 PlannerSeybold SF02 brochure


   

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THURSDAY

The 'Universal Virtual Computer' and PDF: The portable document format was developed in part to address the problem of documents moving across platforms -- or more correctly, documents *not* moving across platforms, at least not bearing any resemblance to the original. The free Adobe Acrobat Reader offers a reasonably good translation tool for documents created on any platform -- with any authoring tool.

That's all well and good for everyone who has the Reader, which is easily accessible -- at least today. But what about in the year 2040? After all, many of these documents today being converted to PDF must be archived and the content accessible to future generations of readers. But will those future readers have Readers?

One person who's given that a lot of serious thought, it seems, is Dr. Raymond Lorie, a researcher at the I.B.M. Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA. According to an article in The New York Times this week titled "A Universal Tool to Rescue Old Files From Obsolescence," Lorie has "developed a prototype for a 'universal virtual computer' -- a system with architecture and language designed to be so logical and accessible that computer developers of the future will be able to write instructions to emulate it on their machines."

According to the Times, a program written for Lorie's universal virtual computer will extract all the data stored in a file, including PDF documents.

"'I don't need to recreate Acrobat Reader with all its buttons and colors,' he said. 'That would be overkill.' Users of the future, he said, will want to see the document and have access to the data. 'They will take the data and store it, probably in a completely different way.'

Dr. Lorie's program reads and displays the contents of the PDF file using tags, extra semantic information designed to reduce the confusion of people in 2040 who may at first be unsure of what they are viewing. These semantic tags might say, for instance, 'There is text in this document and it is organized like this, he explained.'"

Related question: Will anyone be creating new PDFs in 2040?


   

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FRIDAY

No Post Today: Vacation Day


   

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