Planet PDF Weblog for the week of 14 October 2002
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 14 October 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

The Federal ePaper: In its late September inaugural issue, editors of a new publication recall the founding of the American Presidency, created by Article II of the Constitution. With a flash forward to the present, they seek to justify the need for their new editorial effort, dubbed -- in a play on words from the so-called Federalist Papers of the Revolutionary era -- "The Federal Paper."

"It's a safe bet that the Founders never envisioned an executive branch with 1.8 million workers, occupying 603 million feet of office space in 28,795 buildings in 4,900 cities."

"They couldn't possibly have foreseen a federal government involved in almost every aspect of American life: deciding what medicines Americans can take, what a manufacturer must do to make a baby's crib safe, what pesticides a farmer can use and what interstate speed limits should be.'

"Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the federal government's role is even larger; rarely in U.S. history has there been such a thirst for news from within the executive branch. Events of the past year, moreover, underscore the need for departments and agencies to communicate with each other."

"The Federal Paper was created to fill a void, to serve the community of senior government executives, as well as anyone who needs to know what is happening in the executive branch."

The Federal Paper

Most certainly the founders never conceived of a digital (PDF) version of The Federal Paper being available on the Internet -- as is much of today's federal government, for that matter. (The namesake Federalist Papers from 1787-88 are available online and in PDF, too.)

Sporting a tagline of "people, politics and business of the executive branch," the 32-page first issue appeared September 23, 2002, with a second dated October 7 also now available online. The plan is to publish every two weeks until early next year, when the goal is to become a weekly source of non-partisan, independent news. PDF versions are available online a week after publication, free at least so far. Subscriptions to the old-fashioned printed edition are available free to qualified government employees, according to the Web site.

As billed, the first issue features a variety of stories on and/or related to the current president, George W. Bush, including Republican election strategies and issues, rumored Cabinet head departures, a feature on Bush roughing it on his Texas ranch and a commentary pairing George W. Bush with the original George W. (Washington) titled "The Presidency and the Waging of War: What Would the Founding Fathers Think?"

George Washington, George Bush

In Vol. 1, No. 1, The Federal Paper lives up to its belief that "senior executives responsible for shaping and implementing policy deserve center-stage coverage." As I perused the issue from Planet PDF's US headquarters in scenic Madison, Wisconsin, I couldn't help but notice a familiar face beneath the "Cabinet Dropout Guessing Game Heats Up" headline. Among the rumored first-to-leave Cabinet Secretaries apparently is Department of Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson, a former fellow Madison resident and long-time Wisconsin governor until Bush beckoned him to DC.

The published account on Thompson's possible one-way flight to Wisconsin following the November elections, however, may not endear him to his former constituents here in America's Dairyland:

"Thompson is a contender because he says he wants to leave."

"At an appearance last month in Madison, Wis., Thompson said he'd keep his promise to serve no more than two years at HHS and was fielding offers to return to the private sector in the state he governed for 14 years."

"Soon after Thompson made the comments, an aide called the White House with a disclaimer."

"'The aide said he always says things like that back home, but he doesn't really mean it,' said the senior White House official who took the call."

Like a true politician, when Thompson in Wisconsin, he tells the locals he doesn't really mean the things he says in Washington. Our tax dollars at work.

The Federal Paper staff has its work cut out trying to determine not only who said what to whom, but whether they meant what they said.


   

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TUESDAY

Online Annual Reports: To PDF or Not to PDF?: It's not that we're thin-skinned at Planet PDF about criticisms of the portable document format. After all, we've been known to dish it out ourselves, and have encouraged knowledgeable users to do the same at times. Yet we can't help ourselves sometimes from poking holes in statements we periodically encounter that seek to dismiss the viable applications for and the realities of PDF. Some are worse -- and/or less informed -- than others. The latest example is hardly the most spiteful or least-well-justified that we've seen, but several published references deserve clarification, and several other things left unsaid deserve to be included to give proper context.

In a recent ClickZ column on "Annual Report: The Online Edition, Susan Solomon opines on the current state of corporate annual reports in the age of the Internet. "Although most organizations indulge in annual report frenzy," she writes, "few use the power of the Internet to produce a memorable online annual report." So far, so good. One could quibble about what she means by "memorable" -- is she referring to the content, or the delivery format, or ...? And what precisely qualifies as an "online annual report" anyway? Do you mean available online? Or one that's optimized for reading on a computer screen? We'll assume the latter, although for many companies, the advantage of deferring printing to end users -- by offering a downloadable version of a printed publication -- is no small cost saving, and no large task either. Alas, she seems to differ on that point.

"Most create a print piece and offer a PDF or other difficult-to-download versions for Web users," Solomon adds. Say what? PDF as an example of a document type that's difficult to download? Compared to what? We're talking about a file format that can include text, graphics and even fonts in one single-click-to-download container, with a free viewing tool available to display online and/or print the file, not to mention search its full content. We'll concede that some heavily graphical annual reports can bulk up in file size (often a case of poor authoring technique), but there are ways to address that issue -- segmenting a report by sections, or even individual pages, letting end users access only the information they want.

Next Solomon cites a series of annual report examples in an attempt to support her premise; but do they?

First on the list is a PDF-based annual report from Safeway Inc. that's described as "typical of print pieces reincarnated as a PDF online ... nothing special." True enough, the 48-page report contains no bookmarks or hyperlinked table of contents that would enhance navigation, and no active hyperlinks or other navigational aids that we noticed. To be fair, Safeway does not promote this as anything other than one component of the resources available online to investors. Not only can one download any of the past five years' annual reports with a single click, but the Investor Relations section offers various related interactive features, including Webcast events, live stock price lookup and company news by email subscription.

Microsoft gets a mixed review for its annual report, which Solomon says that "although beautiful, is an unwieldy download." What? Now you want to be able to download it? I thought the test here was whether it's suitable for easy on-screen display and comprehension? Apparently that's *not* the measure after all. "It's surprising Microsoft would devote so much energy to print and not enough to making its digital version easy to manipulate," she adds. Frankly, I'm wondering if we're literally on the same (Web) page. Microsoft's Web-based annual report is a series of HTML-frames-driven pages, each dedicated to a single, short topic. It has a hyperlinked table of contents in the left frame and navigational buttons for moving forward and back on all pages. Its letter to shareholders is even available in a dozen languages. And what exactly does Solomon want to be able "manipulate" in an annual report anyway? As to things left unsaid, Microsoft does also offer a "Downloads" page where the entire annual report, or separate sections, can be download -- in Microsoft Word's .DOC format. In other words, you'll need to invest several hundred dollars in Microsoft software before you'll be able to view, read or print what you download. Last, the .DOC version of the entire report is 1.14 MB; if you happen to also have Acrobat 5 installed, a better option is to launch Word, then use the PDFMaker feature (installed as part of Acrobat 5/Windows) to create a more practical PDF version -- less than 300kb in file size, and now you can use a free viewing tool on various computer platforms!

The annual report for Amnesty International, "an informative roundup of human rights issues in a reasonably usable online report," is cited as an example of a "hybrid." Other than not using the dreaded HTML frames approach, in presentation it's actually quite similar to Microsoft's, so Solomon's mild praise here -- "a nice effort" -- is a little puzzling. Now for the rest of the story: On all but the report's main page, each separate Web page topic includes a hyperlink to download a "printer-friendly PDF file" version of the same Amnesty report page, including its 152 detailed country reports. For example, you can read about AI's take on Iraq in HTML or in PDF. The one thing seemingly not offered is a single-click download of the entire report in PDF -- and there's probably a good reason for that: AI sells copies of the report for a modest price to help raise funds.

Also lumped in the "hybrid" category is the 2001 annual report for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which Solomon considers to be "informative but wordy." So now we're evaluating content, and/or writing style as an additional measure? (Not that those aren't important criteria in what ultimately matters -- getting someone to read the report -- but why hasn't it been mentioned or considered previously? The actual content presentation tries very hard to emulate traditional print-based design, which I expected Solomon to consider more problematic. Instead, she gives it a partial thumbs up with a "good basic edition" salute. She fails to note a couple other points that seem worth sharing: the cover page of the online version has separate links to a text-only version as well as to a page where one can download one of two PDF-based versions -- one in full color, the other as black-and-white only. While PBS recommends the BW version for slower connections, it's actually only a couple hundred kb smaller than the color version: 984 kb versus 1.2 MB.

A final "hybrid" entry is IBM's annual report for 2001 that Solomon says "appears to have begun life on paper, but it translates nicely to the Web." I'd say it's a pretty safe bet it originated on and was developed primarily for paper-based delivery. Despite its computer industry legend status (or perhaps because of it), IBM doesn't strike me as the company you'd expect to break down tried-and-true practices in favor of communicating to its shareholders primarily via an interactive, online model. (But I could be proven wrong!) Having said that, IBM's online rendition of its paper-based annual report is indeed worthy of considerable praise. It's very well-paced -- text on each page is minimal -- and the verbiage is often clever and clearly carefully written to work in tandem with the respective visuals. For example, check out the "16 Decisions That Transformed IBM" section. The "We loosened our tie: Changing Corporate Culture" page where IBM briefly addresses how and why it embraced change, is accompanied by a large color composite photo showing 16 different IBM employees -- each from the knee down. The varied footwear effectively communicates diversity, and offsets the notion of IBM as a staid corporate workplace. This isn't really related to the development of the online report, but to a well-thought-out communication strategy that applies equally well in print and online. To see the same content in its paper-based form, IBM also offers a separate page where you can download the entire report, or by section, in PDF.

IBM Loosened Tie Print
IBM Loosened Tie Web

First, note that IBM includes PDF bookmarks that greatly enhance navigation. To see how they tailored the print version for the Web, compare the "loosed tie" content as presented in each. In print, the full-color composite photo has more visual impact than the reduced size displayed on the Web, where file size of images is an key factor in page display. On the Web version, scroll your mouse through the individual images that make up the composite photo -- each small image is isolated in color, while the others become black and white, and the name and position of the pictured employee is revealed. And compare the significantly reduced amount of content published with each of the 16 "decisions" portrayed in the online version. OK, I take back what I said about Big Blue not being very innovative!

Solomon saves her favorite four for last -- AT&T, Disney Company, Sony and Circuit City -- calling them "notable efforts" in the slim-pickings world of online annual reports. Among her fab foursome, both AT&T and Sony -- like all others already mentioned -- also offer a PDF version of a recent annual report for download. As for the other two, her selection of Circuit City in the final group seems awkward, since the criticized-as-mundane Safeway site offers most of the same interactive features described. And we can hardly disagree more with Solomon's assessment that Disney's site deserves recognition for an alleged ability to "synthesize a lot of information in a readable format." Since when did we consider words that jump across the page, funky font selection and floating butterfly graphics as aids to comprehension?

If *that's* the measure of what makes a praiseworthy rendition of an online annual report, give me PDF any day, any way. And in any case, while Solomon insinuates that only one of her referenced examples considers PDF a viable format for distributing and/or displaying -- her criteria remains elusive -- annual reports, the fact is that nearly all of the companies mentioned include a PDF version in some fashion in their corporate communication mix.


   

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WEDNESDAY

Corporate Bad Hair Day(s): It seems not all that long ago that things at Adobe Systems seemed to be defying the odds; in fact, some incredulous industry analysts said as much about the more than 40 percent year-over-year growth in Adobe's ePaper product group -- the Acrobat line of products -- in the period following the release of version 5 in early 2001.

So it must have been a disconcerting if not humbling reunion today when current Adobe CEO and President Bruce Chizen caught up again with company co-founders John Warnock at Charles Geschke at an event to mark "20 Years of Innovation" at Adobe. For a change in fortune, it's hard to top some of the recent headlines and events.

A week ago we first reported on analyst speculation that an announcement by Microsoft -- a mid-2003 eforms-related product release called XDocs -- could directly compete with Adobe's Acrobat/PDF solutions. From reading some of the news accounts -- including headlines such as "Adobe reels from Microsoft move" and "Adobe Dented as Microsoft Mentions Competition" -- you'd think Chizen was on his way from San Jose to Seattle to plead for mercy. MS BoBSeveral analysts added to the hypothetical mass exodus away from PDF simply by virtue of Microsoft's clout in the industry; from such things are anti-trust trials made, as Redmond-watchers are all well aware. This is the same company, after all, that brought us the ill-fated, much-derided "Microsoft Bob" (see graphic) simplified user interface and that last week announced its 58th product security flaw alert for *this* year. It's highly likely, based on product history, that we'll see a new, further enhanced version of Acrobat before XBobDocs is released.

A little lower on the hysteria meter is reaction to the news that Adobe is embroiled in yet another legal skirmish, this time in a standoff with two font vendors who are claiming that Adobe is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for the way Acrobat 5 allows fonts to be embedded. The two companies, International Typeface Corporation (ITC) and Agfa Monotype Corporation (AMT), have matched Adobe's initial lawsuit filed in September to force a resolution of the issues. One need only take a close look at the multi-layered font-embedding restrictions these two companies are attempting to impose on authors of electronic documents to realize these are fonts to avoid purchasing and using like the plague in order to send a signal to ITC and AMT that PDF practitioners can do nicely without them.

Then there's the news today that Russian software programmer Dmitry Sklyarov is coming back to town -- or at least trying to return to the country that once wouldn't let him leave for some five months. Although Adobe is not a part of the ongoing criminal charges brought against the Russian company by the U.S. Department of Justice, the company is forever linked to the case for its invoking of the DMCA in response to a software program developed and sold by ElcomSoft that could circumvent copyright protection in Adobe PDF-based ebooks. The DMCA, for those who've somehow missed all the commotion, is that controversial piece of 1998 copyright protection legislation that in the past year has established a Kevin Bacon-like attachment to Adobe -- a mention of one is never far removed from the other -- for its role in the arrest of Sklyarov by the FBI in Las Vegas on July 16, 2001. In that sense, the upcoming ElcomSoft trial can't be a positive publicity boost for the company. We've had a pre-trial glimpse at ElcomSoft's list of proposed witnesses and exhibits, and several current and/or former Adobe staff appear likely to have bit parts in the unfolding drama -- if it unfolds.

Although the previous may seem hard to top for headaches Adobe could do without, the breaking news item today that Adobe may soon fire around 250 employees to help "maintain profit levels," and to offset slumping product sales, seems to achieve that. Sadly, these aren't just numbers, but rather some real -- and most likely good -- people who soon may find themselves outside looking in. It's not a situation we'd wish on anyone, especially in the current climate. As one of my colleagues suggested, couldn't they instead lower the profit levels to maintain the employees -- a blasphemous idea, no doubt, when viewed from a shareholder perspective.

Ohhh, did I mention the apparently leaked details published about some allegedly forthcoming Adobe ePaper products?

That's the week that was, and that many no doubt wish wasn't. As bad weeks go, this one's a winner as a loser. Let's hope for some better news ahead from and about Adobe, Acrobat and PDF -- and soon!


   

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THURSDAY

Good News: Roach-free Acrobat PDF: We concluded yesterday's Weblog entry wishing for some good Adobe news, and today we got some -- sort of. Under the current circumstances, which we detailed in yesterday's rehash of Adobe's Week from Hell, we'll take what we can get.

CNET brings us today's relatively uplifting news and headline: "Acrobat no longer a 'roach motel'." Don't worry, Mac users, it's not an account of another feature removed from your same-price version of the Adobe software. At least as best I can recall, there's never been a bug-trapping capability in Acrobat, although various bug sightings have been reported.

No, the lowdown is -- and this comes straight from the top -- that the headline is a reference to the expanding XML-oriented capabilities of Acrobat/PDF, which are making it easier to extract useful data from as well as convert content to PDF. Or as Bruce Chizen, Adobe's President and CEO, apparently put it during a special 20 year Adobe commemoration program yesterday:

"At one point, Acrobat was known as the 'roach motel' of data formats -- you could get data in, but you couldn't get it out. That's not true anymore. Acrobat is this big container for doing things."

As mentioned yesterday, Chizen took part with Adobe co-founders Warnock and Geschke in an event celebrating the company's 20-year history. Another milestone is on tap for early 2003, which will mark a decade since Adobe officially introduced Acrobat and PDF, which as CNET notes have moved centerstage at the company:

"An expanding role for Acrobat has become the centerpiece for Adobe's vision of 'network publishing,' in which information in documents can be freely shared across a variety of formats -- from Web pages to printed material."

One disclaimer: Acrobat won't "kill bugs dead," as one commercial, designed-to-kill-roaches product likes to boast.


   

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FRIDAY

One Year Later: Change of Direction: In December last year Dmitry Sklyarov and his family were finally allowed to return home to Moscow, Russia after a five-month detainment and a criminal indictment to show for his seemingly endless -- but highly publicized -- trip to the United States. This December it appears Sklyarov, along with his boss Alexander Katalov, CEO of ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., will reverse direction and return to the country he was so eager to leave. Judge Ronald C. Whyte today delayed the criminal trial against ElcomSoft, in which Sklyarov is expected to be a key witness, until December 2. The trial was to have begun this coming Monday, October 21; but as Planet PDF was the first to report a couple days ago, the American Embassy in Moscow recently denied visa applications for both Sklyarov and ElcomSoft, making it impossible for them to return in time for the company to face charges of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As if there aren't enough important questions to d be decided in what some are calling a potential landmark trial, the first question now is: Will ElcomSoft get its visas? If not, that may open up a whole different can of legal worms. According to an Associated Press story today, ElcomSoft lead attorney Joseph M. Burton "said he may file a motion for dismissal of the case if the visa problems can not be resolved."

One has to assume this can't really reach such a state of utter absurdity -- but don't wager too much against the possibility. If the right hand and the left hand of the government somehow find each other before December 2, the question shifts to: For whom is Sklyarov testifying? The prosecution distributed a news release last December announcing an agreement to defer charges against Sklyarov in return for his testimony in the case -- and the release expressly said he'd be testifying against ElcomSoft. Those who'd observed the company's dedication to winning the freedom of its young employee found the statement to be dubious, and later statements from Sklyarov and his attorney supported that conclusion. He had *not* agreed to testify *against* his employer, only to testify honestly -- for both sides.

Until we get a solution to the first question/predicament, however, we won't really know the answer to the second one. Stay tuned.


   

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