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

For week beginning 21 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

PDFs have Rights, too!: Although they've not staged any demonstrations or filed any grievances, it turns out that portable document format (PDF) files have rights, too. Don't expect any of the PDF files you encounter on the Web (or elsewhere) to begin demanding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Wrong rights!

With its release today of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader v. 5.1, which is also available for download from our PDF Store, Adobe Systems is introducing a new concept for users of PDF -- that files can be granted any (or all) of a special set of "document rights" whereby the end user may or may not be able to perform certain actions with that file. Those assigned "rights" can include such things as saving data entered into a PDF form with the form itself or any comments added to the document; import and export form data, add sticky notes, highlights and/or strikethroughs; and/or apply a digital signature. The catch is that you'll have some or all of these "additional usage" features only if the originator of the document granted such rights to the file. If/when such rights do exist, the new Reader will enable the needed functionality for that particular file. For other files that do not carry these explicitly granted rights, the new Reader will function more like the old Readers (pre-5.1) -- certain menu items will appear grayed out.

Of course the easiest way to comprehend how this works is to see the features in action ... after you've successfully downloaded and installed Reader 5.1 from Adobe.com or the PDF Store. However, as noted above, pre-existing PDFs carry no special document rights information, so the new Reader won't allow you to save PDF-form-entered data in a "standard" form. For example, download the electronically fillable registration form for the upcoming PDF Conference (Nov. 22-24 in Las Vegas) -- and if you're looking for a great educational opportunity, you should be downloading and completing this anyway! -- enter some data, then choose "Save As" under the application's 'File' menu. You'll get the usual disclaimer:

Save Not Allowed

If you proceed to save this form, then close and re-open it again, you'll have only the raw form with none of the data you'd already entered. To verify that the document contains no such specific rights, return to the 'File' menu, choose "Document Properties" and you'll see that the "Document Rights" option is not available. No additional usage has been assigned in this case -- which is not surprising since the server-based tools that will provide the capability to assign document rights are not yet available. And when they become available, the average PDF creator won't suddenly be granting rights to PDFs -- this capability comes at a pretty high, enterprise-minded price.

PDF with Document Rights

So if you want to see these new features in action, your current options are very limited. Adobe has posted a sample "e-Government Income Tax Form" in PDF that does contain the necessary rights so you can put Reader 5.1 through its paces. As soon as you open this file with Reader 5.1, its "Document Rights" window pops up, showing you what rights are available and offering any needed instructions. Enter some data in the first few fields and again try to perform a "Save As" -- this time you should be able to do so ... with this particular form. If you close and re-open it, any data you entered into the form should be there, just as it would be if you had used the commercial Adobe Acrobat software or the more humble Acrobat Approval.

To borrow from PDF Forms Guru Max Wyss, this new Reader could be called "Saver*" ... so long as you add the asterisk: the statement would only be right if the document explicitly gave you such rights. If not, you'll have to settle for life, liberty and the pursuit of Adobe Document Server for Reader Extensions.

Now -- using either the old or new Reader -- it's still a good idea to complete that PDF Conference registration form where you'll be able to learn more about the latest Adobe releases (and get some free, on-site training) and a LOT more!


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TUESDAY

Adobe's Rollercoaster: No, they haven't added an amusement park to the San Jose-based corporate headquarters of Adobe Systems -- hold the jokes, please! -- but some company employees (presumably from all locations) may soon experience that pit-in-the-stomach feeling going rapidly straight down from a momentary great high. According to what purports to be an official company memo, CEO and President Bruce Chizen tried to put the best face he could in alerting the troops that the company's previously revealed "Workforce Realignment/Reduction" will result in the "elimination of approximately 260 positions." Impacted employees will learn their fate on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 24-25, only days after Adobe introduced a range of new products and solutions from its ePaper/Acrobat group.

Adobe's corporate mantra the past couple of years has been "Network Publishing," but its vision doesn't necessarily include the public posting of internal corporate memos. However, that's the forte of InternalMemos.com, which bills itself as the "Internet's largest collection of corporate memos and internal communication." Today's featured memo is allegedly a copy of Chizen's communication to employees about the upcoming ... ohhh, let's call them what they are -- and what Bloomberg.com called them in its initial report last week -- firings. There's just no painless way to break devastating news like this, even if this is being done in part to realign certain aspects of the company. According to The Wall Street Journal, Adobe plans to hire a number of new staff to work in strategic areas ("to focus on the Accelio business and sell to enterprise customers"), so the overall reduction in the Adobe workforce will be less than the 260 positions mentioned in the apparently purloined memo. In it, Chizen says he plans to hold a question-and-answer session Friday morning.

Although we've started to get used to the idea, it wasn't very long ago that the thought of major job losses in Silicon Valley was ludicrous. Not any longer. Even many employees who survive the cut have to be impacted by these seemingly -- in the current economic climate -- unavoidable events. Just having the possibility (and all that entails if it becomes reality) hanging over your head -- and this is the second significant wave of cuts at Adobe in less than a year -- and/or watching some colleagues sent packing is a major source of stress.

If there were some "right" things to say to those who get the bad news, we'd express them right here. But there really aren't. We only really know personally and periodically interact with a very small sub-set of all Adobe Acrobat team employees. We hope the group isn't hit too hard, and of course we especially hope none of those who, from our perspective are non-expendable, prove to be just that.

To those less fortunate, we can only say: 'Thanks for your efforts, and Good Luck.'


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WEDNESDAY

On the Brink in October: With the U.S. and a few ardent allies seeking to push the United Nations and key member countries to offer a no-nonsense ultimatum to Iraq that could trigger a potentially nasty war if not fully accepted, U.S. Pres. George W. Bush has tried to invoke another historic October confrontation to build support for his tough stance. However, some who served in the late Pres. John F. Kennedy's administration in the early 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis episode -- the world's first serious nuclear showdown resulting from the former Soviet Union's actions to arm Cuba with missiles aimed at the U.S. -- are saying Bush either misunderstands or is ignoring those lessons from the country's recent history. Armed with definitive photos of the weapon installations that he then displayed on national television as proof, Kennedy and his close advisors invoked a military blockade of Cuba. The now-dissolved Communist superpower blinked first, removing its weapons and avoiding what easily could have been a nuclear nightmare.

That real-world drama unfolded from October 22-29, 1962 -- forty years ago to this week.

If you weren't around to experience that fearful week, or (like the president) have forgotten some of the facts, The Washington Post is featuring its coverage from that period in a special, PDF-based series called "Reliving the World's Most Dangerous Days." Each day the newspaper is offering from its digital archive the front page in PDF from the respective date's coverage. It was on this day (October 23) back then that Kennedy -- who slightly more than a year later was assassinated while still in office -- called for the U.S. Navy to encircle the island not far from Florida's coast to await the Soviet fleet headed to Cuba, with orders to sink any vessels attempting to pass.

Washington Post 23 October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis headline

According to the Post, this historical selection "brings to life the observation of former Post publisher Philip Graham: that newspapers are the 'first rough draft of history.'"

As we've noted before, traditional newspapers converted to PDF are far from ideal to try reading on screen, as the page height and width dimensions, and typical newspaper layout, require a lot of navigation both vertically and horizontally. The PDFs are imaged-based, scanned from microfilm as part of the "Paper of Record" project created and managed by Cold North Wind. Inc., based in Canada. The Post is one of numerous newspapers worldwide involved in the special project, designed to build a subscription-based, searchable historical archive of full-page newspaper images.


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THURSDAY

WANTED: Your PDF Lemons: This isn't one of those times when you've got a legitimate problem or complaint, but you can't find anyone who wants to listen and/or have a look. In fact, we're even offering to reward three randomly selected participants who'll tell us about -- and send us -- that maddeningly troublesome PDF file you created that had you at your wit's end, and which has to this day never been satisfactorily explained or resolved.

Acting as intermediaries for Adobe Systems, we're seeking -- for a change of pace -- the WORST of PDF. By collecting an assortment of files that have plagued serious users, Adobe hopes to troubleshoot and learn from each situation with the intent of applying what they learn to future releases of the product. In other words, your contribution could eventually benefit a large number of users -- the old lemonade from lemons adage, in a sense -- if Adobe is able to apply what they may discover once they crack it open.

Adobe staff could spend a lot of time trying to simulate the sort of real-world circumstances that occasionally lead to the creation of a seriously troublesome PDF file, but the likelihood of replicating the exact steps, circumstances, tools and practices is in effect quite remote. So the best way to attack the problem is to troubleshoot some real PDF lemons. We think they're to be commended for being proactive about this!

If you think you've got a contender, please review the specifics about file submissions, and learn about the three prizes being offered. Then attach that cursed portable document and send it our way -- with some key details to help begin the diagnosis,


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FRIDAY

Acrobat/Reader - Who's on First?: There are those who resist the idea of purchasing the commercial Adobe Acrobat software for use with PDF files, finding -- or at least believing -- that the free Acrobat Reader is sufficient for their needs. In some cases it probably is. Anyone serious about maximizing the possibilities of PDF sooner or later realizes the price of "full Acrobat" is money well spent considering the broad spectrum of uses it opens up, far beyond what the free tool for viewing and printing PDFs (and a few more features in the latest Reader v.5.1 under the appropriate "usage rights" conditions) offers.

Then there are those who *have* purchased and exclusively use Acrobat, never bothering to install a copy of Reader. Makes sense, since Acrobat includes all functionality available in the free Reader.

Then there's a third 'want it both ways' group, which includes those of us who have a legitimate need to have both Acrobat and Acrobat Reader installed (and in more extreme cases, more than one version of each). Or maybe we just can't resist freebies. Whatever the reaons(s) for having both Adobe apps installed on the same computer, we face one annoying situation those in either of the first two groups never face: When you click on a PDF file to open it, which of the two possible programs will launch? [Ignore the fact that Mac OS X offers a third option -- it's own internal PDF-viewing tool.] And which do you *want* to launch in that situation? Too often the answer is not the same. Depending on computer platform, the solution to consistent behavior varies. (At least at one time in product history, the matter boiled down to which of the two had been installed most recently.)

When the final release version of Reader 5.1 became publicly available early this week, I installed a fresh copy on my Mac OS X-based iMac. At one point the following alert box popped up to notify me that Acrobat Reader 5.1 is not presently configured on my iMac to be the default application for viewing PDFs:

Reader 5.1 Not Configured to Read PDFs

It looked like this potential nuisance from previous versions of Acrobat and Reader was not going to be an issue. I simply had to answer the stated question: 'Would you like to make PDF files open with Adobe Acrobat Reader instead of Acrobat 5.0?' Thanks for asking, I thought! After carefully reading the displayed text to be sure I was choosing the right button to click -- NOT the one that was highlighted by default, as it turned out. I chose NO, as I want to continue using Acrobat 5.05 as my default. If and when I want to use Reader 5.1 for some reason, I'll manually launch that application. (On that note, WHY is the default selection set to highlight "YES," setting the preference to use Reader instead of Acrobat? Doesn't it seem FAR more likely that a person who has both applications installed will tend to prefer using the more fully featured option most often?)

Alas, I've discovered that my preference is not being honored. Despite what I indicated in response to the alert, when I download and open a PDF (Native Mac OS X does not use Acrobat or Reader to display a PDF inside a Web browser), it's the new Reader that answers the call. Even more annoying: With the full version already launched and open, and the Reader closed, when I download a PDF it's Reader 5.1 that again takes over, launching itself to display the file. Bad dog!

The fix may be close at hand; I'm about to do a little digging. But I'm curious if any others are experiencing this same disobedience? If so, please let us know!


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