18.326 value of PDF

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 2 Nov 2004 07:32:04 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 326.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Lisa L. Spangenberg" (16)
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

   [2] From: "Fotis Jannidis" <jannidis_at_linglit.tu- (45)
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

   [3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (11)
         Subject: pdfs

   [4] From: Hugh Cayless <hcayless_at_email.unc.edu> (16)
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

   [5] From: "Stephen Woodruff" <s.woodruff_at_arts.gla.ac.uk> (23)
         Subject: RE: 18.321 value of PDF?

   [6] From: Stewart Arneil <sarneil_at_uvic.ca> (18)
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:18:44 +0000
         From: "Lisa L. Spangenberg" <lisa_at_digitalmedievalist.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

Alexandre Enkerli <aenkerli_at_indiana.edu>

>Oh, and yes, several things have been written to praise or condemn PDF
>files. But in the context of Humanities Computing, it'd be interesting to
>see what PDF represents for people in our fields.

They have their uses. In terms of documents that are designed to be read on
the screen--e-books--.pdfs are rarely designed to take advantage of the
electronic features they offer (navigation, linking, indexing).

In terms of printable documents, again, there are problems with the way the
documents are made, particularly regarding their size, the presence of
unnecessary fonts, images, etc.

In other words, more often than not the files are not made correctly. I
understand why (expediency and cost) journals are often just scanned as
images and converted, often on the fly, to .pdfs, but it's a practice I
loathe. In addition to being just plain ugly and hard to read, .pdfs are
almost always not readable by the technology and devices used for screen

         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:19:13 +0000
         From: "Fotis Jannidis" <jannidis_at_linglit.tu-darmstadt.de>
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?


On the pro side:

- easy to produce
- well documented and understood standard
- preserves documents as they are in print

On the negative side:

- not really a web format: even compressed you get large files
- not really a screen format: awkward to handle on screen
- discards most or all structural information
- content can't be effectively reprocessed (new layout, reorganized etc.)

So most of the time pdf files are not really a good solution unless you
want to document a special layout of your text. I don't think that we have
anything near the ease of use pdf creators provide to encode line and page
breaks in xml files while you create a print output.


         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:22:33 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: pdfs

I bless the provider of a pdf when this provides an image of a published
article or book chapter, since that saves me a trip to the library to find
the book and, if this Library is the British, the outrageous cost (20p per
page, whole openings disallowed).


[NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend]
Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
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7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk

         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:24:07 +0000
         From: Hugh Cayless <hcayless_at_email.unc.edu>
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

Evil, certainly. Necessary, perhaps. I'll just list a few of the problems
I see with PDF files: PDF has no validation mechanism. PDF is an attempt
to mirror the limitations of print in digital format. In spite of this,
PDFs may be viewable, but not printable (that is, they may have components
that can be interpreted by a viewer, but not a printer). They aren't
readable without specially designed software.
They aren't easy to edit.

I realise some of these complaints may be seen as advantages, and also that
there is a movement to use PDF as an archival format, because it allows the
appearance of the printed document to be preserved. In my opinion,
however, PDF is best used as a presentation format only. It is reasonably
adequate at that.


Hugh Cayless, Ph.D.
Software Engineer
Lulu (http://www.lulu.com)

         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:24:32 +0000
         From: "Stephen Woodruff" <s.woodruff_at_arts.gla.ac.uk>
         Subject: RE: 18.321 value of PDF?

I disagree that
> .. issues related to the Acrobat family of
> PDF-processing tools are quite separate from
> issues related to the PDF file format.
A file is only useful, only relevant at the time of creation and the
time of use. It may not exist in the time between. PDF files cost to
create (a program is needed) and at time of use they need a slow
cumbersome program to use, they cannot easily be edited (an advantage in
the commercial world, inappropriate in the academic world) and seem
poorly conceived, being partly screen, partly page oriented, resulting
in indices that send you to "where page 21 would be if you were using
the same sized paper in your printer as the creator".
PDF represents a poor solution to the need for an interchange format
since it tries to do too much. I'm sure its a wonderful tool with which
to do wonderful things, but everyday I want to do simple things simply
and not have to build a bridge to cross a puddle, or use a 20 volume
encyclopaedia to check the spelling of metaphor.

Stephen Woodruff,
Resource Development Officer for Modern Languages,
George Service House, University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ Scotland / UK
phone +44 141 330-4508 fax +44 141 339-1119

         Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004 07:25:26 +0000
         From: Stewart Arneil <sarneil_at_uvic.ca>
         Subject: Re: 18.321 value of PDF?

>Given that PDF files are rather prominent in academic computing,
>what are your thoughts on the subject?

As I recall the PDF file format is a description of how a document looks -
based on PostScript. As such it's fine for generating output. By the same
token, for many research agendas how a specific document looks is not
interesting at all, and PDF is not designed to retain all kinds of other
information that might be of interest (say structural or semantic
features), though all sorts of "add-ons" have been kludged into PDF to
accommodate those kind of demands. The other feature of PDF is that it is
proprietary and owned by a commercial interest.

In our office we tend to create documents in XML and then apply XSLT
transformations to generate PDF when needed. The XML files capture features
that PDF is blind to, and PDF is given a sensible place as an output medium

Stewart Arneil
Head of Research and Development, Humanities Computing and Media Centre,
University of Victoria, Canada
Received on Tue Nov 02 2004 - 03:27:23 EST

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