I realize that many people use PDF files all the time. They have been around for years, and I believe the intent was to make them deliberately rigid, so that it would be difficult or impossible to tamper with the content. Well, over the years there are all kinds of ways and means developed for getting around them. But they are still around with an undeserved reputation for security. And PDFs continue to be clunky to use.
Yet many people continue to use PDFs.
Maybe its because they have learned how. As I get older, learning new things does not come as easy as it once did. So I can understand not wanting to have to learn new software if you’re using something that works for you.
Maybe it’s because that’s just how it’s done. The company bought the software, so that’s what we use.
Regardless, I have grown to thoroughly dislike dislike PDFs over the years for a variety of reasons.
My chief complaint is that PDF files are difficult to both read and work with. Maybe if you’re used to them it may not seem difficult to you, but compared to everything else we do in email or on the internet, PDF files are excessively restrictive.
1. You can’t send a PDF file as a PDF as part of your email message, it has to be sent as an attachment.
Email attachments can be very insecure… one of the most common ways computer viruses have been distributed has been to send the virus as an attachment. As soon as the recipient opens the attachment the virus is launched. Whenever there are viruses going around the first public safety warning is always:
“don’t open email attachments!“.
Even if the email appears to be from someone you trust, the sender name can be “spoofed”. I can’t tell you how much spam– for Viagara, no less– that I receive from what appears to be myself. (Pfizer should be ashamed!)
2. PDF is proprietary software. This means that it is deliberately not easily accessible. Even if you find a PDF file on a website, you can’t read it there. You need a special software (a PDF reader) to be able to open the PDF.
Whether you get a PDF as an email attachment or want to access information from a website, if you don’t have the software to look at it you have to download software in order to read it. Why should I have to download software in order to read a document, particularly when I did not have to download special software to look at the website that tells me the information I want is locked up in a PDF? Maybe I’m being unreasonable, but the only software I put on my computer is software I want on my computer.
3. Public information should be easily accessible to the public.
I get particularly annoyed when public service websites like the one for the school board or the township have important information locked up in PDFs. There is no reason for this, all it does is make the information inaccessible. My father is a really bright guy who uses email all the time. Even so, he can’t originate an email. he only knows how to reply. Yet he’s still probably far more computer savvy than most of his contemporaries. And all the people like him (still the majority of citizens) are denied access to public information locked up in PDF files.
For me, if it isn’t crucial information, I usually don’t look at it if its in PDF form, because I assume that who ever locked it up there really doesn’t want me to see it. If they really wanted to share the information they would have made it easily accessible.
If I do decide I must look at the PDF, I look at it in Ghostview, an open source PDF reader that I have chosen to have on my computer. So I can read a PDF file if I absolutely have to.
Because the PDF format is so rigid, (designed in the old days when screens were not wide) it is hard to read on my computer. It doesn’t easily conform to my screen. Oh sure, I can make it larger, but that makes it even more difficult to navigate through the document.
Instead of just scrolling down the document, as you do on a web page, you have to use the little arrow to “turn the page”. If you find information of value, you can’t just copy it. There are tools available for taking apart PDFs, but they require far more effort than simply highlighting and copying something that is either important or interesting.
4. Environmentally Unfriendly
The only comfortable way to read a PDF is on paper, after you print it out. So if the information is something that you only need to read once, it silly to have to waste our precious resources by printing it out. Certainly, the paper can be reused, then recycled. Except those options are still much more wasteful than reading it on a screen without printing it out at all.
The most ridiculous example of this was when I was doing some research on the environment. This municipality offers its citizens a Community cleanup guide which actually looks pretty good. The problem of course is that its miserable to read online, and its 100 pages long.
It strikes me ridiculous that their idea of cleaning up the environment includes forcing the citizens to print out 100 pages of paper they’ll likely read once, before it comes back to the municipality as garbage or recycling.
One of the reasons that digital files have become so important in our lives is the fact that it makes transmission of information far easier than it has ever been. Digital files are easy to copy so we can share information. PDFs seem to exist to try and make this more difficult.