"Adobe stepped in like an incompetent quango to administer"
January 18, 2015 5:03 PM   Subscribe

 
I'm pretty sure I don't get it.
Pretty sure I don't want to, either.
posted by signal at 5:08 PM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


UMMMmm i know you guys are having fun here,

but .pdf is for sending shit to the printer when you need to make absolute sure they don't fuck it up.

please don't ruin this for me.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 5:16 PM on January 18, 2015 [31 favorites]


Fucking hipsters ruin everything by blaming the hipsters.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:23 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I regularly have to fill out lengthy and complicated government-issued forms and then email them to clients for review and signature. What file format would you suggest I use instead?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:26 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ooh, ooh, now do PCL!
posted by benito.strauss at 5:27 PM on January 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


HTML is also a 90s format and therefore hip.
posted by Artw at 5:27 PM on January 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


microsoft word
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:28 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really like this. PDF files are just so useful and easy to work with from printing to presentations to correspondence and markup with coworkers. I feel as if I am still only learning to use them well.

but .pdf is for sending shit to the printer when you need to make absolute sure they don't fuck it up.

or at least make sure that only MY fuckups are included in what is printed.
posted by Hicksu at 5:29 PM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


"The PDF is democratic"

THE PDF IS DEMOCRATIC?!??!!?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:29 PM on January 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


quango is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation
posted by stevil at 5:30 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh I get it, I have a virus now.
posted by gwint at 5:32 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


gonna email out a .pdf of the flyer for the release party of my new album, only available in .ra format on zip disks
posted by jason_steakums at 5:34 PM on January 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


(cringes internally)
posted by boo_radley at 5:34 PM on January 18, 2015


You can’t edit a PDF...

I know someone who's never worked in electronic prepress or graphic design.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:40 PM on January 18, 2015 [50 favorites]


kill them all.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:42 PM on January 18, 2015


Well, when we say in our guidelines that stories should be pasted into the text of an e-mail, receiving .pdfs is something of a quandary (especially for the slushers who read from their phones). :-P
posted by Scattercat at 5:42 PM on January 18, 2015


The modern version of Agrippa is you put your novel in a fairly common file format then wait for hipsters to forget about it.
posted by Artw at 5:45 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


quango is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation

Yeah, I had to look that up. At first I pictured something similar to a quokka, which would have been much more adorable.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Imma let you finish, but the PDF is one of the most useful file formats of ALL TIME.
posted by selfnoise at 5:52 PM on January 18, 2015 [14 favorites]


I prefer my alt lit published as Encapsulated PostScript with all body text glyphs converted to outline.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:53 PM on January 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is amazing to read. It's like watching someone who has been flying all their life finally see the cockpit and start making up random words to describe the apparently impossibly complex task of getting the plane up into the air, despite their own personal experience being that air travel is both possible and apparently quite manageable.

PDF is not perfect but it is so much better than the alternatives. You can also have a delightful PDF experience by staying the hell away from Adobe's PDF generators and readers so that they don't have their evil way with your text.
posted by nfalkner at 5:54 PM on January 18, 2015 [25 favorites]


Ugh, PDF. I have to deal with PDFs at work all the time and they're often a goddamn disaster. Form field merging is flakey as fuck and then you have to deal with the godawful PDF viewers in browsers now which don't work properly half the time. Which I guess that part isn't Adobe's fault, except that Reader is now a behemoth program which touches way more of your system than a goddamn document reader should.
posted by kmz at 5:55 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, let's see some more respect for one of the four great religions.
posted by acb at 5:57 PM on January 18, 2015 [44 favorites]


Imma let you finish, but the PDF is one of the most useful file formats of ALL TIME.

Except when it's a year later and the original designer who made the original file is off backpacking in Europe and no one at the office even knows what Indesign is, let alone Quark and geeze, it's just a date change on multicolored pdf made from Photoshop that has been flatten.

Fuck you PDF, fuck you two times with Microsoft Publisher.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:59 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


pdf is default output for LaTeX, thus pdf is to be praised. Isn't it just that simple?
posted by escabeche at 6:01 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


escabeche: Sadly not, as I believe that LaTeX goes to DVI and then to ps, PDF or whatever. While I support the superiority of LaTeX, I have to be pedantic about this. Wait, I repeated myself.
posted by nfalkner at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2015 [11 favorites]


My Latest Article is a PDF shit.

Fixed that for you.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:13 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


PDF is a fucking mess. It's a descendant of PostScript, which was a full programming language, but for drawing on a page, with commands like "draw a line from there to there". The problem is that it's Turing-complete, so you can't know in advance how many pages your .ps document will have (or even if the program will eventually terminate: there could be an infinite loop).

So at its base, it's a subset of PS in some sort of container file. But Adobe has added to it. And added to it. And added some more, and now it's an eldritch nightmare that you should only parse using a special computer set in a lead box to avoid any contamination and/or madness.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:26 PM on January 18, 2015 [12 favorites]


The article appears to be attempting irony, but is more i dunno lol. It's trivial to make a PDF on your phone (open up Google Docs, type stuff, export — it's PDF), and reflowable PDF is a thing for reformatting for accessibility.

It's weird that PDF has become the de facto export/sharing format for prepress, as Adobe did everything possible to make it hard to modify. You can really screw up a PDF so the data's difficult to export. My favourite method is to re-encode the fonts so they're off any kind of standard. Copy and paste that one, suckas …

> Ooh, ooh, now do PCL!
IN;
SP1;
PU800,11080;
SI1,1.5;
LBScrew that, ␃
SP2;
LBbenito.strauss␃
SP3;
LB!␍␊HP-GL is where it's at.␃
SP0;
(for those unable to read the One True Graphics Language, a far inferior rendition in PDF is placed here for your edification …)
posted by scruss at 6:39 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm dumbfounded at the amount of PDF hate in this thread! I hazard a guess that everyone who dislikes it is running Windows? I've been using OS X for about 9 years now, and the built-in PDF support is phenomenal!

Rendering is fast, you can easily "print to PDF" from any application that supports printing, and you have the assurance that your document is going to open, and look exactly as it should, on nearly every platform out there...
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 6:40 PM on January 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


As an academic, PDFs are preferrred for distribution but I would never try to edit one directly.
posted by piyushnz at 6:41 PM on January 18, 2015


Does OS X still use PS/PDF for display?
posted by Artw at 6:41 PM on January 18, 2015


I'm dumbfounded at the amount of PDF hate in this thread!

I now someone who's never had to edit a PDF with Adobe Illustrator.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:43 PM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


> … LaTeX goes to DVI and then to ps, PDF or whatever

XeTeX, babies, XƎTEX: goes straight to PDF, Unicode enabled, handles all manner of TTF and OTF fonts.
The. Business.
posted by scruss at 6:49 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I know someone who's never had to edit a PDF with Adobe Illustrator.

More or less. I use PDFs as a lightweight immutable copy, a "digital hard copy" if you will. I use them a lot, but I would never expect any PDF I produce to be edited after the fact. If people are using PDFs as a live format that is going to be edited and passed around, I can sympathize...
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 6:53 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gosh Brandon, you sure do know a lot of people now!
posted by oceanjesse at 6:55 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you want to send a file to a recipient and be 100% sure that they're going to see what you see, send them an image file in a common format like PNG.

If you need them to be able to edit things, fill in forms, search the text, or other things like that, send them a word-processor file in a common format like Word.

In that tiny, narrow, specialized little wedge of functionality where it needs to be more capable than an image but more consistent than a document, that's where PDF lives as the "best" file format. And it's just good enough to survive there as the one true format and quash any momentum for an improvement, even though it really does suck mightily.

And to echo some of the previous comments a lot of that suck is under the hood. The actual PDF file format specification is filled with turds and inconsistencies and zillions of problems. But because it's so widespread applications have done what they can to avoid the minefields and produce usable, reasonably-consistent files. But the fundamental problem is that this is not true:
“and you have the assurance that your document is going to open, and look exactly as it should, on nearly every platform out there...”
In practice it's going to open/print as it should most of the time on most platforms. Well enough that it lulls people into a false sense of security, then springs the bugs on them. I don't use any operating system (exclusively), I use them all. With many different programs. I get files created on many different operating systems from many different programs. And I am constantly dealing with diagrams that end up covered in bizarre diagonal lines, individual characters being replaced by boxes, missing pages, and so many other inconsistencies.

PDF isn't as good as it ought to be for the role it plays and for the perception it has. The sooner it gets replaced by an improvement the better.
posted by traveler_ at 7:01 PM on January 18, 2015


What file format would you suggest I use instead?

Well, the suspenders and beard crowd says that Linux is best for everything, so Linux I guess?
posted by happyroach at 7:01 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you want to send a file to a recipient and be 100% sure that they're going to see what you see, send them an image file in a common format like PNG.

Do not do this for anything that is not a bitmap image.
posted by Artw at 7:03 PM on January 18, 2015 [22 favorites]


When on job hunts I would frequently be in anguish on whether to send my resume as a PDF with uniform formatting but risking that no one would want to wait for the PDF to load, or as a .Docx file which might have mangled formatting but it something that loads quickly and painlessly.
posted by hellojed at 7:04 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I remember seeing full LAMP stack jobs asking for resumes in Word format. Why why why.
posted by kmz at 7:11 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you want to send a file to a recipient and be 100% sure that they're going to see what you see, send them an image file in a common format like PNG.

No, just talk to the people you're sending the file to. 'Cause at my job we would bounce any file that came through like that.

The only PDF that's caused a problem in recent years was because the RIP at the printer was old and no one bothered to look at the plates and wonder why half the page was blank.

Talk to the person you're sending the file to and always look at the page.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:14 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


When on job hunts I would frequently be in anguish on whether to send my resume as a PDF with uniform formatting but risking that no one would want to wait for the PDF to load, or as a .Docx file which might have mangled formatting but it something that loads quickly and painlessly.

I attach both, so they can choose their preference.

That said, I've not gotten any interviews...

But that's maybe because I keep inserting little footnotes about how my résumé would look so much better in the ODF format it was created in.
posted by jb at 7:18 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ok, to nip this in the bud I'll clarify that I don't actually advocate anyone sending an image file unless it's appropriate to the content. I was using a rhetorical contrast to get to the idea that PDFs aren't a 100% guarantee of rendering fidelity, contrary to their reputation.
“Talk to the person you're sending the file to and always look at the page.”
In my day-to-day this is the method I use. But in my opinion it shouldn't be as necessary as it is.
posted by traveler_ at 7:25 PM on January 18, 2015


for those unable to read the One True Graphics Language

I'd be more willing to believe in PCL if HP (or whatever successor company is involved) wasn't horrendously stupid at any software they've ever attempted.
posted by Slothrup at 7:53 PM on January 18, 2015


That wasn't PCL, Slothrup; it was HP-GL, which lives on as a vector component of PCL. Old pen plotters speak it. It's gloriously low level, as it only know about straight lines.
posted by scruss at 8:03 PM on January 18, 2015


But Adobe has added to it. And added to it. And added some more, and now it's an eldritch nightmare that you should only parse using a special computer set in a lead box to avoid any contamination and/or madness.

I can't be the only person who had to rebuild a huge PDF-forms-based business process on short notice because Firefox decided that rendering a PDF was equivalent to PDF support.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 8:05 PM on January 18, 2015


And it can barely do that. At this point we're providing instructions to our customers on how to disable the built-in PDF viewer in Firefox (and Chrome and IE).
posted by kmz at 8:19 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the part of my job I love most. HAMBURGER
Resubmit - The document is not WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard compliant.
Document (4 issues)
Accessibility permission flag - Failed
Logical Reading Order - Needs manual check
Title - Failed
Colour contrast - Needs manual check
Page Content (2 issues)
Tab order - Failed
Navigation links - Needs manual check
posted by unliteral at 8:19 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Using PDFs as actual form submissions is pretty wack though, I have to say... we have some old processes which use that I was just sorta agog when I saw it.)
posted by kmz at 8:22 PM on January 18, 2015


That wasn't PCL, Slothrup; it was HP-GL

Ah! Well that's okay, then. I think HP-GL is old enough that it's a product of the original HP.
posted by Slothrup at 8:24 PM on January 18, 2015


I love PDFs. Someone should create a standard for a generic print to PDF driver that lets you select from a list of all applications on your computer that can import PDFs or receive scanning jobs (the other side of the standard implementation) so that there is truly no excuse, "work flow efficiency" or otherwise (nothing to sneeze at but usually hard to measure until people are familiar with the change) for printing something to paper only to scan or import it.

Then the PDF driver launches the desination application's import tool, possibly passing discrete Metadata harvested from the Postscript using business rules, and makes it super easy to index and import.

Tada, buys one more year of status quo (not including this change) before resource wars begin, jk/lol

My least favorite thing about PDFs is training someone (usually a power user supervisor type) to always save documents on their H: drive, including Word and other "originals" and to use PDF printing to publish their forms and polices and such so they are discouraging annoying to modify and easier to enforce compliance in using the same version of the document across the board.

Naturally one end game is to ignore the H: drive advice, ignore the exhortation to keep originals around in original format after a large reworking job that required "recovering" of other poorly maintained documents, and to send the PDFs via email instead of that shared folder, so everyone is using their own copy.

Then the power user moves on to another job elsewhere and I get to figure out which computer they were hiding out at the day they worked on the documents, recover the PDFs but no "originals" in other formats, and explain the whOle thing to the new person. Beginning with "so you can copy and paste stuff from these PDFs, but the formatting will never quite recover correctly and you're changing them substantially so you will be reformatting anyway...now remember, the word documents are like "originals" that anyone can edit so you should always keep a copy on your h: drive even if you share it to other people on the intranet, because you ultimately own it"

...but "can't you just" convert the PDFs back to word perfectly and make the changes for me and then use something even harder to edit than PDF so that nobody messes with them? Should I mark them read only?

Itnerdhumordeadhorse
posted by aydeejones at 8:36 PM on January 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


[When someone asks you to change a pdf] this is a good opportunity to joke about the real world 20th century origin of "cut and paste" and how editing a PDF is basically doctoring some legally binding form or whatever like a ransom note. I'm sure some folks pull it off and I just recently converted a weird PDF into a PNG from a screen cap just to adjust the gamma because a signature was dark. As it turns out, adding automatic gamma correction to high color scans of documents to white balance them and not look goofy is pretty calculus-intensive for a developer, or at least the one I begged to do it for his application before it properly supported black and white scanning
posted by aydeejones at 8:43 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does OS X still use PS/PDF for display?

Apple absolutely never ever used PostScript or PDF or any related format for display. You're thinking of Display PostScript which was a feature of NeXTSTEP that mercifully did not make it into MacOS.

MacOS used QuickDraw from day 1, then in OS X began switching to Quartz 2D.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:03 PM on January 18, 2015


Meanwhile, real artists are out here inventing new file formats.
posted by scose at 9:06 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, real artists are out here inventing new file formats.

Thus ensuring their works will never be seen.

Now what really burns me is this new goddam papyrus format. Once you write on it with ink, it's impossible to change. It's a dead end format. I liked the old clay tablets, at least those you could smooth out the surface and make corrections.

but .pdf is for sending shit to the printer when you need to make absolute sure they don't fuck it up.

No, PDF is for sending shit to the printer so it prints absolutely exactly the way you fucked it up. Do you know how many hours I used to spend editing raw PS code?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:21 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


charlie don't surf: Apple liked to claim in the early days of OS X that Quartz "uses PDF internally". There's certainly some degree of relationship in that Quartz 2D can output PDF. That was billed as a more-or-less native capability rather than a conversion process.

I don't know Quartz internals very well at all, but my understanding is that the it uses the PDF "Imaging Model," which is itself based on PostScript. I also don't know how much Apple has optimized away these early parts of the system as they've moved to 3D, better use of graphics cards, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 9:24 PM on January 18, 2015


I liked the old clay tablets, at least those you could smooth out the surface and make corrections.

Right up until your archive suffers a pyrolysis event, and blammo! your files are all read-only.

You don't see that garbage with the old engraved megaliths format.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:25 PM on January 18, 2015 [13 favorites]


Apple liked to claim in the early days of OS X that Quartz "uses PDF internally".

Well surely it uses PDF internally when it's outputting to PDF.

I looked at some documentation from the old Developer Previews, where a lot of the Display PostScript myths started. Here is a Quartz review from John Siracusa, from 2000, the very early days of Developer Preview 2, describing Quartz in detail. He explicitly says that Quartz uses PDF internally. And yet, all the official documentation I can find, uses weasel words like "a display engine comparable to PDF" or "uses a raster and vector graphics system that is easily convertable to PDF." This sounds like marketing of NeXTSTEP features that sounded really awesome but didn't exist in MacOS.

Anyway, I'm sure there are some long-time Mac programmers around who have used Quartz since the early days and could clarify this from personal experience.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:48 PM on January 18, 2015


Why is everyone talking about file formats
posted by clockzero at 10:02 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


PDF is a fucking nightmare for nearly every use case that everyone who routinely uses PDFs thinks is the most appropriate use case for PDFs.

I mean, I don't mean people involved in print, or people distributing little arty magazine documents, or academics, or whatever. I periodically get involved in generating them for all kinds of reasons, and they have a lot of technical merit for print applications. It's just that no other format in a lifetime overwhelmingly consumed with moving text around on computers has ever caused me more pain.

The idea of the File That is a Real Document is one of the minor banes of my existence. Fuck you, PDF. From hell's heart I stab at thee, etc.
posted by brennen at 10:07 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why is everyone talking about file formats

File formats are fascinating
posted by brennen at 10:09 PM on January 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's kind of funny how you can tell how long people have been using Mac OS by how many Strong Feelings they've ceased to have about PDF files.

I think, more than anything, the most exciting thing about switching from Windows several years back was the fact that opening a PDF was like opening any other file, and was no longer an occasion you'd have to get dressed up for. Then I found out that every single OS-produced print dialog box offered PDF output and it suddenly occurred to me that why doesn't everybody already have this
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:11 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another fun thing (not PDF's fault inherently) I found myself doing at one point was taking screen shots of bulleted or comma separated lists in PDFs with selectable but not copyable (DRM) text only to OCR the results and massage into SQL criteria. Just for reference table stuff basically because copying and pasting from the document was disabled and I didn't feel like looking for the perfect DRM smasher though I'm sure enforcement of this is just up to the developer of whatever tool you're viewing with at this ppint.
posted by aydeejones at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2015


File formats are fascinating

Is there a formal test for if something is a literary movement?
posted by clockzero at 10:22 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The idea of the File That is a Real Document is one of the minor banes of my existence. Fuck you, PDF.

What the hell do you think a "Real Document" is? Proprietary .docx? RTF? TEX?

AFAIK no common text or graphic apps on the PC or Mac have PDF as their suggested storage format. If your users are writing something in Word and then outputting to PDF, and quitting without saving the .doc file, then they are goddam idiots and your wrath at PDF is misplaced.

There was a time when Adobe offered to work with Microsoft to make PDF a universal native format for MSOffice and apps in general, so PDF files could be editable and could work with different apps on the same document. Of course Microsoft refused, as this would endorse NIH formats (Not Invented Here) and would undermine the lock-in to MSOffice. So if you want to blame anyone for this debacle, blame Microsoft.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:36 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


What the hell do you think a "Real Document" is? Proprietary .docx? RTF? TEX?

There is no such thing. The sooner the culture can absorb this, the happier we will all be.

AFAIK no common text or graphic apps on the PC or Mac have PDF as their suggested storage format. If your users are writing something in Word and then outputting to PDF, and quitting without saving the .doc file, then they are goddam idiots and your wrath at PDF is misplaced.

For what I have done, the direct users have always pretty much been great. It's more the way they and I were all enmeshed in an economy still structured by fossilized paper bureaucracy that has subsumed all this energy into file format superstitions, where the invoice is an Actual Invoice only if it's in Word format, or if it came over the fax line, if you have a PDF...

I mean, there's a whole set of reasons why this happens. Layers and layers of psychological machinery at work, stuff about authenticity and representation and whatnot. It is just a pretty good rule of thumb that if somebody wants a PDF, I'm having a bad time.
posted by brennen at 11:34 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


but .pdf is for sending shit to the printer when you need to make absolute sure they don't fuck it up

Pretty sure .pdf is for Beamer output.

I believe that LaTeX goes to DVI and then to ps, PDF or whatever

PDFLaTeX.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:53 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I worked in a government bureau that if you got emails, you had to print them, then physically time-stamp the printed document with a big mechanical stamping machine, then scan it back into the system where it was attached to the email document. But this was the Elections office, which by law, runs officially on paper, but in reality, they do everything electronically from paper records.

But I still see no reason why you personally suffer when someone wants a PDF. If it wasn't for PDFs, people would email jpegs of screen caps to distribute documents. Don't laugh, I've seen people do it. People do the stupidest things, probably the stupidest was when I went to an office to train some software, and the trainee cancelled because her machine was down. She called me back the next day, IT fixed it. Turns out, she had used the machine for 3 years and never once emptied the trash, the machine's disk was full.

Yes, people are stuck in routines. Most office workers who spend all day on the computer, most of that is basically "paperwork" in the sense it's work destined for a printed format (or a PDF analog of a print). Paper is a simple convention that the entire corporate structure is built on, from the width of filing cabinets to the workflow of documents from person to person. Eventually those metaphors will be left behind. But don't be too surprised if you hate the new metaphors.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:02 AM on January 19, 2015


Sometimes, charlie don't surf, I have experiences with technology that are not very much like your experiences with technology.
posted by brennen at 12:14 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


PDF readers need to be multi gig behemoths just in case you want to embed a movie or marry Adobe's document lifecycle managers.
posted by benzenedream at 12:31 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


The new machine order will make itself known by developing a perfect single file format that is totally and utterly incomprehensible for humans.
posted by nfalkner at 1:26 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well as an academic, I don't know of anything that could replace the PDF as we used it. Small immutable files with text and images living side by side in harmony.

It's Acrobat Reader that needs to die a slow and tortuous death.

Also, I hated the linked article. "The novel was still, though, the transitional traditional object that lent enough validation to this new movement that the newspaper was willing to cover it." Ugh.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:54 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Many 90's era PC enthusiasts were introduced to PDFs when our usually chintsy but sometimes awesome (think of the diversity in CD liner art) instruction manuals were replaced with CDs containing Adobe Reader, a plain text file that said "install this awesome software to view and print the manual yourself!" Of course being plain text the introductory file opened really fast but installing AR and worst yet using it was extremely slow. People were figuring out how to streamline that bloated install from near inception. My dad tried explaining document portability to me when I was 11 or so and I remember thinking "printing is expensive and Adobe is slow as shit and you can't do anything else while it's open" not because I was trapped in the pure DOS era (though I think we used a faster DOS reader) but because it just killed windows for everything else and sucked to use at 640x480 resolution.
posted by aydeejones at 2:55 AM on January 19, 2015


Apple liked to claim in the early days of OS X that Quartz "uses PDF internally".

Well surely it uses PDF internally when it's outputting to PDF.

I looked at some documentation from the old Developer Previews, where a lot of the Display PostScript myths started. Here is a Quartz review from John Siracusa, from 2000, the very early days of Developer Preview 2, describing Quartz in detail. He explicitly says that Quartz uses PDF internally. And yet, all the official documentation I can find, uses weasel words like "a display engine comparable to PDF" or "uses a raster and vector graphics system that is easily convertable to PDF." This sounds like marketing of NeXTSTEP features that sounded really awesome but didn't exist in MacOS.

Anyway, I'm sure there are some long-time Mac programmers around who have used Quartz since the early days and could clarify this from personal experience.


Not a programmer, but just my own personal experience - back when I was on OSX 10.2, my screenshots were output in PDF format... with live text.
posted by azpenguin at 2:55 AM on January 19, 2015


The other day I bought a software synthesizer package for the first time and it was a DVD case but inside the ante was upped. Not only is the manual gone but there's a stub of paper saying basically "lol there is no software in here, go get it yourself." I'm used to driver CDs having a 50/50 chance of being full of surprises simply for being out of date by the time the first wave of issues strikes a line of hardware. But I digress. I like PDFs all said and done. But I don't think they like me, because they lack that feature currently
posted by aydeejones at 2:59 AM on January 19, 2015


Even cute PDF won't return my affections. Just kidding, I never looked its way because the name was too twee. No cuteFTP either. I like my software modest and unaware of its beauty, like that one direction song
posted by aydeejones at 3:02 AM on January 19, 2015


I love FoxIT Reader for viewing PDFs and it has a decent printer driver. Some people speculate it's a sneaky Chinese intelligence operation because it's quietly Chinese (oh noes) and so endearing to Windows IT guys who are too impatient for Adobe Reader and wish to share its glory (and simple annotation abilities) across an organization.

On my home computer I balance the power dynamic by running Kaspersky Antivirus and WWJD LIBERTY SPYWARE FIX2000 to restore geopolitical stability
posted by aydeejones at 3:06 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Please please please Microsoft put Print to PDF in Windows 10 like you did Print to XPS. Please please please. Save As from Word is cool and all, but it would be awesome to have every application able to do this. See the praise from the Mac guys above!
posted by alasdair at 3:18 AM on January 19, 2015


I know someone who's never had to edit a PDF with Adobe Illustrator.
oh, gods.

clipping mask
 clipping mask
  clipping mask
   clipping mask
    clipping mask
     path
      clipping mask
       clipping mask
        group
         clipping mask
          path
          clipping mask
           path
posted by Thorzdad at 4:00 AM on January 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


There'so a trick to that whereby you change the blending mode then flatten transparency with the slider all the way to vector that will trim all those masks - had to use it at my last job frequently, but it's been a few months. Very handy, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:51 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whenever I pay a bill online, which is nearly all my bills anymore, I print a digital copy of the transaction in PDF and archive it. I also use it for taxes (US forms are all PDF). Same difference, bills and taxes. That's what PDFs do (sort of) well.

It's pretty crap for formatting books, however, especially the tendency to allow pages to flow. It can help with formatting on the screen but makes page numbers meaningless and footnoting wonky. But it's really good for printing virtual receipts. CutePDF does a good job of keeping file size to a minimum, if printer settings are similarly minimalist, much better than Windows default print-to-file or how some printer drivers pointlessly bloat the resulting file. With CutePDF you might get one or two images embedded, but just enough for context for printing a webpage that has a bit of formatting and maybe a logo. The legacy HP drivers do OK with it, but nothing fancy. PDFs are for forms and documents which aren't intended to be edited once finished, and they do make printing on-screen formats correctly more manageable for plenty of people.

It's not at all suitable as a flimsy wrapper for an image file, or it's pointless, but that's how a lot of PDFs generated from mobile apps seem to be handling that type of layout complexity- just bypass all the mixed text and media formatting entirely and... Fuck it, [print screen], wrap that in a PDF for no reason, and there you have it! NevrPocket archives of text musings and memos as JPGs wrapped individually in countless separate PDF files, each one named cryptically with only the date down to the second, buried deep within the seventh circle of your Dropbox folder hedge maze hierarchy faster than you can say, "Dammit! PDF! WTF?" What could be easier?!

I do hate Adobe Reader more than grout or measles. Hate.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:51 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's pretty crap for formatting books, however, especially the tendency to allow pages to flow. It can help with formatting on the screen but makes page numbers meaningless and footnoting wonky.

A hollow voice says, "LaTeX."
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:56 AM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


There'so a trick to that whereby you change the blending mode then flatten transparency with the slider all the way to vector that will trim all those masks

Yes, go on, share the info and we will subscribe to your newsletter!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 AM on January 19, 2015


XeTeX, babies, XƎTEX: goes straight to PDF, Unicode enabled, handles all manner of TTF and OTF fonts.
The. Busines


except that needing to use PSTricks totally fucks up your business then...
posted by ennui.bz at 5:19 AM on January 19, 2015


A hollow voice says, "LaTeX."

Oh yeah. It doesn't have to be bad. An e-book in PDF doesn't have to look like crap. The potential exists for better formatting using existing tools. Higher standards beckon. Yet...

Editing PDFs though. That shit is wack, like it shouldn't even be a thing. It's like the worst way to do the thing, always, but it's where we all end up eventually. Go home, Adobe. You're Adobe.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:33 AM on January 19, 2015


We need plinth in this conversation, unless he's wisely keeping out of this. Quoth he:
PDF is a file format that is made to be able to represent marks on a page.
It dictates neither how those marks are made nor whether or not that carry any meaning.
So anyone selling PDF as an import format deserves all the scorn we can heap on them.

I was just getting out of publishing when all-PDF workflows were coming in. Having been between a huge postscript job, a platemaker, and an angry client, I know that it was very compelling to have the idea of one universal print format that just! worked! everywhere! . ISO 32000 and PDF/A offer some hope of the endless creature-feep being frozen for some users as long as they can get a stable (that is, not from Adobe) workflow down. PDF/X just looks like a wonderful way of extracting cash from clients for certification.

In a strange piece of circular experience, I'm back working with PDFs, but this time in utility compliance. PDF has replaced paper for us. I wish there were a cheaper/less horrid editing tool for PDFs than Acrobat Pro, but it's what we use. Everything is a workaround in Acrobat Pro. It doesn't help that the authority which creates these forms locks them from the outset (yay, thanks!) and then has a set of byzantine rules for what's acceptable and what isn't (like not accepting electronic signatures, which are a legal standard in Canadian construction; they want wet sigs or nothing).

Maybe PDF is too many overlapping handy features for too many people. I also use it for archiving forms at home, storing those awful utility/bank PDF statements as very compressed B&W OCR pages. Searchable(ish) and small. But I also see that it perfectly fits the needs of bureaucratic government agencies who have a requirement to publish data by law, but don't want those meddling kids digging too deeply. One of the US military agencies publishes a monster PDF every year of all of their purchase contracts. It's thousands of pages, and uses about ten different table layouts to meet the requirement to publish, but not make it at all easy for anyone to understand. Well played …
posted by scruss at 5:37 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


It used to be, that if you wanted to send someone a message, or merely to write something down, you used something called a text editor. People would fight over whether the better text editor was vi or EMACS. Then, the Internet was taken over by business people and form became more important than content. I'd already experienced something like this when I'd bring in my "What I did on my summer vacation" homework written in longhand on lined paper while those who knew better had theirs typed and encased in a nice folder made of colored paper. I knew without reading it that what they did on their vacation was superior to anything I'd ever do.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:38 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is this a new-fangled version of griping about people sending their emails as Word attachments?
posted by surazal at 6:02 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just my own probably incorrect $.02 about PDF and Apple. All Apple OS X and iOS devices use a PDF engine for display and for printing. When you print, what is displayed on screen is basically sent to the printer, unless you create some other view to print from. This means what you see is what you get. Before this, other systems and software (*cough* Windows, Word, etc.) used two different sets of code to do this, resulting in changes between display and print. Using the same PDF-generating code for display and print made things very easy for programmers, because, for instance, you create a view, then you print from it instead of creating a special print view. This means way less work for the programmer. I did this with a word processor I programmed way back when. It prints exactly what you see on the screen. That is also why every Apple app that can print, can print to PDF. Apple brought this idea over from NeXT, where PS was licensed for this purpose. Apple basically made a clean-room reimplementation for their PDF generator so they could use PDF without having to pay Adobe for it. That is why Windows pushes XPS and not PDF, because that is their version of this idea (which no one is interested in).
posted by jabah at 6:11 AM on January 19, 2015


Please please please Microsoft put Print to PDF in Windows 10 like you did Print to XPS.

You can do this, sort of with an item of setup and an intermediate step.

Setup: install a postscript printer.

Intermediate step: print to file using the postscript printer.

Final step: ps2pdf that fucker.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:20 AM on January 19, 2015


There'so a trick to that whereby you change the blending mode then flatten transparency with the slider all the way to vector that will trim all those masks - had to use it at my last job frequently, but it's been a few months. Very handy, though.

Just select all then hit the keyboard shortcut for "release clipping mask" repeatedly until done. I do this all the time for tweaking graphs and such dumped as PDF when there is something funny about a specific point or etc. Might not work as expected in all cases but for me it suffices.

And those of you telling people to disable the built-in PDF rendering in Firefox - ugh. The reason it exists is because Acrobat is a bloated pig that chokes the system upon loading, and is also a giant security hole that almost never gets patched in a timely fashion especially in government systems. If I need to use form fill I will download the goddamn file. If you are using PDF forms to automate something on the web perhaps I can introduce you to HTML forms, because wtf are you even trying to do here in the first place, christ.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:42 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


My problems with PDFs come from user error or obtuseness. Like when we get sent a request for proposal in PDFs that you cannot copy/paste from, or worse, are password-protected. These are basically sets of directions that often need to have sections copied to various assigned people who don't want to read through a massive document to find the tiny bit that applies to them.

PDF comment tools are kind of clunky but I've gotten used to using them to do copyedits on our projects also. Considering my crappy handwriting, this is probably a win for the people who get my edits.

I would gladly strangle Microsoft Word with a belt and throw it into the ocean, though. That omnipresent piece-of-shit software threatens to ruin my day on a regular basis.
posted by emjaybee at 7:47 AM on January 19, 2015


Yesssss, let your hate flowwwwww. Join me in Microsoft Office 13!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on January 19, 2015


Yes, go on, share the info and we will subscribe to your newsletter!

Here's a quick example: They use it as an example for placed raster images with clipping masks, but it's the same idea. with vector objects.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2015


As somebody who does a moderate amount of graphic design, PDF is indispensable.

I do have friends who work in offices—especially in healthcare with people who latch onto PDF with the cargo-cult mentality that low-computer literacy information workers tend to and everything gets output as PDF (with its frisson of connotative authority) without retaining the original versions. Since my friends how to work several 'let's-put-the-toothpaste-back-in-the-tube' PDF editing applications, they're generally on the hook to fix these things when they go wrong.

This is a training issue. PDF is a great publishing format and a rotten document interchange format. This is hardly Adobe's fault.*


*What is their fault: garbage, garbage creation/viewing tools and feature bloat that makes viewing a great format a fraught experience with low general goodwill.
posted by whittaker at 7:52 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Some people speculate it's a sneaky Chinese intelligence operation

Is that worse than the sneaky Adobe intelligence operations? What an effort it takes to keep Adobe-[anything] from phoning home with never a trace of a "may I?" Locate and delete all instances of AdobeUpdater.exe, AdobeUpdaterInstallMgr.exe, AdobeUpdater.dll, and AdobeUpdaterApp.dll.

And they proliferate. There's an AdobeUpdater.dll in ~\Adobe Bridge\, another in ~\Adobe Bridge CS3\, yet another in ~\Adobe Device Central CS3\, and more in ~\Adobe Stock Photos\, ~\Adobe Stock Photos CS3\, ~\Adobe Illustrator CS2\, ~\Adobe Help Center\, and ~\ExtentScript Toolkit 2\. (Nothing related to Adobe Reader in the list because I scraped Reader out quite thoroughly with Revo before installing Foxit Reader (portable edition, which doesn't get to run any Windows installer.)

And I haven't got them all yet. Every so often my firewall logs are still ratting out something I wasn't aware of that suddenly woke up and tried to access [whatever].adobe.com.

Can't wait for GIMP and Inkscape to get as good as CS2/CS3-level Adobe products so I can give PS and AI the Revo treatment too. For my purposes they're almost there.
posted by jfuller at 7:59 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


traveler_: “and you have the assurance that your document is going to open, and look exactly as it should, on nearly every platform out there...”
In practice it's going to open/print as it should most of the time on most platforms.
You have not even minutely changed the meaning of the first sentence.

This sort of argumentation boggles me - do people not parse sentences at all before disagreeing with them? "The car must come to a full stop." / "No, the car has to halt completely."
traveler_: Well enough that it lulls people into a false sense of security, then springs the bugs on them. I don't use any operating system (exclusively), I use them all. With many different programs. I get files created on many different operating systems from many different programs. And I am constantly dealing with diagrams that end up covered in bizarre diagonal lines, individual characters being replaced by boxes, missing pages, and so many other inconsistencies.
Yes, it's true, it is not a perfect solution for every program ever run on any OS ever created. But, as you note, there's no better alternative currently poised to replace it. It works 99.9% of the time, which is why it is the go-to standard for forms and downloadable publications.

When people attempt to explore the boundaries of what it can do, it can sometimes fall flat. Eh. There are probably programs out there that do function well for those purposes. The best car on Earth is still a piss-poor boat.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:54 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do you know how many hours I used to spend editing raw PS code?

Woah, have you met Brandon?
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:23 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


As somebody who does a moderate amount of graphic design, PDF is indispensable.

As someone who also does GD, I'd totally agree. It's a pretty great format for ensuring what you sent will output exactly as intended.

The problem is that a lot of office workers use the format via the various Microsoft products and that's just...no, don't do that. But they can't, 'cause Microsoft, so it just turns into first grade shit show in those circumstances.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:24 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can't wait for GIMP and Inkscape to get as good as CS2/CS3-level Adobe products so I can give PS and AI the Revo treatment too. For my purposes they're almost there.

ROFL never going to happen. It is impossible under the GPL. To achieve parity with even the baseline pro feature set in Adobe apps, you need to pay for licensed IP like Pantone colorsets, color profiling from commercial printing ink sets, etc. You can either have free software, or professional features, but not both. But hey, this year is The Year of Linux on the Desktop. Again.

Just my own probably incorrect $.02 about PDF and Apple. All Apple OS X and iOS devices use a PDF engine for display and for printing. When you print, what is displayed on screen is basically sent to the printer, unless you create some other view to print from.

(facepalm) I thought we just went through this point. I have just searched through tons of MacOS developer docs and MacOS does not use PDF to display graphics on screen. It has a completely separate component, PDFKit, that converts display graphics to PDF. It has to, since PDF does not support all the types of graphics that Quartz 2D can display.

If anyone can point to official documentation that says otherwise, let me know.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:19 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: You have not even minutely changed the meaning of the first sentence.

Really? Because I meant to change a sentence that used qualifiers like "assurance", "exactly", and "nearly every" into a sentence that used the qualifier "most" twice.

But you're right, English is tricky when trying to make a distinction of degree. So I'll use numbers: people are lulled into believing it works 99.9% of the time. Last semester out of 12 student teams submitting weekly reports, an average of 2 of them would have problems with inconsistent rendering between platforms. PDF works 83% of the time.

"Gee that's low" you say, "my experience is different" you say. "That's because SolidWorks/Google Docs/iPad support for PDFs is bad" you say. "They're students, they need to learn how to use their tools better" you say. You might be right.

"It's absurd that that's even necessary" I say.
posted by traveler_ at 10:53 AM on January 19, 2015


traveler_: So I'll use numbers: people are lulled into believing it works 99.9% of the time. Last semester out of 12 student teams submitting weekly reports, an average of 2 of them would have problems with inconsistent rendering between platforms. PDF works 83% of the time.
... in your miniscule sampling of 12 documents.

Do you really think the IRS sees a 17% failure rate in online tax forms? Because that's what you are implying, with your view of the ocean from your puddle.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:11 AM on January 19, 2015


But I also see that it perfectly fits the needs of bureaucratic government agencies who have a requirement to publish data by law, but don't want those meddling kids digging too deeply.

And scruss nails the reason data journalists spend 26 percent of our days with migraines.
posted by mfriesen at 11:35 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


So in addition to saying "gee that's low" and "the IRS's experience is different", you're using one other way of nit-picking my example I didn't see and try to forestall: "your sample size is too low because obviously as an example it represents your entire life's experience with PDFs".

I have no doubt the IRS sees a much lower error rate. I also have no doubt that, and my fundamental point is, and the only reason I'm still bothering to type words in what I never expected to turn into an argument is, that they had to do more work than they should have needed to get it that low.

I've been trying to think of a good analogy and I think being in the US and using imperial measurement is a good one: It's not like it's broken, it's not like it doesn't work. It's just that in so many places and in so many ways it's needlessly worse than it should be.
posted by traveler_ at 11:37 AM on January 19, 2015


> To achieve parity with even the baseline pro feature set in Adobe apps, you need to pay for
> licensed IP like Pantone colorsets, color profiling from commercial printing ink sets, etc.

All they need to do is satisfy my own needs. They're only a little short of that. As for Adobe products, one of my big needs is "runs on Linux."
posted by jfuller at 12:47 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Meh, PDF is a fine format for what it is, and a hell of a lot better than HTML+CSS+JS or Microsoft Word, both of which are harder to render consistently. Microsoft can't even make various versions of Word render documents consistently.

As it turns out, making a "digital paper" format is hard. There are conflicting requirements. (Some people want it to be pixel-perfect for prepress, some people want it to reflow on different screen sizes! Some people want simplicity in rendering, some people want a built-in programming language.)

PDF does a fairly good job, most of the time. I can't think of any other vector-based format that is as widely accepted and consistent across such a range of devices. (DVI is a good format but only ever gets used as an intermediate format by people running LaTeX. Microsoft had that XPS crap that they were pushing for a while and never took. True PS is difficult to render, although PDF is getting back there.)

Adobe Reader, on the other hand, is a steaming shitpile of awfulness, and everyone responsible for it ought to be sent to some sort of computing gulag somewhere, with nothing more advanced than a printing calculator, just to ensure that they can't ever foist anything like it on the public ever again.

The problems with PDF are almost all due to having the format and the dominant implementation both controlled by the same company. That always leads to crappy feature creep. (Cf. Microsoft Word "format".) However, you can avoid most of that by just never, ever using Adobe's tools, and sticking to 3rd party tools that only implement the commonly-understood parts of PDF, and have no external references (e.g. PDF/A). Documents produced that way are probably one step up from straight ASCII in terms of long-term readability.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Do I also get to rant about how no-one bothers to use PDF metadata, even at all? Most documents I see have the title "Microsoft Word - Document1". These fields help you find stuff! They are your friends!

PDF also has one really weird limitation: it only supports rectangular pages. I so wanted to make PDF punchcards of old Fortran code, but I couldn't get the page to have the right number of sides.
posted by scruss at 2:59 PM on January 19, 2015


As for Adobe products, one of my big needs is "runs on Linux."

Last I heard, ILM runs Photoshop and other Adobe apps on Linux using WINE solely for the purpose of avoiding Windows license fees and license management.

The problems with PDF are almost all due to having the format and the dominant implementation both controlled by the same company.

PDF is an open standard, controlled by the ISO. Adobe has proprietary extensions to PDF but you don't have to use them. Hardly anyone does.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:07 PM on January 19, 2015


I hazard a guess that everyone who dislikes it is running Windows?

Not in my case. I've been using InDesign (used it from version 3 onward when thankfully it became a viable alternative to Quark) for years (and still do), as well as Illustrator when it's more suitable for a type of project to produce. Of course native versions of the files for future editing are saved but PDFs are produced for printers/end users, unless it's web content, but even then, in some cases, a PDF version is available in addition to the HTML version. I seem to recall MS wanting to do some sort of native PDF support and Adobe getting all up in arms about that so they weren't allowed to but I maybe recalling erroneously.

I wouldn't call people who produce a document in say Word and then don't save it in an editable format but in PDF idiots. They are probably most likely thrown a task to do without even being explained simple production principles. People most often have to learn the hard way. Take for example, the use of Google. I get asked questions all the time from clients that I don't know the answer to. I Google the question and find the answer. Send them a link. Charge some money. (Another great example is the can you tell me my password question, to which the answer is, click the "Forgot Password" link.) These people are not idiots, they simply don't know how to troubleshoot what they perceive as issues that are complex which usually are not. They are people like most others that have 1000 others things to do because management believes that computers do everything so people can do everything now in a day. They are people who don't necessarily have to do these things every day so they don't become familiar with best practices.

Look at print designers. A great deal of the web projects we get feature page designs by people who thus far, have worked in the print world. They still talk about the fold, the point size of the fonts, the fonts themselves, and what the hell do you mean kerning for the web is not the same as it is in print? What do you mean that users can change the size of the typeface? What do you mean we should make it so the layout on a phone is different than the layout on a desktop browser? What do you mean different browsers display things differently? What the hell does responsive mean? Why the hell should I learn all this stuff just to do a design for the web, just make it look exactly like this, since I'm a professional and you're just code monkeys, etc..

Again, they're not idiots, they are set in their ways and learning an entirely different paradigm is not always particularly appealing. It might seem like you're questioning their ability when in fact you're trying to point out that there are a lot of differences, less absolute control, and more variables when designing for the web in comparison to print.

Whenever I get a new client, say for a branding project, we educate them as to why we do things the way we do and why they should do certain things to make their live easier. What they do with that afterward is largely up to management who usually couldn't give a shit about real productivity. The concept of a production editable file and an end user file is not a common one it seems. How many of us have been sent a logo in .gif format for example? Many people with a given company likely have no fucking idea about Illustrator or vectors or bitmaps or what PDFs actually are. They don't have the time or need to know, in most cases, and when they do, they often aren't given the correct and/or relevant information.

Don't care for PDF forms but form production in general, in any medium, can be tedious. But PDFs have never given me a problem on Windows. The only issue I have is with printers so far out of date they themselves don't understand PDF and ask me for a TIF instead. Thankfully that doesn't happen much anymore.

All that said, I wouldn't want to read any literature or pretty much anything that was not an eBook format (.epub for example) but if I wanted to print out something, give me a PDF version as well or one hell of a style sheet for the HTML/epub or whatever else format you have.

I find PDFs useful for what they do well. I have no idea if Adobe is trying to push them to be used for things they don't do well but wouldn't be surprised, that's upper management and marketing for you.
posted by juiceCake at 4:37 PM on January 19, 2015


charlie don't surf:
Quartz 2D’s rich graphics capabilities are based on the Portable Document Format (PDF). Apple used the open specification for PDF as the basis for writing their own display compositor code.
posted by jabah at 7:43 PM on January 19, 2015


You can either have free software, or professional features, but not both.

Or, in the case of IIS, neither.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:01 PM on January 19, 2015


Yes, and PDF is "based on" QuickDraw because it has similar windowing abilities and you can easily convert graphical objects between QuickDraw and PDF. But that does not mean that QuickDraw actually uses PDF as its internal representation. Nor does Quartz.

You may think this is quibbling but it is an important distinction. Let's go to O'Reilly Mac Devcenter, an independent voice that has no incentive to hype Apple software features.

Quartz 2D is a key component of the Core Graphics architecture of Mac OS X, and is the modern technology in the system whose functionality most closely matches that of QuickDraw. It implements a drawing model very similar to the one found in the Portable Document Format (PDF) from Adobe Systems, and allows an application to issue drawing commands to an extensive range of graphics devices.

Quartz 2D, however, is not the PDF analog to Display PostScript. While the API designers at Apple have used PDF as a guiding hand in implementing Quartz 2D, the actual Quartz API extends the basic drawing model with additional features like integrated color management and support for transparency and compositing when working with devices that support those kinds of features.


Emphasis mine. PDF and Quartz are similar because they are both descendants of QuickDraw. That is pretty much where the similarity ends.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:54 PM on January 19, 2015


So often on the web, an article will be interesting but ruined by a lot of moronic comments below the line. One of the things I love about MetaFilter is that it is frequently an inverse version of that phenomenon.
posted by KateViolet at 12:22 AM on January 20, 2015


> PDF and Quartz are similar because they are both descendants of QuickDraw

Although PDF inherited its drawing model from PostScript, which in turn was based on research which predated LisaGraf/QuickDraw.
posted by scruss at 7:03 AM on January 20, 2015


Hey scruss!

I came in here expecting hating on PDF and was not at all surprised. Much to my dismay.

Your PDF hatred is light weight and mostly ill-informed.

Seriously. It's like you've only read the foreword to the book "PDF: What a Bastard" and are trying to write an excoriating review of that tome.

I read the article, which honestly reads like the kind of wankery that you type in a word processor/page layout program while you're getting used to the UI, and shortly thereafter pulled it up in my own suite of tools and decided that Sonja either totally gets the joke or missed an opportunity. Not sure which.

See, the PDF of the article is encrypted with an owner password which, in theory, prevents other people from taking it apart and editing it. Which also means that it can't ever be PDF/A. Even though using PDF and not PDF/A as a terminal document format limits the types of mutations that can occur in document rendering from software upgrade (I'm looking at you HTML), this file not only is not PDF/A, but the fonts aren't embedded so that wildcard is also in play. It's like she was thinking, "I'm going to prevent changes to this document to emphasize its permanence in its form, but I'm actively going to take the steps to make sure that is less likely to happen."

So your PDF hatred is lightweight. I helped foist this monster on the world 20+ years ago and I'm still writing PDF tools. You want hatred? Start talking about unnecessary font re-encoding (§9.6.6), pre-unicode support for CJK fonts(§9.7.5.2), XFA (§12.7.8, the spec for which is more than 2x the ISO standard, and used a flavor of DTD that is non-standard and pretty much unused by everyone on the planet. Except Adobe.), the use of a structural b-tree for the pages (not mandatory, but you have to be able to consume it, § 7.7.3) when the number of pages is going to top out at around 2000, for which a simple array would have been so much simpler and compact, or maybe the Measurement Properties(§12.9), embedded 3D artwork (§13.6.1), Presentations (§12.4.4). I'm currently working on implement code to enable my customers to digitally certify/sign PDF documents. I've been avoiding that particular feature for years. Oh Holy Shit. You don't even want to know, except to know that when I get stuck for over 3 weeks and finally get unstuck and still can't explain what was causing the problem in the first place, there is something seriously wrong with the spec.

At least PDF is NOT a Turing complete programming language like PostScript. Oh except when it isn't. Did you know that in order to support all flavors of Unicode conversion of CID fonts you have to be prepared to run a full PostScript interpreter? I shit you not.

And that's not even the worst of it. See, other people just skim the book "PDF: What a Bastard" and then try to write PDF and they test it by opening it in Acrobat. If Acrobat opens it, they declare victory and start puking up millions of new broken PDFs into the world and suddenly I get complaints when someone writes a PDF that declares itself to be version 1.4, but uses a cross reference stream (introduced in version 1.5), or appends 10K of shit from their file system because they wrote over an existing file and forgot to truncate it.

And still this is not even close to the raft of problems created in TIFF by Microsoft when they decided to (1) extend it with a type of JPEG encoding that is well and truly broken and (2) release a TIFF viewer that completely ignores the photometric interpretation tag and making sure it was shipped standard as part of Windows XP.

Where I want to really put my efforts is in tools that make it easy for software engineers to make PDFs that are syntactically correct by hiding that book as much as possible.

So I leave you with this little gem (be sure to use Acrobat, as I'm pretty sure that the feature is not supported in FoxIt in Chrome - HOORAY FOR FLIPPING STANDARDS!), which I crafted up with my own tools to amuse the people in our support department.

There are few people who love/hate PDF as much as I do.

For the curious, here's the code I used to make that PDF:
        public void MakeDrivenSoundAnnot()
        {
            using (FileStream stm = new FileStream(ImageUtilities.ImageDatabase + @"\Pdf\PdfGenerating\Resources\Multimedia\fartmachine.wav",
                FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read, FileShare.Read))
            {
                WavReader reader = new WavReader(stm);
                Sound sound = Sound.FromWavReader(reader);

                PdfGeneratedDocument doc = new PdfGeneratedDocument();
                PdfGeneratedPage page = doc.AddPage(PdfDefaultPages.Letter);
                PushButtonWidgetAnnotation button = new PushButtonWidgetAnnotation(new PdfBounds(72, 400, 144, 40),
                    "Pull my finger", null, null);
                PdfSoundAction action = new PdfSoundAction(sound);
                button.AdditionalActions.OnClickDown.Add(action);

                doc.Form = new PdfForm();
                page.Annotations.Add(button);
                doc.Form.Fields.Add(button);
                doc.Save("soundbutton.pdf");
            }
        }

posted by plinth at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


pre-unicode support for CJK fonts

Oh god I remember that. Web standards for CJK were particularly horrid at that time, it was one of my personal nightmares. If you look in most browsers, there is still a legacy feature to cover that, in Firefox it's View>Character Encoding. I will have to dig around my archives to see if I can find any ancient pre-Unicode PDF documents in Japanese, just to see if the current apps mangle them.

BTW, your Pull My Finger stunt does not run on Mac Preview.app, which is currently my preferred PDF reader. Yeah I have Acrobat Pro XI but I rarely use it. I wish I could tell you about the last Acrobat Pro job I did, but it's under NDA. You would laugh. Or cry. All I can safely say is that I think my improvement to our PDF workflow may have contributed to a mass layoff and outsourcing the jobs of hundreds of people. I have a bad history of creating workflows that make my own job obsolete, but this is the first time it (maybe) resulted in any layoffs beyond my own.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:16 AM on January 20, 2015


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