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  1. #1
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    The reason for PDFs

    Came across a rather annoying conundrum recently, involving my Dad's payroll company switching to a newer version of their software as support for the current version was being discontinued.

    When upgrading from pegasus opera version 1 to version 2, which is a jump from to a proper win32 application, i noticed that unlike previously where all printed output reports were in tab delimited text files, they are now in spangly PDF files.

    This may sound good at first glance, but what if i want to re-use the output of this report? It's not hard to make a different program parse a text file, but theres not really much you can do with a PDF.

    While trying to explain to my dad that theres nothing much you can do with a PDF aprt form look at it, i got the response "whats the point of using it then?".

    So thats the question i pose you guys n gals - whats the point in PDFs?

    A quick look on the adobe site claims they are a standard for sharing media that will be viewable across platforms in a read-only format. Funny, cos i thought PDF was more proprietary, and requires a decent sized download, whereas HTML is in fact a standard that is cross platform and support is built into pretty much every OS written in the last 8 years...
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  • #2
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    PDF is, as the acronym is explained, a Page Description Format. Explaining what this means can be tricky, however. In essence, it can be split up in a number of distinctions:

    - PDF is, in nature, a compressed serial processing language taking big inspiration from PostScript, which is a plain text programming language specifically made for print media representation. Thus a PDF file is not just a document, like a word file is - it's a program.

    - PDF is a vector graphics format. It was created by Adobe to be an improvement upon their PostScript vector graphics format. PDF is fast, smooth, elegant and efficient compared to PostScript and pretty much any other vector graphics language. Apple, who used PostScript for rendering in Mac OS Classic, use PDF for the Quartz Extreme rendering core in Mac OS X. A lot of the graphics capabilities of Mac OS X are based on this fact.

    - PDF documents are pixel perfect, scalable, aliased and paged documents. They are very good for any type of high quality rendering (e.g. print or high resolution computer displays). PDF is NOT a data format, it is a rendering format, excelling in exact graphical representation.
    Last edited by liorean; 09-29-2004 at 01:00 AM.
    liorean <[lio@wg]>
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  • #3
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    that makes sense, i guess it's time for an angry EMail to the software makers to ask why they've used it for report output then.
    "To be successful in IT you don't need to know everything - just where to find it in under 30 seconds"

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  • #4
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    i always use it for reports. It's the only format you should use for reports because:
    - you can prevent people from altering the content (when you encode the PDF, you can set the permissions to allow/disallow printing, editing or copy/pasting). For some reason, you think this is a disadvantage, but in many situations (when generating reports, contracts, train-tickets etc), this is exactly what you want;
    - you can password-protect them;
    - you can completely control how they will look. I think this is about the only cross-platform format that should be used for documents that are intended for printing;
    - they are virus free (if they are not edited, they can not spread viruses. when edited, there is a very low chance of getting infected);
    - they can be dynamically generated for free with about any server side language, just like an html-page.

    Any decent application should be able to deliver the output in multiple formats: PDF for reports, XML for datafeeds, xhtml for webpages etc etc
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  • #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by liorean
    PDF is, as the acronym is explained, a Page Description Format.
    I always thought it was a "Portable Document Format"

  • #6
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    Actually, if you read on Adobe's pages you see they use both of them. However, the Adobe PDF specification call it a "Portable Document Format" which is built on the "PostScript page description language", so I guess that would be the proper expansion of it.
    liorean <[lio@wg]>
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  • #7
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    PDF has actually been a godsend for every print department I worked for, and continues in the current. I can have my files distilled on the fly, compressing transparency, font embedding, standardizing color profiling, the whole works. It can preflight for us now, it can be built to embed traps, crop marks, bleeds, over/underprinting, inpositioning... pretty much after building a full set of specs, it can handle the whole works for me. It's made high-end printing dummy proof, and it's made it much more possible to catch errors before they hit -- and we're trying to get our huge database of designer notes and content information to go the XML -- PDF route -- which also allows me to work more comfortably in InDesign CS with it's XML support... you get it, it may be overkill for what you're using, but it's a simple, powerful format that has helped unify many of the companies I've worked for.

    Should you be so lucky to use a Mac OS X, you can save any file as a pdf straight out of any program, any part of the system, and it can be read by just about anything without the need for the Reader -- which integrates everything more for us even more closely. I would imagine Longhorn is going with this too, anyone know?
    // Art is what you can get away with. <-- Andy Warhol
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  • #8
    Senior Coder gsnedders's Avatar
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    Yeah, it useful to be able to "print" to PDF from any application...

  • #9
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    Longhorn will be using DirectX with Direct3D and DirectDraw instead of, as is the case for OS X, Quartz Extreme with OpenGL and PDF. So, it'll only be a built in feature of Longhorn if Microsoft adds that rendering facility, something I don't know if they will be doing or not. Remember that Microsoft used their own 2D bitmapped rendering system instead of going with PostScript for their main rendering facility as everyone else did. So, I wouldn't hope too much from Longhorn on this area.
    liorean <[lio@wg]>
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  • #10
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    Hmmm, that's a shame, it would be nice to standardize things, especially for print with the irony that most designs are mac, and large format digital printers are ran through a pc box because of the software... but, I think I'll worry more about IE 7 first
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  • #11
    Senior Coder gsnedders's Avatar
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    IE 7 - Faster, more secure, best standards support... Well... We can always dream...


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