back to article Firefox points the way to eradicating one of the rudest words online: PDF

It's not sexy but it is good. Mozilla deserves our love for implementing a better PDF reader in the new Firefox browser, 106. It takes away the pain, just a bit, by doing in-browser renderings that can be annotated, decreasing the chance you'll have to find a third-party reader that does what you need. Because, yes, it's 2022 …

  1. Piro Silver badge

    I don't mind PDFs

    They're not the best thing ever, but I get a self-contained document that I can view as I please on any device.

    I certainly don't have hatred for them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      And I certainly prefer them to this horrible "modern web design" aesthetic with excessive whitespace and low contrast text. As long as they are mostly free of this disgusting style, I don't care how clunky PDFs are.

      The scourge of modern design just shows how the Web as a medium has declined and what a piece of s**t it has turned into, in so many different ways.

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        " shows how the Web as a medium has declined and what a piece of s**t it has turned into,"

        I don't know if I would say it's declined. It's always been bad. The flashing text and animated gifs of the GeoSpace days, flash everywhere through the 90's, now everything designed by UI "Experts" who havent got a clue what there spouting in between the Joss Sticks.

        The Internet has never been a good Medium from a UI point of view. We've always just worked around it. The difference is that in the past it was bad because it was left to some programmer who went with what was most convenient or had the flashiest new effect that they wanted to try out. Now people actually pay some consultant to tell them what to do. And those consultants seem to be having a competition as to who can get their clients to install the worst possible User Interface. I believe Satan is already collecting a shortlist of contenders as we speak...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          These "expert" designers are just full of hot air, they are bullshit artists, peddling their garbage wares. Very good sales techniques for an absolutely bottom of the barrel product. It's the "if Apple does it, so can we" mentality.

        2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          To be fair, away from Geocities, web "applications" (static pages generated from dynamic data) - i.e., web1.0 - could at least express a reasonable amount of data

          A suitably-crafted <table> attribute makes a reasonable on-screen simulacrum of a paper table, or a spreadsheet.

          Nowadays you can fit about 6 rows on a HD screen.

          1. Joe W Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            That's because modern screens are stupid. Especially the format (side to height ratio, or whatever). So. Yeah.

            1. andygrace

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              Decent modern screens can be rotated 90, 180, 270 degrees and virtually every video adapter can output video in portrait mode.

              Even if your monitor can't be rotated you can always mount vertically with VESA compatible stand. Can't do much about the maker's logo though.

              1. Updraft102

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                Laptops outsell desktops these days, and you can't easily rotate the screen on one of those.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: I don't mind PDFs

                  But it's easier to put a laptop on its side, though.


                  1. ROC

                    Re: I don't mind PDFs

                    As long as there are no important buttons such as the power button on the side chosen...

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                This is exactly what I do. A landscape 27" 1440p screen with a portrait 27" 4K screen. It is the promised land for coding and probably any other use case. Browsing the web in portrait at 4K (with 1.25x scaling) is a joy.

                1. stiine Silver badge

                  Re: I don't mind PDFs

                  I just use a 50' Samsung smart tv. It will move to the living room and be replaced with a 55' when we upgrade the tv in the other room to 65'

          2. swm

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            My website for square dancing is built from an SQLite database. To change something I just edit the SQLite tables and remake the website. The final result has no scripts/applets etc. Just enough style so a browser can render the pages any way it wants.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              I love SQLite, it's amazing and goes like a rocket for massive datasets. It's not very user friendly though and is very hard to scale.

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          those consultants seem to be having a competition as to who can get their clients to install the worst possible User Interface.

          /me looks at this page, right now, is reminded of recent 2D FLATTY changes to its appearance as well as the uber-tiny edit font, and agrees.

          1. Dave559 Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            "/me looks at this page, right now, is reminded of recent 2D FLATTY changes to its appearance as well as the uber-tiny edit font, and agrees."

            I was wondering when you'd notice those changes! ;-)

        4. Horst U Rodeinon

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Anyone who lived during the era of "Dancing Macaroni" knows exactly what you mean.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          I blame Wordpress for the vast majority of dross user interfaces on the internet.

          People still insist on using what is essentially a blog as a full blown ecommerce platform. You really have to go out of you way to crowbar eCommerce functionality into Wordpress just so the end customer has a management interface they are "familiar" with.

          1. Silentx

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Crowbar? Go out of your way?

            Basic shop functions can easily be installed via a plugin like WooCommerce.

            It does not get easier than that.

            Of course one could always opt for a eCommerce system that was actually designed from the ground up to serve exactly this function.

            But a small shop can easily be build using Wordpress and WooCommerce/ some other plugin.

            There is a huge market for shop building software. People don'tr care about most functions, they want an easy to use GUI that allows them to "design" and "create" the shop the wanted. There is a reason why shopify is so popular.

            It is not the best product available but it is easy to use and works well for a lot of projects.

        6. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          They are not UI Experts, they are advertizing experts. Take a peice of printed promotional material for some company or product and you will see the same thing. Lots of white space and sparse information. Just enough to peak the interest and get the "mark" to contact you so you can real them in. That's what's happening on the web today!

          1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs


      2. abetancort

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        Try printing a web page, a mess. Saving it a bigger mess. Everything has to be viewed on a computer screen, convert it to anything and you get long, long continuous piece of garbage without a page break.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't mind PDFs


          The problem with re flowing text and images trying to accommodate different screen layouts brings to unreadable documents, as soon as they have some strong relationship among text, graphs, images, boxes, etc.

          I gave up e-readers and tablets but for reading some "throwaway" books, mostly novels, something you read once and won't feel the need to return to it anytime soon - thereby not worth to be printed on paper and occupy shelf space. Everything else is far more accessible on paper - and PDF is what is closest to it.

          Our customers do ask for PDF manuals because they can print them if needed. Give the a bunch of HTML pages you can't print in any sensible way and it would be almost useless. We do have on-help today is mostly HTML, but for extensive explanation of complex features that need references to images and graphs, PDF is still better.

          Try to tell someone "look at page 57, what you're looking for is there" - with an HTML file.... and no, telling "it's at paragraph" is not that simple, hard to memorize, and less practical to find, even with a decent search function.

          1. nijam Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            > ... "look at page 57, what you're looking for is there"

            er, isn't that what linskare for?

          2. lieryan

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            > Try to tell someone "look at page 57, what you're looking for is there" - with an HTML file.... and no, telling "it's at paragraph" is not that simple,

            HTML already has a better solution than "look at page 57", it's called hyperlink. You just click on it, you get to the referenced text/media. No need to fiddle with searching for page numbers, and no need for complex software to update cross references when the page designation changes.

            1. Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              Tell me how you can send an hyperlink by voice...

              1. lieryan

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                Just text them the links. Most voice communication methods nowadays have associated text channels as well. Mobile phones you can send with SMS, WhatsApp, Slack, etc you can just use direct messages, etc.

                1. Roland6 Silver badge

                  Re: I don't mind PDFs

                  I get the distinct impression lieryan doesn't actually talk to people...

              2. Spanners Silver badge
                Thumb Down

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                I work in healthcare. Voice control and use is a non-starter for a couple of reasons...

                1. Shall we use a sulphate or a sulphite? A lot of southern English and other urban accents say those words the same and that's just one example of lethality!

                2. Confidentiality.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: I don't mind PDFs

                  Also because the phrase "cut his ruddy bollocks off" is far to commonly uttered to risk voice commands.

          3. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            "Try to tell someone "look at page 57, what you're looking for is there" - with an HTML file.... and no, telling "it's at paragraph" is not that simple, hard to memorize, and less practical to find, even with a decent search function."

            You're right about badly made HTML, but if you compare it to badly made PDFs, the problem is the same. In badly made PDFs, "go to page 57" means scroll for a while until you find the number 57 or try searching for the string "57" and hope this document doesn't have many numbers in it. Unlike paper where pages are clearly separate, PDFs don't always use the markup to distinguish pages and some display systems will present numbers that aren't page numbers (like screen refreshes that change based on the size of a window) like they were page numbers.

            In well written HTML, you don't tell people to turn to page 57, you tell them to go to section 3.2.4 (you do structure your manuals, don't you) and you give them a link that jumps there. If necessary, you can link to specific pages, paragraphs, sentences, or whatever else you want. You may now tell me that you can do that in PDFs as well (which technically you can now, but support is still flaky for it), but a lot of PDFs don't do that just like a lot of HTML neglects the power of the language. If you write either well, they will both be fine. If you write them poorly, PDF will not only fail to save the disaster, but can make it far worse.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              Sure you can have a nice navigation pane and try walking them through drilling down through the levels until they find section 3.2.4. Try talking some users through that. But often such solution like lots of pretty GUI solutions just don't scale well. When you've got 2000 entries a menu then menus are often crap. The designers of modern scroll bars need shooting (slowly) WTF was wrong with having a nice visible scroll bar with the little triangles at the top and bottom so you could manually scroll a little and click above or below the slider to go up or down more. It worked it was intuitive to lots of people but no, not modern enough, no we have to hide the bloody scroll bar and have it pop out of nowhere if you happen to hold the cursor of exactly the right pixel if you happen to know where it may be.

              But it's still massively easier to just tell the user to go to page 12,384 and I've never seem a structured web document where there is a nice box where I can just type in a page number or section number. Sure being web savy you know you can go find the URL box and hand edit the URL to jump to the right place, good luck getting your maiden aunt to do that.

              I buy the idea that it would be better to move away from imitation paper, writing documentation I often find that thing don't neatly fit onto fixed sized pages. I'd love to be able to create documents where pages sizes were more arbitrary for cases where I doubt people will print them, or at least have an option where I mark the end of pages for people who do want to print (all the best proof readers I've worked with work on printed out docs) and have better flow for people reading on a screen. But I'd still like page numbers as well as section number and a good index. Sadly those that pay the bills demand that in return for their money I must write using MS Word and so I'm stuck with that abomination's limitation as well as the limitations of the file format that is shipped to the end users of the docs.

              1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                I have a number of development tools on my PC generally there's some sort of OLH and (when I'm lucky) a PDF manual.

                I've found that searching the PDF is the best way forward when I don't already know the answer and I'm just checking up that my memory hasn't failed again.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                "Sure you can have a nice navigation pane and try walking them through drilling down through the levels until they find section 3.2.4. Try talking some users through that."

                Or the manual could be easily searchable, which is the best approach for usability...

              3. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                Talking someone through a table of contents isn't that hard, at least no harder than having them find a page number (except in the case of the badly-designed PDFs I mentioned in my original post). It's a short number, just like the page numbers, and you can link directly to the section. If you're dealing with people who don't understand how to use a table of contents, then I'm confident in saying they'll have trouble finding a page in a PDF as well unless it's printed onto paper exactly the size the designer planned and they're treating it as a paper book.

          4. Tony W

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            HTML instruction manuals can be written and modified by multiple authors; and they save these authors from having to put things in a logical order; all they have to do is put in loads of links. But easy writing makes hard reading. My heart sinks when I have to use an HTML manual: I usually find myself lost in a rats nest of links, often going round in circles getting no nearer my target. It can be done well but rarely is. A document with a fixed layout forces some logic, and with judicious use of links (not lazily linking to anything that might be relevant) it's no problem to navigate.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              There are tools that let multiple authors work on a document and then can publish them in multiple formats, including PDF. Usually, tools used by technical writers allow that. Source formats may be XML, SGML, whatever.

              1. that one in the corner Silver badge

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                Those tools do indeed exist - but by the time a company has reached that state of enlightenment they have a team of fully trained writers who could do a decent job armed only with Windows Notepad and a good attitude.

                Meanwhile, the rest are still getting their web team to handle the 300 page online help with tooling bought in for the four-colour drool-proof puff pieces that made up the company website (it's on the web, it's all the same). Upstairs, Sales are dumping pages out of Confluence (that the devs put there only after being actioned in the Scrum), desperately figuring out why, if that page has a later timestamp it seems to show an earlier design (hint: a manager did a search and replace to match "Corporate Standards"). At least getting this lot to hand their results over as PDF means you can show them that it is an incoherent mess without a logical reading order, do it better, without being told "it is a living hyperdocument, you just haven't learnt how to follow the link graph".

            2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              YES, YES a thousand time YES!

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              There are two related faults with "web" documentation.

              You cannot read through the document and see everything, as it is a branch and leaf structure, plus randomly inserted pages and cross branches. There is no single path.

              This leads to the impossibility of proof reading the document.

              Which leads to HTML documents being completely unreliable.

              It also makes it very hard to "read the manual" and not miss large parts of it. I notice this with watching my sons trying to learn programming languages, where it is now much harder to learn due to the lack of proper flat manuals. They resort to watching videos which are another circle of documentation hell.

              Luckily one is learning python and the other Matlab, so I could dump a stack of old books on the desk for them.

          5. The Sprocket

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Pretty much agreed. Professionally designed documents, created by someone who understands typography and line-lengths for readability, is more often to be found in the 'PDF world' as opposed to the web one. I agree with your paper viewpoint too. Regrettably, the web-world has just turned into a sch!tt-show due to the persistent accommodation of the 'smartphone' at the primarily level.

          6. PJP

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            You are right, of course. So people do ask for a printable copy, and that usually means PDF.

            However ... a company that shall remain nameless, has three related products that it acquired.

            The original company used to ship an HTML and PDF version of the Admin Guide with each of the products.

            New company, seeing that since these are built on a common base, decides to munge together all the Admin Guides into one, so as to be able to share the commonality, which, they learn is actually common, but slightly different.

            Then they decided to prefix this with the release notes of each version going back to when Noah used it on his Arc.

            So the first 1,000+ pages are just release notes ...

            It's all HTML ... but you can convert it to PDF. It is humongous, and has problems like tables split over boundaries, and column sizes changed to fit, so some are just too small and have 20 word sentences, one word strung out above the other.

            There used to be a time when tech writers took some small pride in their work...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        Please don't take what I'm about to ask as an insult, based on the number of likes your comment has, everyone here agrees that PDFs are acceptable and web is the worst, but have you not once ever had to read a PDF on your phone in the last 10+ years?

        I mean you I understand how the whitespace can be annoying. I also know if it were extremely, annoying I could just press F12 and edit the page.

        But and again this is probably just me, I really don't use phones, so I apologize if this is really dumb but how did you enjoy PDFs on a phone more than you enjoyed webpages with aesthetic editable whitespace? Here I am reading a 200 page PDF on my phone, I can't see the text, it is monstrously small. I can zoom in then I have to constantly shift left and right to be able to read text. And I have to be honest with you, the non-aesthetic whitespace drives me nuts when it is so much of the page, and especially, if you removed it for certain PDFs they would be legible and wouldn't require zooming. Then when I want to go to the next page, I can't while zoomed in, so I have to zoom back out, switch page then zoom back in, drag around and repeat for each and every page.

        Perhaps it is the PDF readers I have used? I know I've definitely used Adobe's and maybe 3 or 4 others on my phone. I do know last time I used my iPad there was some experimental feature, that would shift the text but when I checked on my phone it was not available, but perhaps it is now? Although, my question was about the last 10+ years, not this year.

        1. The Sprocket

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          This comes from a career Designer/Art Director:

          PDFs were never intended to be used on 'phones'. They were intended to be an exchange file that preserved formatting in various forms of communication, often intended for some form of print. There is no uninspired 'responsive design' aspect to PDFs like there is for webpages. So, that said—choose the right tool for the right job. Your 200 page PDF in best viewed on a desktop/laptop. I find my iPad works just fine for that as well. Consider turning the thing sideways as well if you want the immediate content larger.

          Face it—phones have limitations and can't be used for everything, and work best as a phone.

    2. Fred Daggy Silver badge

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      Yes, yes ... you can read them on any device.

      Whether that it something you'd want to do is another thing. Tried doing that on the phone? Not pleasant. Scroll, scroll, "crap", zoom out, zoom in, scroll scroll scroll. E-readers - with e-ink? Pretty much hopeless as the more complex the document, the harder it is to convert.

      And lets not forget the Letter versus A4 wars that battle themselves wherever a "PC Load Letter" sign is blinking, and beeping. The document is NOT the same, even if automagic resizing takes place. Die PDF, Die.

      Not having read the spec, i'd wager PDF has no concept of a paragraph. That would probably make the whole thing a lot easier for everyone. Or it's not implemented in any meaningful way.

      1. abetancort

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        PDF standard is so extensive that it has coverage for almost anything you could think of. Another totally different thing is that the people creating them with the proper authoring tools don't use everything. Authoring a PDF is not done by just printing from word to PDF.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Authoring a PDF is not done by just printing from word to PDF.

          s/is not done/should not be done/

          1. abetancort

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            I can't edit the comment. I'm sorry for the grammar.

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        And lets not forget the Letter versus A4 wars that battle themselves wherever a "PC Load Letter" sign is blinking, and beeping. The document is NOT the same, even if automagic resizing takes place. Die PDF, Die.

        Actually I always found this a great advantage of PDFs. When my US colleagues sent me a US Letter document, if it was in .doc or .odt I couldn't print it without either resizing the pages (which often changed the layout) or fighting with the "Load Letter" complaint.

        With a PDF I could just print it on A4, and assuming that the margins were reasonable (they almost always are) it printed just fine. Same in the opposite direction, I used to get "thank you" emails from the US for sending them PDFs and not unprintable MS Word docs, since their chances of finding A4 paper to load in an office printer were close to nil.

        1. BobChip

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Try the same stunt sending stuff in MS Word formats to Japan! Forget letter or A4, but to be fair PDF usually managed to output something useable - complex tables and peculiar formatting excepted -, particularly if you took their oddball paper sizes into account when composing your original document. Just a little forethought and planning.

          Else persuade your boss that your work is so critical that you have to take your precious printed paper to Japan in person.... Ah! Sushi!

        2. Snake Silver badge

          Re: convenient printing

          This precisely. May I *also* add that the article complains about PDF if you WANT editing in every PDF.

          Hey author, ever thought of THAT???

          After creating a legal PDF document I can distill it down to a flat, uneditable PDF, then send it. The specifics can't be edited, ever, so I know that, from the background watermark to the flattened foreground data, it cannot be altered or modified.

        3. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          > Die PDF, Die.

          Obligatory Simpsons…

          “Why no, it’s German! It says ‘The PDF, The’!”

          “Oh, well that settles it. No-one who speaks German could be a bad man…”

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        "And lets not forget the Letter versus A4 wars that battle themselves wherever a "PC Load Letter" sign is blinking,"

        One of my favorite features of our old HP 5si printer (after its durability) was that if I sent it an A4 doc (I'm in the US, but occasionally run across datasheets in A4) when I walked up to the printer, instead of getting an error or a mangled document, it offered to "print on plain letter?". IIRC it was also pretty good about guessing when I might instead want 11x17" paper.

        1. milliemoo83

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          "And lets not forget the Letter versus A4 wars that battle themselves wherever a "PC Load Letter" sign is blinking,"

          For giggles, you can tweak the firmware so it says "Load Coffee"

          1. J. Cook Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Or "Insert Coin". Or "skynet connected - awaiting orders". Or any other number of amusing things using a specific PCL command.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              Seems I missed a trick there. I bow down before you oh magnificent tormentor of morlocks.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      Y'know, I used to dislike PDFs. Slow, kluncky way to present information. And trying to extract text from them for notes, comments, reference can be painful. Or outright impossible. But a number of years ago, a lawyer pointed out to me that HE liked PDFs because documents in PDF form look more or less exactly like their paper and ink equivalent and in his profession having proper layout is important. It sometimes tells him whether material is substantive or explanatory or opinion. And he can go quickly to the section(s) of interest to him.

      He's got a point. If users like/need PDFs. We should probably try to give them what they want instead of trying to force them to use some "better" alternative that they loathe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        Sounds like typical Mozilla arrogance culture there. They think they know better than their users, and it's for their own good too.

        They've done this before with mandatory unblockable phoning home, etc.

        In newer versions of Firefox you can't disable the update check and the notification too, for the user's (or the collective Internet's) own good. Typical leftist or collectivist attitude there, although I might be reading into it too much. But actually I've seen other examples of this attitude on their Bugzilla when users complain about some anti-customization related change, by the way. Mozilla can make a huge step back in one way or the other and they just tell people they "should embrace change".

        1. Chris Gray 1

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Hmm. Firefox 88.0 here - new enough? I'm on an ancient version of Linux, and new versions of Firefox are offered by the Linux package tools. Firefox itself has never offered. There may be some config: thing I turned off years ago.

        2. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Yes. I can see using the internal PDF "support" in the next version being mandatory "for security" and any settings to use your preferred reader will be ignored.

          That would be the Mozilla way.

        3. Ididntbringacoat

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          "Sounds like typical Mozilla arrogance culture there. They think they know better than their users, and it's for their own good too.

          . . . and they just tell people they "should embrace change"."

          So, you're a big Microsoft Fan then?

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Mozilla just added PDF features - the rest is just the opinion of the article's writer.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          A bit off topic, but the reason I don't use Firefox or any other Mozilla software is because of their leftist politics, here are some examples:

          Yes, IRL is an official podcast from Mozilla.

          It got to a point where Mozilla took it so far, that I uninstalled the browser and switched to Chromium. Yes I know Google are evil, but I don't think they went *this* far...

          To Mozilla: Please, please *stop* getting involved in political agendas and start making great products again...

          But they won't listen.

          1. Brian Scott

            Re: I don't mind PDFs


            Sounds like I should be switching back to Firefox then.

          2. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Yeah, all that money they take from your monthly subscription to Firefox and they waste it by letting someone tweet. Unsub, that'll show 'em you're the boss.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            So far 14 downvotes for saying that I boycott them over their political nonsense, note that the tweets I linked to are just the tip of the iceberg. Shows how much influence the "woke" crowd has these days. If you speak out against their politics, immediate downvote and if on twitter, expect to be cancelled and shunned by the mob.

            Same with criticism of the Rust programming language, again which I dislike because of it's conformist woke community. Yes the community matters because if you're using the language you're likely have to interact with them and I vote with my feet by not supporting people or organisations who advocate for censorship and these speech codes so enthusiastically. People need to push back against it and someone has to do it, so at least I do.

            I can't believe what's happened to free speech on the Internet. Because of social media it's turned into a "small village mentality", there is no tolerance of non-conformity to their ideology.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              By the way this is unrelated, there is a project to develop a browser *engine* completely independent from Firefox and Chrome.

              It's written by the SerenityOS guys. So there *is* an alternative to Mozilla, although it's in the early stages of development. And no political nonsense from the developers, in fact there is a policy against it.

            2. that one in the corner Silver badge

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              What? You got to have your say, that is your free speech, totally unimpeded.

              Although you do appear to be of the opinion that "free speech" means "free applause" as well.

            3. Adrian 4

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              You don't seem to be tolerating their non-conformity to your weirdo rightwing views.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              "So far 14 downvotes for saying that I boycott them over their political nonsense, note that the tweets I linked to are just the tip of the iceberg. Shows how much influence the "woke" crowd has these days."

              No - it's just from your ranting you come across as sounding like a male appendage ;)

              1. flayman Bronze badge

                Re: I don't mind PDFs

                Here's a tip for you, anonymous. Nobody cares that you're angry. You may have good reason to be angry, but it's not important. Things that you complain about may have some truth to them, but your approach is always going to see you shunned. Group think is bad, and many so-called "right thinking people" seem to have forgotten this. Echo chambers inflate our own sense of correctness. Just stop banging your head against the wall. What do you get for your trouble?

                Boycotting a company because of things that company has said and done is your choice. You have the right to spread the word about it. General attacks on left leaning or right leaning culture are counterproductive. Humans behave according to human nature.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: I don't mind PDFs

                  Here is a tip for you, flayman:

                  There is a difference between "spreading the word" and ranting, then ranting that your rants were not appreciated.

                  > Nobody cares that you're angry

                  Sorry, are you addressing the AC or 'standup'? (you know 'standup', the commentard you're defending now)

                  > General attacks on left leaning or right leaning culture are counterproductive

                  See question above.

            5. Joey21

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              Turn off social media and FoxNews. Take a break. Catch you breath. Go for a walk. Enjoy a coffee or something.

            6. Grooke

              Re: I don't mind PDFs

              From your earlier comment: "I uninstalled the browser and switched to Chromium"

              Google is part of the Rust Foundation. I guess you'll be in the market for a new Browser.

          4. Richmond Avenal

            How terribly gloomy

            What ethical dilemmas we face, between the swank giants who make riches from our very souls, and the sententious clerics of wokeness whose products just work and whose words can be ignored. How does one choose between them? There is no good. Only darkness.

          5. Grooke

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            "I know the Leopards eating people's faces are evil, but at least they didn't go as far as standing up for WOMEN!"

      2. Muscleguy

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        Same with science journal papers which were the first big use of pdfs. Just like a section from the journal without having to pay for a colour photocopier. We basically almost completely stopped going to the library.

        Used to be a weekly pilgrimage to go through the dead tree journals and badly photocopy the papers you wanted. With pdfs that was no more. A JANET connection meant data was not an issue as well. It was sweet.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          While I agree we should kill less trees..

          PDF isn't the only or even a particularly good way to this. I applaud Moz for adding a feature that is actually useful, it may come in handy as the supported versions of Adobe Acrobat are a total shitshow and they are starting to claim that none of the CS apps can run in a VM.

          But there is no logically or rhetorically sound argument to continue using a format and program that is that tragically awful, not in this day and age. The argument against the shift away from it is always two pronged, an appeal to interia, and a blitz from Adobe's fanbois and shills.

          In reality, a lean and well behaved open source tool could package it's files with a throw away self extracting executable with a digital signature on it. Webex got away with making people download an executable for pretty much decades. And to stay out of trouble with the "we don't let users download or access executables" set (because they are right) I'd wrap it in an html header and lust leave a link to the throwaway extractor.

          A clean link to a known location hosting a signed executable is 100% more trustworthy than Adobe's pile of hot dogshit. You could even let it export to pdfs for those that can't bring themselves to break their toxic codependency and want to stay in the predatory and abusive relationship.

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: While I agree we should kill less trees..

            Strangely, I've never had Acrobat installed (above my pay grade) and yet I could have sworn that I was generating PDFs at a rate of knots. Using Open Source tools to boot. Only had Adobe reader to sample test my files against.

            But your comment has convinced me that that must have all been just a dream.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: While I agree we should kill less trees..

            Yes - 1000 times yes.

            How about a semantic format that doesn’t represent ‘scribbles on a page’ but delineates information so that it can be easily searched, retrieved and processed by humans and computers - all the things that PDFs are not - as well as being able to be rendered on different devices or even in multiple languages ?

            It is hardly the fault of HTML or CSS that web sites and HTML documents are crap - it’s a bit like blaming paint manufacturers for god-awful colour schemes.

            I don’t disagree that most mass market documentation tools produce crappy HTML. But it is well within the means of tool vendors (though maybe not in their financial interest) to be able to replace PDF with equally good-looking HTML.

            I understand too that knowledge of print and typography is fundamental to producing good looking documents, but the major tools in these spaces - looking at you Adobe - have no incentive to make this any easier.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: While I agree we should kill less trees..

            A clean link to a known location hosting a signed executable is 100% more trustworthy

            There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that I'll download an executable from some "known" location, and run it, just to see a document.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        I was anticipating that the lawyer was going to be like a former coworker of mine. He insisted that you ALWAYS send quotes to customers as .pdf, NEVER as .doc, "becaue otherwise they could edit the file and change the terms of the quote".

        I knew I'd never win that argument. I think I made some minor edits to his .pdfs just to mess with him.

        1. The Sprocket

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          With just a PDF reader, editing is do-able, but 'saving' is verboten—UNLESS the recipient has PDF editing software AND knows how to use it. Outside of that, PDFs are generally less likely to be fiddled with than a '.docx' document.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            PDF is a very powerful tool indeed. It's just people don't know how to use it. Hence the "Print out the PDF, fill it in, scan it, email it back" brigade.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      I use PDF to e-mail invoices. easily created. And I do NOT like in-browser PDF readers!!! I use atril on FreeBSD or Linux.(the 'system default')

      Fortunately Firefox (last I checked) allows you to pick the system default PDF reader, or even force to "Save File" to avoid opening in the browser.

      But I _NEVER_ use adobe, not since a version of it prompted me for MY E-MAIL ADDRESS... and hit the internet for a bunch of GARBAGE. It came pre-installed on that computer (a win 7 box). Uninstalled adobe, installed e-vince (which has a winders version), never looked back.

      1. mdubash

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        And the Adobe Reader constantly begs to be updated, about 10x more often than any other app. Or it did, last time I touched it 15 years ago....

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          Well, they have to fix all the security bugs in the scripting language they shoved in there somehow... And add more bloatware as well, AND anti- disablement measures to keep people like me from neutering the auto-update service, the "Oh I'm going to start and run in the background as a critical service that DOES NOTHING USEFUL except take up memory and CPU" service, and all the other internet connectivity bullshart that's been crammed into it like a blivet.

          Meanwhile, I've been running with SumatraPDF, which it light weight, doesn't snoop on you or offer you a clown car of prompts for this, that, and everything else, and has 90% of the functionality. (of which is rarely used for my use case, like the form filling portions.)

          1. mdubash

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Which is why I use an old version of Nitro. It reads and saves PDFs, allows you to comment, fill in forms, and extract text and images. Best of all, it's not needy. What more do you need?

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        PDF invoices: easily created, and hard to modify. PDF cvs: the same

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Ocassionally useful, seldom necessary, always terrible.

          Modifying PDFs is generally annoying not hard, and Adobe itself is happy to sell any idiot the tools to do it.

          Not a good position to argue from when you could use a dozen other better formats and then hash and sign it. You CAN do that with Adobe, but then there is a 30% chance the receiver either won't be able to open it, the formatting will be borked, or will freak out when the signature causes a notification because they've never seen one before.

          And of course you will probably have to pay them for it.

        2. milliemoo83

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          "PDF cvs: the same"

          The only problem with CVs in PDF format is you can almost guarantee the HR droid at the other end will decide to open it in Word, and then bin it because it contained, in their eyes, garbage.

      3. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
        Thumb Up

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        I use Evince for Windows also. Because 1) it's not Adobe -- no screen-area-stealing useless tool panes and it runs a lot lighter on resources, so it's much faster, and 2) it has a "negative" view that works on ANY/EVERY page, great for early-morning/late-night work when the ambient light is low.

        Adobe can change text-only page colors but not images like scanned pages. Hell, for any raster image format (BMP, GIF, JPG, TIF), I had tools on Win 3.1 (Lview Pro, which gladly also ran on Win95, and others) that could invert an image. Since 2000 it seems harder to find such useful quick things. Thank you, Evince.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Is it evil yet?

          The problem is that windows PDF readers always seem to go to the darkside. As soon as they get popular the maintainers either bundle adware with it or start dropping "telemetry" software that starts looking at things it has no business accessing. Gave up on them after the last three we used all went bad.

        2. H in The Hague

          Re: I don't mind PDFs

          "I use Evince for Windows also."

          Thanks for the tip. What's a safe download site? The ones I've found so far seem to be third parties rather than the authors.

          Currently using Sumatra, but always happy to consider other options.

          1. Joey21

            Re: I don't mind PDFs

            Look it up on Wikipedia and follow the article links to the homepage.

    5. Muscleguy

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      Exactly, if everything was web only then that instruction manual could disappear on you quite easily. But If I download and backup the pdf I always have it provided software can read it.

    6. JollyJohn54

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      PDF's are great. I receive them, I create them and I send them. They are totally fit for purpose which is to display a page in the layout that the author desired.

      What I don't like is extracting data from them. PDF readers with OCR are pretty awful, frequently ignoring columns and squishing text together. As for similar characters like I,l and x,y and O,0 and various others theres no hope leading to a lot of careful reading and correcting.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        So what you just said was

        That PDFs are NOT great, and provided one of MANY good reasons why.

        "Fit for purpose" is a higher bar than Adobe's potato baby will ever meet. It's a major security risk, the stupid format has baked in support for insane things in a misguided attempt to make it the universal, all singing and dancing center of the digital universe. As a result, PDFs can do truly insane things like run scripts and executables, call external programs, connect to external webservices, etc, etc, etc.

        Worse, it by default is tends to be quite bad at it's job when it displays anything other than scanned graphics or letter formatted text. Hence your data extraction problems. The default engine operates like a smoothie blender under the hood, generally producing an incoherent mess that only resembles the output page once it has been rendered onscreen.

        The files it creates also tend to be HUGE for little apparent reason, and that's without someone creating an accidentally (or intentionally) insane one that is still completely valid. I once had to mop up after a pdf that looked like a scanned 8.5x11 page, but the internal representation was approximately 48 feet wide. If you tried to print it the OS and or printer would choke as it tried to convert it on the fly.

        A car that can go 55 miles an hour, but lack brakes and vents the engine exaust out the dashboard vents isn't a car that's "Fit for Purpose"

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: So what you just said was

          If only there was another way to generate PDFs than just relying solely on Adobe's offerings.

          Although, yes, having "features" like embedded scripts is highly questionable (and they aren't even scripted in PostScript!), scripts in Word docs can do Bad Things just as easily.

          How about we just stick to PDF v1.2 - we'll lose one or two actually nice things but it'll be worth it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: So what you just said was

            "If only there was another way to generate PDFs than just relying solely on Adobe's offerings."

            Assuming you're not being sarcastic - Latex is rather good if you can be bothered to learn the mark-up language.

            1. that one in the corner Silver badge

              Re: So what you just said was

              Oops, yes, I was being sarcastic :-)

              Thoroughly agree about LaTeX - especially as, given all comments about trying to use HTML so-called "manuals", I can turn my head to the right an see, oooh, two feet of dead-tree books, all beautifully typeset, from Don's Blue Lion, Leslie's more staid lion, to the TUG 25th anniversary collection! Well-thumbed: have got to straighten out the spiral binding again. </fanboy>

              I've had some very nice results from getting the raw text written in Markdown (or into a Wiki that can be stripped into Markdown), so that authors are not distracted from the meaning by loads of formatting (and when they try to get clever it is easy to strip out! Mwaahaha). Then collate those into a semblance of order, shove it all into Pandoc to be converted into LaTeX (pulling in a template with all the proper formatting) and finally into XeLaTeX to generate the final PDF.

              The lesson from all of the above: scripts are your friend! Oh, and Markdown is Good Enough for collecting text *and* plays well with Version Control.

      2. skierpage

        Re: I don't mind PDFs

        `pdftotext` on Linux does a good job just extracting simple text. For tabular data if I select and copy in Firefox's PDF viewer, then massage the text in vim to turn it into tab-separated values, then load into a spreadsheet. Newlines in the copied text generally correspond to lines in the table; it would be great if PDFs indicated tabular information so that the copied text had tabs between cell values. There are online and downloadable viewers from sites you've never heard of that claim to rebuild Microsoft Office-sorry-365 documents from PDF exports.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't mind PDFs long as the sender of the PDF hasn't used any weird fonts they forgot to embed or fixed width formatting of things like tables.

      PDFs are crap. It's about time we had an alternative that is just HTML5 in a wrapper that when opened is restricted to it's own sandbox.

    8. Peter Christy

      Re: I don't mind PDFs

      Me too! For a number of years, I have had to send out documentation to various hobby / club members, and never had an issue with PDFs. Even the most computer illiterate can open and read them, whether they are using a PC (Linux, Windoze, whatever), Mac, Android or virtually anything else you can dream of.

      Not only that, but they prevent people from Ctl-z-ing back through your document to reveal any embarrassing edits you've made! ;) Very useful if you've made some caustic notes about someone in the minutes of a meeting...!

      Also you don't have to worry about having the right fonts installed on the end viewers system, resulting in all sorts of formatting oddities.

      If anyone can come up with something that is as universally readable and robust, I'll have a look. Until then, I'll stick with PDF - which is almost native on my Linux system anyway!



  2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    What PDF is

    PDF is skeuomorphic, intended to carry the character of an old entity into a new one. It is designed to produce an exact replica of a printed document.

    Well, seeing as it's based on PostScript, which was designed for printing documents, this makes sense.

    My biggest problem, along with poor reflowing on e-readers, is the abuse of the format to obfuscate information. Politicians seem particularly guilty of this because it lets them follow the letter of the law about freedom information whilst making it hard for anyone to do anything with the information.

  3. alain williams Silver badge

    Use tools for what they are good for

    PDFs are great for making something that will look the same for everyone.

    If you want something that adapts to the viewing device then do not use a PDF; this is something that HTML is good at.

    If you want a form completed and submitted why use a PDF ? Some do that as a way of preserving their existing documents but just doing it over the web. If you want to do it over the web then HTML has got excellent forms ability, just please do not make it unusable with too much Javascript.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Use tools for what they are good for

      HTML will adapt to the viewing device (assuming that the HTML has been crafted correctly) but I'm not convinced about it providing something that will look the same for everyone. For example, it relies on the necessary fonts being installed on the client machine, or able to be downloaded dynamically...not something that can be guaranteed.

      Also, an HTML 'document' is likely to have a number of sub-components, like image files, etc. required to render the final article. That makes it much less convenient as a thing that can just be shared in the way that a single PDF file can be.

      1. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: Use tools for what they are good for

        HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, not Hypertext Layout Language. No it won't look the same on all devices. It's not supposed to. It just presents the same content in a hopefully acceptable, but device specific, way on all supported devices.

        I suspect an HTLL were it attempted would produce quite awful results much of the time.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: Use tools for what they are good for

          I have actually made it possible, within some limits, to display an HTML interface on multiple differently-sized screens (for embedded) such that no matter how large or small the screen is (physical and/or resolution), the interface remains the same relative size with a similar appearance.

          Careful use of 'rem' and '%' in sizing (and being explicit about it), as well as setting the size of the default font for 'html' style section to be according to that screen size, makes it possible. Then you can put anything wherever you want it to go, and as long as the aspect ratio of the display is reasonably close, it will work and have a consistent appearance. (this is using Chrome in kiosk mode of course)

          So within reason, it IS possible to set up your style sheets and web paghes to display them consistently (within reason), just not necessarily easy. But, if needs demand it, it CAN be done, and is practical to do.

          And In My Bombastic Opinion the web page rendering for portrait mode on a phone should always say 'please rotate your device 90 degrees'

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Use tools for what they are good for

            * { width: 100vh; height: 100vw; } // welcome to a static viewport, effectively turning HTML into PDF with only the render/engine to blame for scale. This is the exact problem PDF has that everyone wants to ignore to pretend PDF is better than $EVERYTHING_ELSE. Of course if you want static scale it's great and, to be fair it seems most PDF users do want that but, I don't.

            "...web page rendering for portrait mode..."

            Using js to rerender/reflow is pretty much the only bomb proof method for orientation, it's what non-HTML mobile window tookits do (just not with js).

            CSS sucks but with CSS+canvas+transform there's nothing it can't do that PDF can but, you need people who know how to use it, which BTW, CSS sucks (CSS is down right broken, inconsistent and bloated).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This article is litterally about a web browser implementing this feature

        They even did a much harder thing, which is to try to sanely display the contents of a PDF while doing it. They even threw some WYSIWYG editing tools in.

        You can literally make a self interpreting standalone file, people have just forgotten the idea that you can inline all of your stuff if you need to. Instead everyone is trying to force off box connections to monetize things, spy on everyone, and eventually push targeted ads at people.

        I think HTML is terrible for many of the same reasons PDFs are, but since PDFs implemented HTML, it has ALL of the problems that html does plus a ton more, and the mother codebase is a dumpster fire.

        So even though you COULD make a standalone file HTML replacement for PDFs, you shouldn't wast your time.

    2. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Re: Use tools for what they are good for

      This is what I was going to say. I was recently submitting resumes. I obviously don't care if they can be read on a phone, but I definitely do care that everybody will see the formatting that I did when creating it. Thus, PDF.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I tend to send it in multiple formats.

        But you are right that other "text" formats make the formatting a roll of the dice.

        But there is also always the option of a lossless .jpg which will look the same if you know how to use a decent encoder. 'nix heads can even pipe the output to the toolchain like it was an inline printer.

        Then you run into the problem of online applications that only accept one file format, and one attachment. PDF persist because other people as a whole are indifferent, even though they are actually a nightmare.

    3. Giles C Silver badge

      Re: Use tools for what they are good for

      On a website I run there is an online application form and a link to the paper (pdf) version that can be downloaded and printed out.

      I also hold archives of the minutes of meetings and old editions of the club magazine again in pdf format so it can be reprinted exactly as the original publication.

      PDF for these is perfect as some of the original publications are in a format that you can’t read anymore as the original application isn’t supported (and I haven’t anything it can run on…)

    4. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Use tools for what they are good for

      > ... something that will look the same for everyone

      Unless their page size is different to the authors. Or they don't have the right fonts installed. Or lots of other things, probably.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Use tools for what they are good for

        Your comment is invalid. PDF defines the page size and embeds the fonts.

        The problem with PDF is that the authoring tools mostly suck, so a lot of the PDFs you see are terrible as the author either couldn't force the tool to do the sane thing or didn't know it was possible. Adobe are the worst, unsurprisingly.

        HTML has exactly the same problem, of course.

  4. LosD

    You seem to have turned stuff on its head. It's a blessing when documentation is in a proper PDF instead of god-awful HTML documents (and worse, when there is no single-page version of that HTML)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Absolutely spot on. Books are tried and tested, we know what works well. While the Web is full of faddish, fashion-trend "designer" bullshit, which I think we can thank Apple for starting.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        /me casts a quick glance at two 1000+ page manuals and fiercely agrees with the previous poster.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And just recently, while learning a new programming language, I've been searching through PDF/epub programming books and actually it's faster than Googling it, and the results are more relevant as well.

          I'm in fact planning on torrenting an entire ebook library (such as Library Genesis or Z-Library) and once that's done, I will try and get a search engine installed on my local computer, then I'm really going to pull the plug on the Internet for considerable lengths of time... Bye bye surveillance nightmare....

          Yes, that requires multiple ~20TB drives, and I am prepared to pay for it, because the level of Internet surveillance today is so intolerable, knowing that Tor is no longer secure anymore and VPNs are practically useless. Finally some amazing tech to look forward to, for me, it's just like the 90s again. And too, I have finally found freedom again! I can read anything I want without intelligence agencies knowing about it.

          And I can't wait for the day when the whole library's going to fit on a Micro SD card and I can have it all in my pocket, no network connection required absolutely and thus no government or moral busybody snooping, period. Incredible.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Congratulations, you have discovered that the only thing worse is

            Google, except maybe Youtube, which is also Google.

            I like the project in principal, and you should looks at some of the pre-existing work from other parts of the world. As it turns out they were literally doing this in Cuba and other parts of the world for decades. There are even preexisting tool chains for setting it up. Not as a ding, just saying it because despite a few articles talking about it never caught on in parts of the words where internet access is ubiquitous. It turns out the same tools for accessing internet content offline are handy for archiving it to, and while I appreciate Wayback, it strips WAY too much off to be a viable replacement when the thing you are saving is like to things like industrial equipment that may be worth multiples of your annual salary, and which your company may happily modify an operate for a literal human generation after the company that built it goes bankrupt.

            Instead I see people trying to google YouTube videos for IT and programming stuff. Back in the days the unix world had all of this sorted with FAQ and HOWTO files, many of which are still a better reference for the same stuff people are wading around on tube and forums sights trying to learn.

            Seriously though, we need to collectively make curating information in a stable and useful format part of the basic online literacy track. It's probably one of the biggest reasons I am better at my job then most of my co-workers. They have been conditioned to look for answers in the lowest yield locations first, because that's where Google sells ads. Most people in our industry have at least found Stack Exchange, but even a fairly well run forum sight isn't a substitute for TFM. Worse, manufacturers and publishers are in on the game now, so some are now stopping even PDF manuals in favor of HTML hell with poor navigation, and the pending doom of link rot.

            1. that one in the corner Silver badge

              Re: Congratulations, you have discovered that the only thing worse is

              > people trying to google YouTube videos for IT and programming stuff

              And the fact that people make videos like that, post them and don't even write the important stuff down in the description!

              Just last week I found out that a Windows Registry edit could fix a driver problem. I knew this because multiple forum and even Reddit posts said this fix existed. Every single such post just pointed back to one YT video, which showed the author running regedit and reading out what was happening. Against a YT compressed, blurry, screenshare. Even the guy's blog post on the subject just linked to the video. Not one time did any of these textual posts write out the Registry paths involved. Nope, read the blurry screenshare and hope you caught the guy's accent correctly.


              (Now I guess I ought to write that Registry fix up properly, start a publicly visible blog and post it. OTOH, it was for a MIDI driver: I suffered for my music, should let everyone else suffer for theirs!).

              1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

                Re: Congratulations, you have discovered that the only thing worse is

                I've had a similar experience from the other side: years ago, I found some information about an uncommon engine control unit. Every now and then I do a search to see if anything new has been discovered about it. Invariably, the search leads to a forum post somewhere that asks 'have you talked to Neil? He knows all about it'...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          That's a false choice.

          Html being terrible doesn't make PDFs good.

          While PDFs are always bad to various degrees, web programmers can and often do insist on making things worse.

          You are right that being able to download and view the thing as a coherent document is critical, and the fact is that HTML and web browsers have a legacy of leaving printing permanently broken. But PDFs are like wagon wheels. Sure they roll, but they are obsolete technology from another era.

          We build much better wheels since then. Why not a better "digital printout" format?

          This whole thread boils down to "Wheels are good, so let's just keep using wagon wheels forever."

          No, stop making wheels from trees, like we stopped printing everything on paper. Everything that PDFs do that is useful can be done better and safer by a tool that isn't chained to every mistake Adobe made since the 1990's. (That's a lot of mistakes)

          1. nintendoeats Silver badge

            Re: That's a false choice.

            I don't think that's fair. I'm not opposed to epub or whatever, but the article in question specifically talks about reflowable formats like HTML as being superior. We are arguing against that premise.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re I think we can thank Apple for starting.

        But.... millions of people thoughts for years that the big "E" sign or the AOL sign was the internet. Apple were nowhere. 'E' as in Internet Exploder.

        Apple Mac's were around 10% of Personal Computer sales. Only with the iPhone did their presence on the Internet really grow.

        AFAIK, they are still only around 12% of sales in that sector.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: re I think we can thank Apple for starting.

          It was the iPhone that started it, flashy animated pretty UIs over functional logically designed ones. They basically started the "User eXperience" movement that started to prioritise flashiness and aesthetics over function. And making the interface "delightful". F**k that.

          Also apple came up with the idea of a mouse with one button... Dumbed down from the very beginning.

          And I think the original Macintrash was the first computer that were not designed to be user serviceable in any way. Had tamper proof screws on the case, at least ones you could not open using a normal screwdriver. And the minimalist one-piece design with monitor and CPU in the same case.

          Makes for good target practice. Some very satisfying destruction there, how nice, I still remember that site from the early 00's.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re I think we can thank Apple for starting.

            Well... Apple GUIs are normally considered to be very well designed, but don't let reality enter your distortion field.

            1. Dave559 Silver badge

              Re: re I think we can thank Apple for starting.

              Apple GUIs certainly used to be well designed, but sadly we can't rely on them for that as much nowadays…

            2. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: re I think we can thank Apple for starting.

              No, they were, but not for a very long time.

              Of course, Microsoft also used to have an excellent WIMP interface, which they also trashed for no reason.

    2. fidodogbreath

      It's a blessing when documentation is in a proper PDF instead of god-awful HTML documents (and worse, when there is no single-page version of that HTML)

      Agreed. It also means that I can easily save my own local copy of said document so it is available when I need it, even if the company has gone under / been acquired / lost interest / purged product docs the nanosecond they became EOL.

    3. nijam Silver badge

      > ... documentation is in a proper PDF ...

      I think the problem is that no-one ever quite manages to get things into a "proper" PDF.

      1. NitroPress

        The fault being those who use it as an image format and scan everything in, which is a valid but almost completely secondary, if not tertiary use of PDF. PDFs should be "printed" from an application using the compact and efficient structural method, not simply used as a container for a JPEG.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        To rephrase what you said

        "Few manage to get things into a PDF properly."

        Adobe's tools are some of the worst for it, and 3rd party tools are no panacea. f you know what you are supposed to be doing, and what you should NOT be doing, with a degree of effort you can make a reasonably clean PDF file that is useful.

        That's still missing both the bigger argument and the main problem though. Because the format is a nastly little time bomb, waiting to enable either snooping, data theft or code execution. I didn't build my bed out of unexploded artillery shells, why would I choose a format that is both a PITA and dangerous? Nothing with those characteristics can ever be "good".

        1. fidodogbreath

          Re: To rephrase what you said

          I didn't build my bed out of unexploded artillery shells, why would I choose a format that is both a PITA and dangerous?

          Like, say, an MS Office file?

          The file format isn't the problem; it's the program you open it with. Even a plain vanilla ASCII .txt file can deliver an exploit under the right conditions.

    4. JParker

      It could easily be worse

      As an "old timer", I remember when people required documents to be in MS-word format. PDF (which I often argued for, vociferously, as the preferred format for document transfer) was a HUGE improvement.

      As it stands, I've used any number of PDF readers, and I think the number of documents that I found that I couldn't read can be counted on two hands, using just the thumbs.

  5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Having just submitted my tax return, I think the HMRC website gets this about right. All the data input and presentation is in web/html. You can jump back and forth, you aren't blocked from filling page 6 because you haven't done page 5 yet. When completed you can review everything in web/html, with an option to download a PDF version as an offline reference. Which I do, print off, and file away, because I'm like that.

    Please, HMRC, your submission website works! Yes, there are niggly flaws, but please, don't let the consultants and politicians nag you into "making it better" and breaking it. It's fine as it is.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      I agree - when self-assessment moved from paper to online I was kind of dreading it, but the HMRC website is pretty darned good. Similarly, Companies House for online submission of forms is another good example of a data entry website done right.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      It's everywhere else that they have a problem...

      e.g. Charging me double tax for six months, giving me a refund, then not charging me anything for ten months, taking 50% of my last two months, then charging normal paye, and last week telling me I underpaid last year so they're adjusting the tax code next year...

      I don't dispute the amount, I just dispute the idiotic way they go about doing everything two years late.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Oh yes, I agree that in-year adjustments are a bit messed up, but the once-a-year end-of-year submission works perfectly adequately enough. I suppose I could look at having the wrong tax code as a government-enforced saving scheme. ;) Not so good if your code is too low though. But at least they are sensible enough that if you owe up to £500 they just add it onto next year's tax code.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Indeed. The irritating thing though is that they seem incapable of observing what the hell is going on in the first place; they didn't charge any tax for months in spite of me calling, writing, emailing numerous times. Yet it took my accountant one phone call to get it moving, hence two months charged at 50%.

          It was obvious *then* that there was an outstanding amount - no great amount, but still outstanding - so why wasn't that immediately adjusted on *this* year's code instead of waiting a year?

          My tax is not particularly difficult: a couple of pensions and a little consultancy. Take my income, subtract the allowances, divide the remainder by twelve, and pay twenty percent of that per month. You could do it in Tiny Basic...

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Ah. It's not the 90% of case that are simple that add the complexity that slows everything down... it's the 10% of cases where you have to navigate the labyrinthine tax laws that screw it all up. As I've repeatedly asked "who are they trying to kid when they use the term 'simplifying the tax system' to refer to getting rid of the additional rate tax band instead of genuinely making it less of an administrative minefield."

    3. TRT Silver badge

      AMEN to that. The HMRC website has definitely done this bit right. A lovely dynamic database input system that responds beautifully by giving you only the pages which you actually need to fill in, without absolutely hiding the rest of it (for the curious), and which also gives you a "printer ready" version of the data and facts provided which you are legally required to keep for however many years (I think it's 7) because you have attested to the veracity of the information you've given (and you could end up going to jail if it's wrong or you've lied).

      And you can then show said completed paper forms to even the dodderyist old fart of an accountant who will understand them in seconds because they've seen thousands of the over the years and know exactly that you have to double check that the boxes on pages 2,3 & 5 should add up to the total in box C of Page 9.

      I don't know who did their move online, but I'd like to shake their hand and buy them a pint (in a tax deductible and expenses legitimate way of course).

  6. Zbig
    Thumb Down

    Funny and ironic how when I was part through reading about how bad old PDF doesn't move with times and modern "responsive" web, the webpage jumped and moved to accommodate for an ad changing for one with different height, making me lose track. It only took two more ad reloads and me having to hunt for where I was until I gave up on finishing reading how unwieldy and inconvenient PDF is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought they were trying to phase out PDFs at first, thank God that's not going to happen anytime soon. *Much* prefer PDFs and e-readers to the Web.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        But e-readers are basically just HTML. That's why they can reflow when you change the font size. The difference between them and web pages is all the ad-related, script-infested bollocks that they don't include.

        The web could be as pleasant as your e-reader, but the UX experts keep right-royally-fucking-it-up.

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      HTML vs PDF

      the webpage jumped and moved to accommodate for an ad changing for one with different height

      It is possible to create a mess with even the best of tools. Do not blame HTML for some numpty mangling it with Javascript from some framework that s/he does not really understand.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: HTML vs PDF

        Or use something like uBlock Origin to chop out all the shit on a web page that you're just not interested in.

        1. skswales

          Re: HTML vs PDF

          What's an ad?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: HTML vs PDF

        It's certainly not the fault of the HTML/CSS/JavaScript technology itself. But it's the fault of the community surrounding such tools.

        If you want PDF you are going to get people with background in the print/book industry to design your document.

        If you want HTML you are going to get web "designers" and all their stupid, flashy, excessively padded, low contrast text fads coming with it.

        So go for PDF and other formats that have roots in books, etc. and you are not going to get the bullshit. PDF supports hypertext too, you can link to other files, etc. So you still get some of the HTML functionality, without the crap. And it's *proper* native vector graphics, with *loads* of features, and it's had support for that for 20+ years, you can't say that about HTML.

        And PDF, once downloaded, doesn't spy on your every single turn of the page, as any Web site does routinely.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          HTML is crap

          Differing only slightly in the specifics from PDF files as to why. Modern HTML is hopelessly contaminated by the legacy of late 90's IE and Netscape as the PDF file format(which to be fair also contains a bastardized version of HTML and the DOM.

          Yes, web monkeys can't write decent HTML to save their lives, but modern HTML was BUILT BY WEB MONKEYS. The original format wasn't suitable for what people chose to use it for, and so they, like Frankenstein, stitched together an unholy monstrosity out of whatever was lying around. As a result, any attempts to resolve text flow issues have to be implemented using copious amounts of an entirely different scripting language. Since people literally have to provide their own implementations of this, there isn't a standard interface. Those that don't know better don't event bother. Hence a world where people look at a flaming bag of poop like Adobe's wretched bastard as an improvement, because the few things that were NOT an afterthought or an attempt at buzzword compliance are exactly the parts of HTML and browsers that never work.

          HTML's essential claim and design constraint was "human readability". As a result it is inefficiently coded, ambiguous, and porky. As a result is completely open to eavesdropping and MITM attacks, you can't easily encapsulate it, and in the modern era, it's inevitably compressed and encrypted anyway. As a result of mandating a broken idea of human readability over deterministic or efficient machine processing, you ended up with an incomplete and broken protocol. Sir Tim, as it turns out, might have been better as a visionary then as an engineer. Funny how he left it up to others to implement most of the programmatic implementation of his little project instead of providing an efficient reference implementation and a streaming decoder for the TCPdump/BPF team.

          Now decades later, you have a format that is broken because you were supposed to be able to open it up in a dumb text editor that in reality is likely mostly unintelligible even to the people who wrote it, who most likely rely on tools in the browser or and IDE to even view the source.

          (oh, and I hate to break to to you, but PDF files can not only spy on you, unless your reader is carefully implemented or fully externally sandboxed it may be exfiltrating data from your local machine. Per the spec it can run scripts and access both the network and local file system. People had to complain for quite a while that that was a problem for obvious reasons. Modern versions probably won't autorun now without clicking ok. At least they are not supposed to, but with thousands of CVEs over the years, I wouldn't count on it)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: HTML is crap

            I use the Linux PDF readers, which are mostly safe and on top of that I have a firewall that only allows a few specific applications to access the Internet. However there's still the chance of clicking accidentally on a hidden hyperlink, for example, and that causing the PDF reader to launch the Web browser. That would be one way "phoning home" could be implemented by an adversary.

          2. Locomotion69

            Re: HTML is crap

            Basically, what you are saying is that both HTML and PDF are crap, in their own way. FTFY.

            Although I disagree.

            In essence, neither HTML nor PDF is crap. The clue is in how the information is to be presented. That requires particular skills. A Web Monkey is not the same as a graphical designer, or an useability expert. Very few master all required skills. Many (most) of issues with HTML and/or PDF are related to bad formatting, poor choices of typefaces (fonts), unreadable images, undesired or unwanted (mis)behavior.

            I recommend this a good read on the topic of useability: Steve Krug's "Don't make me think!"

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pretty Damn Friendly

    As long as you know how to set them up properly for online accessibility, etc.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Pretty Damn Friendly

      Are people Continuously Understanding New Technology Systems? Ops, I expect that AI will eradicate this.

  8. Kubla Cant

    "Please print out this form, fill it in, and send back a scan."

    Even worse, "Please print out this 20-page contract, sign the last page, scan all 20 pages back in, and email it to us".

    So I try to add a scanned signature to the original PDF. Not allowed.

    Maybe I can just print the final page, scan it and replace it in the original document. Not possible.

    Libre Office can edit PDFs, but the result never looks quite like the original document.

    The only solution seems to be to print the thing to 20 single-page image files, edit the final one to add a signature, then assemble them all into a new PDF. But life's not long enough, so print'n'scan it is.

    1. LogicGate Silver badge

      If you need to accurately edit a PDF, then inkscape is a great tool.

      Yes, it currently only opens a single page at a time... maybe something to put into a feature request.

      Still, this can be worked around.

      1. dhawkshaw

        As it happens, the latest version of Inkscape now supports multi-page documents in SVG, and so can import multiple pages of PDF :)

        1. LogicGate Silver badge


          I will have to look into that. Very useful!

          Inkscape can also be very useful if you need a CAD model of a part, and the vendor only offers a 2d pdf (requirement: drawings in vector format)

          Pipeline: pdf -> inkscape -> dxf -> CAD program -> 3d model.

          A bit of work but muuch better than twiddling around with bitmaps as background to your parametric scetches.

          A properly imported pdf can often let you mage very good guesses at the original parametric measurements of the part, even if curves have been chopped into multiple line segments and similar.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have you have ever tried the "sign" feature of Acrobat? The reason is a signature could be added to a document, but can't allow the **original** document to be changed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        With a few caveats

        You can just prune the source, edit it and send it along, where your mark probably won't notice the digital sig is missing, or re-sign it with other key, which will look like it was signed, just not with the marks key. Anyone who is actually checking both is smart enough to learn other tools.

        You can literally do this with a public key encryption program and literally any arbitrary file. The PDF part of this isn't magic, which you probably know, and may even use in other contexts.

        But instead of pushing people to start using this inside Adobe's products, as they are not reliably implemented or compatible on 3rd party tools, i'd steer people to consider external solutions that can help them with other tasks as well.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: With a few caveats

          Acrobat has both the e-signature function and the fill and sign function, the latter will allow you to put a "graphic" signature over an existing PDF and save it as a new one.

    3. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

      Have you tried PDFsam? Its free version allows you to do basic page manipulation like split a file, merge several docs, rotate pages...

    4. Sandtitz Silver badge

      "Maybe I can just print the final page, scan it and replace it in the original document. Not possible."

      Print the PDF to a PDF printer and then you can edit it as needed.

    5. skierpage

      There are lots of Linux command-line tools to manipulate PDFs. `qpdf` is the most powerful, alrhough its syntax is fiddly. Open the original PDF in Inkscape, import only the page that needs signing, insert a PNG of your scanned signature, save as a PDF, use qpdf to assemble the new document.

      I also use `pdftotext` and `pdfimages` all the time.

    6. TRT Silver badge

      I tell you what though... I'd rather print out a PDF form, fill it in with a biro, scan it and send it back than try to fill in the same form sent as a word document which they expect you to TYPE into.

      And that goes treble if instead of using Word's clunky form field system they've just used a mixture of tabs, spaces, underscores, underlining, paragraph marks and new line marks to create blank / ruled space on the page, whether they've used page, column and section breaks or not.

      AND I expect they've inserted helpful guidance text in a light grey which you then have to overtype, but the document was sent with insert mode on because that's how everyone uses Word and setting it to overtype would just confuse 99% of the recipients who don't even know that such a mode exists.

      I'm far too anal to return any kind of a Word document where filling it in destroys the pagination, and where any data so collected are going to be e.g. exported into (God forbid but as soon as you see one of these you know what's going to happen to it) an Excel spreadsheet, but NOT by exporting a separated data layer as something sensible like XML or CSV, but by copying and pasting text which may or may not include formatting and rogue characters which is THEN going to require a whole lot of data sanitation to be performed, something which Excel sucks at worse than anything.

      If they've made work for themselves using such a ridiculous methodology, then I don't see why I should waste any more than the bare minimum of my time.

      Give me strength!

  9. theOtherJT Silver badge

    The entire purpose of PDF... that the document will look the way that the document is bloody supposed to look. Oftentimes that actually really matters. Now, that's not always the case to be sure, and there's nothing wrong with HTML+CSS as a model to support that in trivial cases. Let the content and the layout react to the device, but when it does matter that the document doesn't get re-flowed PDF is still the right answer.

  10. Peter Prof Fox

    Long live PDFs

    Reader applications can be a bit quirky but when you know what your human reader can see (eg "just to the left of that big number 3") then everyone is literally reading from the same hymn-sheet. None of your Fisher Price interaction. If you've ever tried making a 'technical' e-book you'll know the uselessness of hoping the device has a clue about even where to put your stuff on the screen. You can't say 'In the figure above...' because it might get put below. Try forcing decent columns.

    Mind-you PDF readers need a big overhaul in usability. Why is it practically impossible to sign a PDF form? Yet financial institutions are all doing it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Long live PDFs

      You can add signatures and markup to a PDF using Preview on MacOS :)

  11. abetancort

    XML or PDF, give me PDF any time and embed the XML in it to have the computers read it.

    Ebooks, in any common format, are awful for technical documents or any document that has special formatting or graphs and pictures in it.

    XML is for computers to read not humans.

    PDF is for humans to read while maintaining the original typesetting of the author, reading should be a pleasant thing not a pain in the arse, and ebooks, in any common format, are awful for technical documents, any document that has special formatting or graphs and pictures in it and they have awful typesetting.

    Since PDF can carry a lot of extra objects in it, if you want it processable by a computer or a tool to extract whatever you want, you can embed XML and refer to other embedded objects within XML. The only thing precluding this, the best of both worlds, is the PDF authoring tools are not up to the task.

    1. skierpage

      Re: XML or PDF, give me PDF any time and embed the XML in it to have the computers read it.

      LibreOffice can export as a hybrid PDF which embeds the source ODF file. So anyone can view the document, but the editable text is present. I will sometimes search for the source file for an old PDF document, and then remember it *is* the PDF.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've got no issue with PDFs, but then again, I still use email. I'm not a "new kid" who hates all the old technology. Unlike the "new kids", I realize that 90% of the "new" stuff is just the old stuff repackaged, regurgitated, and pretty-printed, or worse, "reinvented" by someone too foolish to search the archives first for existing technology.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This isn't new kid hate

      This is bitter old greybeard hate. PDFs were a shitshow format from the get go. We hated them with good reason before the rest of you gave birth to it's future victims. Don't point the finger at them. Adobe built a proprietary wrapper around Postscript, and they didn't do a very good job. Yeah, most of the other popular formats also have that problem, but you could send a Tiff or BMP with searchable text file inside a .zip too. Inevitably an old PDF would end up either illegible or irrationally massive. Searchability took decades. Recovery of text from areas with any non-basic layout

      In the attempt to combine both, Adobe crated the sum of all failures. That was before they added stuff to let you edit the forms and submit them online, which never actually works as intended in the real world, but did enable a few dozen LPE bugs over the years.

      Thank you but no thanks. EPS does the same, but properly open, and without being able to call read access to arbitrary files accessible to the local operating system. Adobe is the main reason people outside of publishing don't already know that. I don't need to embed Flash objects in a print out. PDFs are by design and architecture, a failure, a tragic mistake. We need to stop.

      1. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: This isn't new kid hate

        How about cutting down on the repetitive moaning and providing some hints on what we could use instead?

        You mention EPS - care to flesh that out? Pros & cons etc. After all, you've clearly put a lot of time and energy into the subject.

        1. DoctorPaul

          Re: This isn't new kid hate

          I've used Foxit products for decades, there's a free reader and a paid for editor. Haven't allowed Adobe products anywhere near my machines for the same amount of time.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... judging by the tone of most of the comments vs. the source article there's not exactly a meeting of minds here.

    +1 for PDF btw.

  14. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    I disagree

    "The days when users have to know there's even such a thing as a file format, let alone how to handle one, should be long gone"

    It is exactly the ignorance of the file format that allows miscreants to trap the clueless into clicking on attachments.

    You cannot drive without a driver's license.

    You shouldn't be able to use a computer without a computer license.

    Know what you're doing.

    1. theOtherJT Silver badge

      Re: I disagree

      The deliberate perpetuation of user ignorance is probably the single biggest failing of modern computing. We let people loose on things they have exactly zero understanding of and then act all surprized when they keep hurting themselves with it.

      The humble desktop computer is probably about the most complex single object that most people will ever lay hands on in their lifetimes. Pretending that they're simple is a dangerous lie.

      I know it's difficult to balance "What you need to know" against the towering vastness of "things that there are to know" but we have gone massively too far down the "Eh, don't think about it" branch.

  15. andy 103

    screens from one inch to 70

    The digital realm has evolved at unseemly speed to a rich environment of screens from one inch to 70

    And here's the thing... you'll never, ever be able to show the same presentation of content on screens of vastly differing proportions in anything of a consistent manner. But you have to understand the separation of "presentation" and "content".

    As a case in point consider responsive websites. That is where the site "responds" to the width of the viewport (screen) and the content shifts around to fit. But of course, the appearance/layout are not - and cannot be - the same on vastly differing screen sizes.

    How would you fit a 12 column desktop layout on to an iPhone screen that means it looks exactly the same? You have only 2 options:

    1. show it in a non-responsive manner where it involves huge amounts of pinch/zoom/swipe to even read the thing because it is so zoomed out in its initial state.

    2. Or, show it responsively where all columns collapse into a single column and then you scroll downwards.

    Either way... the result is NOT the same!! The content might well be the same, but the layout and presentation are definitely not.

    PDF's are no exception to this, albeit they work more like the first of the options above by default.

    There is no way around this "problem" so stop trying to pretend there is some way to giving a consistent appearance to content on Any Device Ever(TM). At least not one that's usable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So the fact that your phone OS is gimped isn't the real issue? The app did it's job if it's showing you a 1:1 copy of the document, but you are choosing to view it through the computing equivalent of a soda straw? I agree it is a major fault of the PDF format is the way that it stores text by default makes the resulting text often unintelligible when it it re-extracted. That would make it easier to search, preview, and access from assistive technologies.

      But the fact that viewing large files is miserable on your phone isn't a PDF file format problem. And while I agree getting Google or Apple to stop doing something stupid is almost impossible, it doesn't mean that the problem is intractable. Just that the only people who can fix it on your phone probably don't care. And it hinges on sticking two your first point.

      As the for the second case, it amounts to magical thinking, so I agree that the two ideas are mutually exclusive if you want it to work perfectly in all cases. That's because your second case allows the user to chose arbitrary and unreasonable hardware the author of the document has never seen. Sorry but that's a fail. It is just not a reasonable expectation, barring the discovery of omniscience pills and crystal ball technology. I can want a magic living unicorn made out of diamonds, but that is not a manufactureable object. So you either author a document where the text is fluid and leave the formatting to the client device to sort out(building to the lowest common denominator) or your use a format that will shoe the user how you meant it to look, knowing that that won't gracefully reflow onto somebodies TI-85.

      If your job is as a graphic designer for billboards, don't do your layouts on a smartwatch.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PDFs? No problem.

    PDFs wouldn't be such a problem if companies would get off the dime and wean themselves off of Microsoft desktops. They /could/ mitigate the horror of PDFs if they'd simply make their standard desktop image contain Acrobat Reader (or similar). But they don't---at least I've never worked in an organization that thought that through and either made it part of the initial desktop image or gone ahead and made Reader (or, again, similar) initial part of the routine patch process. Direct your grousing away from PDFs and /to/ the desktop IT folks (and their managers) who aren't dealing with the problem. Even better, avoid all the Microsoft headaches and move to a Linux desktop for $DIETY's sake. I haven't had a problem reading PDFs since banishing WinXP from my desktop systems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Acrobat for windows is the devil.

      It's tangled up in the whole Creative Cloud BS. It installs itself like a rootkit. It's uninstallers don't work. The dedicated uninstall tool from tech supprt leaves two browser plugins behind, files in 7-8 directories, some of which are named as random GUIDs, and sprays stuff all over the registry for _each_user_ meaning if you do a deep clean under a local admin account, it's still borked when a user logs in.

      Adobe has started saying that none of the current supported versions of CC are installable in any virtual environment. It's "DRM" system is like cancer. If you disable it system killing auto runs or it's malware plugins, it re-installs them after every launch. For extra bonus fun, you have to create a CC account and log in to update basic settings on the local installation. And their installers can't usually be deployed from a package management tool on either the mac or windows, so you either let your users install random apps and updates that haven't been tested or put under change management, or you have to manually patch each system.

      As a bonus, adobe will steal your users information, and target them with misleading ads prompting to create a pay for a personal subscription to CC even when the install if from a company site license, and is already paid for, and will point them at a CC install that can hose the OS so badly that you will need to wipe the machine to get Acrobat working again. And their support will deliberately route you to a tech on a shift for the middle of the night if you request a daytime contact, or the middle of the day if you request after hours.

      Your IT department probably has good reasons if they hate Adobe and Acrobat. They may not be the same reasons others hate it, but they aren't wrong.

      And while I wish I could walk into my bosses office and hand him a BSD desktop, I'd get fired by the end of the year, like 85% of the people that try to force an entire office to migrate to a non-tradtional os. Users get bolshy moving between Macs and PCs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Acrobat for windows is the devil.

        "And their installers can't usually be deployed from a package management tool on either the mac or windows, so you either let your users install random apps and updates that haven't been tested or put under change management, or you have to manually patch each system."

        Much as I dislike CC myself you can in fact have a central patching system, providing your subscription is for Creative Cloud for Teams, or Enterprise. The only thing I prefer about is to CS is that at least we don't have to have arguments with the PHB about needing to buy more licenses when headcount goes up.

  17. DS999 Silver badge

    Problems with cut and paste and lack of editing are features, not bugs

    There's a need for an immutable (or reasonably close to such) document format in many problem spaces. If I send you a contract to sign, I don't want to send it to you as a Word document, which you can edit then sign, meaning I have to carefully look at what you printed and signed to verify it hasn't changed. I've never sent anyone my resume other than as a PDF, because I've heard stories about recruiters getting their hands on Word versions and changing them.

    The other advantage is that they look the same for everyone regardless of what device they are viewed on, and isn't reflowed due to screen width or other reasons.

    There are plenty of easily editable document formats out there, the web exists for more free form documents. What's the problem with having one document format targeted at a different need than the rest?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Problems with cut and paste and lack of editing are features, not bugs

      PDF isn't locked from modification. Oh yes, it's a lot more annoying to modify than other formats, but it's not impossible to edit it. If you sent me a contract, I think I can get a major advantage by editing it and that you won't check for changes, and I have no ethical objection to defrauding you that way, the fact that you put it in a PDF will not save you. I can learn to modify it, make a new file that uses the same formatting as yours, or send it to some friends of mine who have to deal with documents a lot more than I do and so already know the tricks to editing PDFs (I just checked with one of them and she is confident that she can edit the contract she thinks I have now).

      There's a reason that real companies don't send you PDFs for legal contracts, but either have you come in in person and sign their stack of paper or use an online e-signing system where the contract is presented to you and you sign on their server. PDFs do not protect you from modification. If you think they do, you're likely to be safer with a word document because at least you'll check that one for changes whereas your overconfidence with PDF may lead you not to do so. Since any file you send me can be edited by me, you either have to not use my copy, check my copy for changes when you get it back, or trust me not to do that. Since you'll have to do that no matter what format is in use, having a format that makes editing annoying is a disadvantage with no upside.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rather PDF than HTMl

    I don't need Firefox to annotate PDFs - I can do that anyway without Firefox.

    I just want a document I can save and read without going near a moronic web browser like Firefox.which changes everything day by day.

    I need documents which are consistent and I can save on a PC and read whenever I want without pages of HTML which is unlikely to be readable tomorrow - especially if Firefox is involved.

    Obviously there is no way I want Adobe involved.

    I use something simple like Sumatra to read - never read PDF with Firefox because I don't trust it.

    Why does this idiotic browser let me save in PDF format on Android, but not on a PC? (I know because this "privacy" browser probably relies on Google to do the work)

    I used to have a good free PDF writer which I could use from Frefox and it even kept the web links live, but this was too handy and Firefox keeps destroying useful addons.

    I can have a couple of addons that can save from web to PDF despite Firefoxes best efforts to kill them - and this definitely does not invclude Microsoft PDF writer.

    1. skierpage

      Re: Rather PDF than HTMl

      In Firefox for years you choose Print > Save to PDF. Works great. Firefox is a fine browser that generally puts the interests of its users first (in the aggregate, not the single cranky person in TheRegister comments). But Google and its customers (advertisers, not users) thank you for your support.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rather PDF than HTMl

      Looks like you get a lot of downvotes here if you criticise Firefox or Mozilla in one way or another. You should see one of my comments, it got something like ~23 downvotes. My record so far :-).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Or perhaps when someone gripes about a program they don't want to use, because of it supporting a format they are using something else to work with outside the browser, people call BS?

        I down voted it and I have been shredding Firefox for years now. Credit where it is due, Firefox is a better PDF viewer than Adobe is. There are better though.

        I have no beef if they add basic editing. If it wasn't attached to Pocket and every other damn thing I hate about Firefox I'd consider it, but it isn't a standalone product. I also don't love the idea of using a browser to view PDF files I didn't just click on from a website, as the PDF format is dangerous when run from a local file path or from something that isn't enforcing the single domain policy.

        If you love other tools use them though. Or list an actual beef with Mozilla's implementation, or (as I did) point out why having the rest of a browser attached makes you uncomfortable. (we at one point took to blocking adobes network access at the local firewall level, Adobe responded by making their login/DRM system force quit the application if it can't connect to the mothership for too long.) Considering PDFs can contain some pretty surprising active content, and usually evil content, I don't want the app to have access to the same variety of web domains that my users browsers do.

        Say something like that and it might get different traction.

  19. Dave_A

    The point of PDF is 'signature required' forms...

    If you want to create a digital form that can be either printed out & hand-filled, or filled out digitally & digitally signed/encrypted/locked (think government/military paperwork)... PDF is pretty much the only option...

    Yes, you can do forms in HTML, but you can't do the kind of 'once you sign this, all of the fields above are unchangeable' offline form-filling thing that PDF does, if you use HTML.

    Browsers have had PDF support for years, but that PDF support has never included the *forms* functions - you'd get an error message if you tried to open a PDF that was a fillable/sign-able form...

    Presumably this is what Moz is adding to their in-browser PDF reader....

  20. cjcox

    No viable suggestion of alternative?

    Suggesting vendor proprietary service solutions or formats as the alternative?

    I'm sorry, but give me PDF.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: No viable suggestion of alternative?

      Indeed. PDF has its flaws[1] but we do seem to be sadly short on good suggestions on what to use instead. No, not HTML but something that does what PDF used to promise[2]: immutable content and immutable format, but still human and machine readable.

      [1] and tonight's award for po-faced understatement goes to...

      [2] what a vast number at least believed it was promising them; they never spotted the fingers, crossed behind PDF's back

  21. martinusher Silver badge

    PDF limitations are commercial

    The original PDF was designed to be a proprietary document format that Adobe marketed by giving away readers but selling code that was used to create and edit them. This setup worked well in the original ecosystem but as PDFs aren't entirely closed competing readers and then editors were produced. This resulted in the familair spiral where more features were put into the format, ostensibly to enhance the user experience, but in reality to make sure it didn't work properly with competing readers. They catch up, more features are added and the arms race continues. Its not the PDF's fault, its the business.

    Floating the idea that all information needs to be hyperlinked and instantly editable these days is complete nonsense. Much of the web is like those giveaway magazines -- small amounts of superficial information sprinkled through acres of advertisements -- and is difficult to get anything useful from. We mitigate this with browsers and blockers that keep some of the clutter down but I was reminded just how bad things are when I was trying to use a friend's machine to get a manual for something for him last night -- there were literally four lines of the document moving around between meaningless advert after meaningless advert (the advert creators were so intent on shoving their animated junk out that they didn't stop to think how distracting having the keyhole that you're trying to read things through is when its constantly shifting up and down the screen).

    (I also have no idea who thought that I was going to read anything on a 5" screen. Phone screens are just too small. They're fiddly, klunky things, that obviously people adapt to but they lose a lot in the process.)(E-readers are better but my Kindle hasn't a clue how to display a PDF, its impossible to read what it thinks is a rendering.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PDF limitations are commercial

      But it's still not as bad as the HTML / Web, which has a much faster rate of adding new features. PDF is relatively stable compared to the Web.

      Yes, it's all about ads now. And the crappy user interfaces nowadays is like the Usenet Eternal September with hordes of so-called "designers" coming into the industry and ruining everything.

  22. Lennart Sorensen

    First thing I had to do with firefox introduced their built in PDF support was to figure out how to turn it off since it failed miserably at rendering the first PDFs I encountered with it. If it doesn't work 100%, do NOT make it the new default without asking and making it really easy to turn off. I don't care if they add markup and editing support since they apparently can't get basic rendering right.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      At one time, a version of Firefox's PDF reader used to render slightly gray text in documents instead of black. Not sure if it was a bug or something deliberately introduced by Mozilla designers to make the document more "aesthetically pleasing" to their eyes. It might have been something to do with font hinting. Anyway the document had solid black text on every other reader I used.

      I was justifiably absolutely furious about this at the time. It felt like nothing was safe from these stupid fads.

  23. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Horses for courses

    HTML for lightweight user guides, PDFs for advanced reference manuals. The former have few images and re-flowing is not a problem. The latter can give highly detailed fixed format displays where there are a lot of graphics with attached notes, references etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I get it, but I thing betting on either is still the wrong horse

      HTML is more often done wrong then right, and even when it is done right, dies of compatibility drift, link rot, and the inevitable site wide wipes every few years whenever a new person takes over. Even permalinks wind up getting "restyled" out of existence, even a big companies like Microsoft, and on key sights like TechNet and the MSDN technical pages.

      HTML has to many of the same problems as PDFs, and PDFs have all the problems HTML does since that became one of their native internal formats. Mixing HTML and postscript is an unholy thing. First, what happens when you encapsulate HTML in a PostScript block in a PDF that also has HTML and then turn it back into Postscript to send it to a printer. Big surprise I still get about 5 jobs a year where the printer vomits up a half ream of Mojibake.

      A printable document format that can contain sound files, 3d video clips, and can write to the system registry? Best of luck with that mate.

      The core of the argument is still that both are crap and we should be moving toward more stable versions of both. But I'd rather view the occasional PDF in Firefox or another browser than view web content inside an Adobe app. Those idiots are responsible for Flash and Coldfusion, which should have been laid to rest in a peat bog or tar pit back in 2002.

  24. cosymart

    Hate Columns - Agghhh!

    I hate, hate, hate anyone who produces content for reading on a screen who puts it in columns especially if they use PDF format.

    Don't, just don't - sob.

  25. aerogems Silver badge

    Run into this before

    Had to submit an official document to a government agency. They send me a PDF and tell me to sign it. I sign it using my Apple Pencil on my iPad and send it back. They reject it saying that it wasn't a "wet" signature. A bit of arguing back and forth and I finally just sign my name on a sheet of paper, save it as an image on my computer, and then apply it to the document and neglect to mention I didn't just print the entire thing out, just to sign it, scan it, and send it back. This time they accepted it.

    I don't feel the least bit bad about it or like I did anything wrong, since in all cases it was my actual signature, written by my own hand. The only difference is that one was done directly using an Apple Pencil and the other was done using a traditional ink pen on paper and then digitized. I'd have no problem going into court and saying under oath that I signed the document.

    But, I agree with the overarching point of the article. PDF needs to die in an almighty conflagration, and even then it's too good a fate for it. eBooks have shown what things SHOULD be like. Most formats are a subset of HTML, without all the absolute positioning BS that people use these days, allowing the text to reflow based on the size of the screen. PDF is good for when you need to preserve the formatting exactly, but that represents a very small portion of documents out there.

    1. mark l 2 Silver badge

      Re: Run into this before

      I honestly don't understand why signatures are still so important to validate documents, especially if they aren't notarized, I rarely have to sign my signature anymore, so on the rare occasion I do no two look the same anyway so im not sure how good they would be to validate it was me who was actually signing it.

      As for PDFs ive not issue with them for what their orignal intended purpose was which was to create a way of distributing documents so the layout would be kept the same no matter what device they were opened on. But then Adobe starting dicking around with them adding in loads of junk and making them an insecure mess.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Evil will always triumph

        because dumb.

        Why are so many online accounts secured by a list of standardized questions that are often easily guessed and based on publicly available information? I have to enter a preposterous 18 character password with 11 complexity rules to look at online recipe box, but same system lest someone take over an account with my financials because my aunt Peggy tagged my dog in a picture and my elementary school has an online directory?

        Digital signatures aren't rocket science, but we can't even get email to do it interchangeably because 1) dumb, 2) Goverment, and 3) Google wants to read everyone's email.

        The crap they do now isn't because it is secure, accurate, or trustworthy. It just shifts liability and the burden of proof. If they repo your house and try to auction it off, the sheriffs will tell you to call a lawyer as they toss your stuff in the street. That will come out of your pocket, even if it was their mistake. That's one way a system so bad persists. There is a version of that idea for searchable, photo accurate, and rescalable digital paper that is useful. PDFs are a sick parody of that product, like a reflection in a fun-house mirror.

        A for PDFs, preserving the layout is their one grace, they suck at pretty much everything else, but I agree, they threw in the kitchen sink instead of making it stable, efficient, or safe.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Evil will always triumph

          Digital signatures won't stop Google reading your email - signing is different to encrypting the email text. Don't know what governments did to stop use of signatures.

          We don't have commonly used digital signatures because Microsoft won't support them in an easy to use fashion: the more I saw email coming from Outlook the fewer digital signatures appeared; the more email was sent to Outlook the more the complaints and confusion about "this gibberish" (compounded by top-posting, aargh). Microsoft didn't/couldn't own The Web Of Trust so you don't get to use it.

          It has always boggled me that lawyers, in particular, never bothered to learn the basics of what email is and never bothered to demand digital signatures - I guess they just managed to figure out to make more money from the status quo.

  26. NitroPress

    Not the format, but the reader, 95% of the time...

    Also... a vast number of user complaints about PDF have nothing to do with the format or even how they are created, but with craptastic knock-off variant readers that don't hew to the Adobe standard. Adobe Reader is free, in several variants for nearly every active platform; there is no reason to use any of the third party knockoffs or, for crikey's sake, the crap built into most current browsers. They are for reading only the simplest, least-feature-rich forms of PDF and break on every little detail.

    So I find it hilarious on top of my prior comment that someone bitching so bitterly about the format thinks a new viewer in Firefox (which I fiercely adore, by the way) is The Solution.

    It's not. Using the real Adobe Reader is.

    1. skierpage

      Re: Not the format, but the reader, 95% of the time...

      The "real Adobe Reader" nags me to login to use Liquid Mode and offers a bunch of tools that require a subscription. And as others have pointed out, Adobe's profit motive incentivizes them to release new versions of the PDF format to drive subscriptions and upgrades.

      The pdf.js viewer in Firefox loads faster (I'm already in a browser) and Just Works. I used to file bugs about PDFs it couldn't render in the 2010s, but not for years now.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I have read the spec. It's a nightmare. So is Acrobat/Reader.

      I don't think that there is a solution, other than don't use .pdf files. Yes, third party apps can make things worse, but the reference standard is broken. Nothing that is implementing it can escape the decades of of buzzword chasing baked into it, or seemingly the toxic legacy of Adobe's total disregard for security, efficiency, or stability since the 90s. And their first party browser plugins are so bad that they changed the plug-in architecture to ban them on several platforms. And stripping all that garbage out would leave with a totally different file format. A fixed version is incompatible, and any incompatible version has the xkcd problem.

      No thank you, I'll just deal with the occasional tick or rendering bug instead of a bloatware rootkit with a side of adware. Not that 3rd party is automatically safe. Freeware PDF viewers are some of the shadiest software on the planet, and in my opinion even the ones that start off OK go evil after a while. The temptation of that sweet adware money is too great, and next thing you know it's downloading a rootkit. Foxit, Bullzip, all eventually devolved into something about as reputable as Limewire. And Adobe uses shills to jam up open source projects that don't play along, at least if they are on windows and have a GUI. The ones on the Apple app store are usually a wrapper around open source with platform approved adware, and probably want access to your address book and location to boot. Of course the same is true for Adobe.

      So an open source core that defangs the more dangerous content has it's merits. I'd rather see a standlone product in the long run, but for an in browser preview it might save you from an evil link, or Adobe's bloatware.

  27. Mr D Spenser

    One valid insight

    "But you won't get any telemetry out of it, no user behavioral data, which is arguably a blessing..."

    Other than that I pretty much agree with the prevailing sentiment of most the comments. PDF is good for what it is intended. Too bad f it clashes with your phone centric ephemeral world.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One valid insight

      A hundred years ago people would be shocked if they knew what the future would bring... Yes, a book that spies on you with every turn of the page logged.... And prison time for possessing or even reading things deemed "inappropriate". Crazy times we live in now.

  28. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Good old Firefox, but Chrome has had a built-in pdf viewer for yonks. No annotations, but for reading it works well.

  29. Bartholomew

    Portable Document Format

    The goal of PDF is simple, that the document will look exactly the same no matter how it is viewed. That the creator of the document gets to decide exactly how the information contained within will be presented to everyone who views it. Complaining that it does not look different by automatically reformatting the information on different devices is like complaining that an aeroplane is not submarine.

    1. Corporate Scum

      Re: Portable Document Format

      Yeah, I agree that's not what it's for. Expecting it to be able to reflow text and graphics to look pretty is the opposite of what is is designed to do.

      Though if you have ever tried to extract and reconstruct text from inside PDFs, it becomes apparent that just being able to draw it on the screen or print it leaves plenty of lose ends. Searchable text has to be carefully composed when the document is produced or scanned, as does selectable text. Early PDF files became page sized graphics files that also mysteriously bloated to 30x the size of an actual scanned page. Clickable links are dangerous, but justifiable. How do you print the output of an interactive video player though? It's become a mess.

      They betrayed their own good idea when they threw in the kitchen sink and a side of bread sticks. But the central idea of presenting an accurate reproduction of the source document regardless of the viewer or platform has it merits. I do think it's worth cleaning that idea up so that structured text can still be extracted from them, if for no other reason then for them to be intelligible for a screen reader. Try that with the PDF of your washing machine's owners manual.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Portable Document Format

        I see lots of people talking about bitmap images in older PDFs. I wonder whether they think that PDF as a format has been around forever?

        Quite often, old documentation provided in PDF format is actually scans of paper documents included as eps bitmaps (which never was an efficient way of storing bitmaps).

        Often, the original source of these documents either doesn't exist any more, or is an obscure, often proprietary format that has no extant software to process it. Much documentation from the old mini and mainframe companies (and their customers) used software on the platform itself, and although some of the most common ones can be emulated, or had translators written for them, many didn't and are now consigned to history. As an example, I've just looked, and it appears that IBM still make Bookmanager tools available even now, and many other now extinct computer companies used to have their own software that did the same which has now gone forever.

        As a result, the only copies that remain are on paper, and to preserve them digitally, it's often best just to scan and embed the document in a PDF as a bitmap. It would be possible to OCR it, but while I've found OCR works well for prose, it does not do such a good job for technical documents.

        I do remember that back in the day, if you were putting diagrams into a document, many document processors did not have the functionality to draw the diagrams, and instead allowed you to create the diagram in a completely different tool, and then embed the bitmap in the document. Things have not always been as sophisticated as they are now.

        For all it's faults, PDF is a way of preserving these documents in a form that (so far) does not look like it's going away.

  30. Dudley-Smith

    Missing the point

    Entertaining though the comment is, and many of the replies, I think everyone missed the point, mainly because no one here seems to be able to conceptualize of writing and written work as anything but some nuisance side issue.

    When I write a letter, or a manual, or a business proposal, I want it to look the way I layed it out in Word, or InDesign, or Scribus. I want the fonts of my choice, not some programmer's amateur effort at a crappy sans serif foisted on us endlessly by the technology cartels. I want images to be precisely where I placed them. I want the documents I create to not be merely throwaways with a marginal utility, but to ooze the mood, atmosphere, and aesthetics I put into them.

    Until you tell me how to do all of that, and make the document portable except by PDF, there is no real argument here.

    It's the same reason why Linux desktops aren't a scratch on Windows or OSx: the open source community is full of programmers who seem to never have met a writer, a designer, or an editor to understand how they use their software tools.

    1. Updraft102

      Re: Missing the point

      I have no problem about the PDF format being the way it is. It's a digital form of what otherwise would be a hard copy. That's not a problem, and the format lends itself quite well to a lot of uses. It isn't meant to be flexibly rendered, like HTML was from the start, though the influence of "designers" has endeavored to make the web more like a PDF, where things are rendered according to the whims of the publisher rather than the viewer.

      When I view a web site, I am concerned with my own preferences about things like fonts, colors, layout, size of various elements, all that stuff. I am not concerned at all about what the author wanted. He's not the one reading it on my device, in the place I am in, with my eyes, and being processed by my brain and interpreted according to my own likes and dislikes. The things the page designer thinks it is "oozing" by his choices of fonts and layouts may be very different from the things it actually "oozes" to the reader.

      It is the ascent of "designers" that has led to so many terrible UIs, barely-usable web pages, and all kinds of other things that bedevil the modern tech sector. It was the reason for the disastrous butterfly keyboards on some Mac laptops (because it had to be as thin as humanly possible; another Johnny Ive effort). It is the reason for the modern fad of flat UIs where it is often difficult to pick out the interactive elements without hovering the mouse over them first, and with such low contrast that people who are not still 25 can't make out half of it.

      "Design" is why Microsoft nixed the ability for Windows users to set their own colors over the ones MS picked... because having my PC "look like Windows" (whatever that means at that moment in time) is more important than having it serve my needs.

      In my case, the issue is those bright white backgrounds so many "designers" have decided are pretty (and therefore immutable). I swear sometimes I can hear the sizzle of my retinas as I stare at such a background, wishing I had brought my sunglasses in from the car when I arrived hours prior.

      Now, of course, there is the trend of dark mode pages and UIs, but I don't like those either. They're hard to see with my "not 25 anymore" eyes. Why does it have to be either completely bright or completely dark? Why can't I set the colors to a nice light grey as I had been doing in Windows for decades (from Windows 3.0 through XP)?

      Evidently, allowing me to choose my own colors wouldn't match with the design that MS has in mind for my PC's UI, so let the retinas fry.

      Of course, at about same time they dropped the ability of (composited) themes to have the colors defined by the user, MS started requiring signed themes, so that any unapproved theme would simply not show up in the list of choices. Even a potentially dangerous kernel driver need only have a signature from an accepted CA... but a theme for Windows? Has to have the actual signature from MS itself, something that they will not provide for any theme that is not their own. Making sure your PC looks the way MS wants it to and not the way the user wants it to is that important to them.

      There are countless other examples where letting the designers have free rein has resulted in inferior, less-usable products.

      As for the little dig about Linux... Linux (such that the term is often used) is an OS (most properly, a kernel upon which that OS is based, but we know what you mean). OSes are not themselves used to create content. OSes run the software that is used to create content, and the presence or lack of those programs on Linux is not about Linux being written by a bunch of programmers who don't get the supposed creative types. The software companies each have their own reasons for not providing Linux versions of their software (most often being that they don't think it is worth their while for an OS that is such a small percentage of the market), but "Linux programmers don't get us" is not one of them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missing the point

        Wow, I didn't know about the signed themes stuff. My God, I am actually laughing now how the whole industry went to s**t... And the Internet censorship / surveillance / conformity / downvotes as well.... We are really living in an early stage of Orwell's 1984 dystopia... Well I've got plenty of other things to do... And if it gets so bad I'll at least try and live off grid.... My my my... Wow, just wow.

        And each time I get a downvote for criticising the Woke ideology it just makes me gobsmacked even more! Just stunned with amazement.

        What an incredible time to be alive, to actually see it get this bad, while I have managed to cope with the emotional shock and have learned thrive at the end, by finding my own path in life where I can be free from this s**t....

        Now playing around with FPGAs and learning new programming languages (definetely not Rust)*. So happy in the end, despite all the crazy s**t that's going on! I finally made it.

        * = 40 downvotes coming now....

    2. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Missing the point

      The middle two paragraphs - spot on. Would be worth a thumbs-up.

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Missing the point

      the open source community is full of programmers who seem to never have met a writer, a designer, or an editor to understand how they use their software tools.

      And even fuller of programmers who know exactly how writers, designers, or editors want to use their tools but think they know better.

  31. Updraft102

    PDF is fine

    Because, yes, it's 2022 and we're still expected to choose between different readers and download them like peasants.

    You can choose between different readers if you choose to. Personally, I find the one that came with my OS to be more than adequate. It's called Okular, the standard document reader for the KDE Plasma desktop. Still,

    I do like having the option to choose another. That's a good thing.

    Which one will work with which documents?

    We were talking about PDF, so we're concerned with the ones that will work with PDF documents. Working with other formats is a topic for another article.

    Which is going to stop halfway down a document until you watch an advert or pay for some Pro version?

    Never seen that in Okular.

    If you insist on using ad-supported spyware or half-featured trialware, that's a problem with the choices you have made, and it has nothing at all to do with the format of the document that spyware or trialware is meant to read. The same issues exist for literally every type of software in existence.

    Security, features, licensing, and all that stuff are an issue in every single program or "app" anyone uses... so why are you acting as if it is somehow unique to PDF readers?

    All you wanted to do was read a document that someone sent you in PDF,

    If you just wanted to read the document, Firefox has been able to do that for many years.

    the world's least favorite format.

    No, that would be .docx. PDF is a breath of fresh air compared to Microsoft's ever-changing, poorly-defined, closed format that people seem to think is appropriate for distributing documents, rather than just for saving that document locally before it is printed (either as a hardcopy or as a .pdf for sending electronically).

    There is nothing wrong with a document having a fixed appearance that mimics the printed page. That is exactly what it was designed for, and there is still need for them even in 2022. If you want to send a document electronically that will look exactly as intended on the other side, what else are you going to use? I would say "fax," but that only works if you are willing to accept a low-resolution black and white image.

  32. Roland6 Silver badge

    Mozilla clearly have too much time and money.

    No I do not need yet another PDF reader on my PC along with the pop-ups "xyz isn't your default PDF viewer...".

    Following Mozilla's line of argument do we assume they going to implement a swiss army knife of file viewers in the browser to save us having to step outside of their browser ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mozilla clearly have too much time and money.

      "do we assume they going to implement a swiss army knife of file viewers in the browser to save us having to step outside of their browser ..."

      That's a great idea - users won't have to minimize their browser to explore the files and folders on the drives. Make that explorer fully dependent on the browser, and it's a mahvellous idea.

  33. Irnerd

    Stop the PDF brain bleed

    Thank goodness for good souls like Poppler developers and pytesseract (not on commission, just had to stop my brain bleeding when was asked to convert financial accounts from PDF to a database table) -

    When I have a mountain of PDFs to get through and need to search - convert each page to an individual text file - then with a half decent text editor it is easy to go through them

    Most of the time the conversion is stable - and okay images are a no no - but most of the time who uses PDF for images?

    Agree, still a horrible document type

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the old problem again: content vs presentation.

    It's the same misunderstanding that has allowed Microsoft to milk people for decades with pointless updates to its Office suite: people confuse the looks with the content. The mere fact that contents did no longer exactly looked the same on another version has spawned decades of ill-inspired "upgrades" with a lot of moolah that could have been spent on better things. But hey, maybe we learned something in the end (not really).

    For a start, I sort of agree with the general tone of the article in that PDF is a promise not really fulfilled, but I think it's wrong to blame the technology for how people use it. For a start, it is as yet the only container in which contents and presentation can be carried between any platform, yet stay the same without wasting space. I can take a vector based illustration and add it to a document, and it will scale up and down without any problems, ditto for the fonts, and the embedding of the required fonts is IMHO an absolute Godsend especially since Adobe has quietly built up a monopoly on fonts in the background (don't believe me? Try getting a webfont without being forced to use privacy invading Webkit, aka Son of Google Webfonts).

    However, the layout and structure only has to do with the contents insofar that (a) an index should remain pointing at the things it indexes, even if you reformat it (something reasonable addressed in most PDF renderings of documents) and (b) elements that have relevance to each other (text and illustrations) should remain together. The notion of a "page", however, changes with the presentation medium, and here is where PDFs fall down: they are explicitly made for a PAPER page size, whereas a computer presentation can vary from a tiny e-ink 2 colour display to a 75" High Dynamic Range wall screen, and mostly landscape at that, and despite HTML having an actually impressive stab at it, not all is well. This is mostly because people who produce contents for print rarely check how it would look online and vice versa, and the two presentation environments has as yet not really met anywhere, but also (and I know I say this often) because very few people use content generation tools the way they should be used - a trend happily encouraged by Office software makers.

    The moment content CREATORS (and by that I mean everyone who writes just about anything) properly start using document indexes, styles and formatting instead of ad-hoc local formatting, this problem will become a lot less prevalent as at that point the way it is formatted will not affect its structure. We spend a little bit of time in new staff training on document work and styles and even that little bit has resulted in a remarkable improvement in internal doc quality. The challenge is that not that all standard content creation tools encourage this, though. The UI of Microsoft Office is famed for being a mess with its ribbon but anyone who has ever tried to create and later maintain a document with header numbering in LibreOffice knows that it's not exactly plain sailing there either and there has as yet never been a 'structure' wizard in either. In addition, content is often created for one specific purpose and a specific audience, and few bother to verify rendering in other formats - it's simple Not Their Problem..

    I'm OK with PDFs. They're simply one form of rendering with one specific purpose and they're very helpful to keep a structure intact between platforms. If you want to complain about useless formats, start talking about Youtube videos that lock up information in a 5 minute stream of waffle that would have taken 10 seconds worth of text, just because to expose you to more advertising. Even though my browser zaps the advertising, that still wastes my time and is very annoying.

  35. flayman Bronze badge

    The article does not match the headline

    This is an odd article, to say the least. Firefox should be congratulated for making a decent PDF reader. Paragraph one. A) How is that eradicating PDF? B) It then spends the rest of its length slagging off the format with criticisms that are mostly valid, but not entirely. PDF is somewhat reassuring, because it looks like a print document, so I feel confident it is as the author intended. I don't really mind reading pages. I still do that with books, whether physical or with e-readers. Printing and signing a form only to scan it and send it back is sort of dumb, but it doesn't need to be that way. This is a choice. I don't have a problem with it. I've worked in IT for decades. Documents are documents. Other formats can be more flexible.

  36. Thomas Gray

    Collaborative alternative?

    My school sends out a weekly newsletter to parents which is written in a Google doc and then wxported as a PDF. Can anyone suggest an alternative? It needs to be editable by all staff (i.e. as easy as a word processor), read-only by the recipients, allow for interactive response (to avoid the “print this page, sign and return” issue), be not too expensive, and not look like arse.

  37. Stu J

    I'd rather have PDFs than not...

    When my kids' schools send letter attachments in .docx format, it makes me stabby.

    My mail client - both my on computer and phone - will preview PDFs so I can decide very quickly whether it's one for the bin or not, or if it's actually worth printing off and sticking to the fridge as a physical reminder/prompt.

    Other formats I have to jump through hoops to get it to do that, inevitably either installing Microsoft bloatware or some 3rd party bloatware that I don't frigging want.

  38. DrXym


    It seems like 95% of restaurants don't bother to show their menu in a mobile-friendly browsable form and instead throw one or more menu PDFs out there. So I end up downloading a lot of junk which I have to clear out of my phone's download folder from time to time. I get that it's a pain to maintain multiple versions of the menu but surely there is specialised menu management software that can produce hard copies and web friendly versions that even a small restaurant can use?

    That aside, I don't mind PDFs most of the time. Sites like banks, revenue, utilities etc. will tend to offer web forms for most stuff and only use PDF for things like statements or forms you have to print and sign. I also print to PDF a lot for things like bookings, tickets, insurance policies etc. because it's handy to store copies on DropBox in case I need to pull them up in a hurry.

  39. Sceptic Tank Silver badge


    I clicked the bait. What a worthless article.

  40. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I've seen lots of "copy protected" PDFs that are actually borrowed from somewhere else before being made available (sometimes at a cost) with protection turned on.

    Hopefully Firefox will not honour these stupid flags (even stopping rotation of the document sometimes).

    Besides, Adobe basically stole PS and made PDF. The should get nothing for that move.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      " Adobe basically stole PS and made PDF"

      <cough> You may want to research a bit into who created PostScript in the first place!

  41. CB__

    Is this a joke article?

    Wrong side of the year, but is this a joke article? Or is Rupert Goodwins actually the work experience kid who's only ever viewed content on YouTube with the obligatory coloured subtitles and backing track? As so many other commentards have said, PDF is a great standard for ensuring that documents are viewed as they were meant to be viewed, and this article is just self-defeating in every way!

  42. Daedalus

    Stop me if you've heard this one

    "Here's the challenge: Build a decent online document creation, workflow and life cycle management system that only cares about formats when you tell it to."

    Sorta like LaTex?

  43. mevets

    Every stick of wood....

    I like big text. I like having a large hi-resolution screen rendering beautiul large fonts so I can pretend this shit isn't as awful as it is. If this display technology ever catches up to reflective matte print on paper, I will be its biggest fan. I will switch back to 12 pt text.

    But displays are still crap; e-paper is in a neck and neck race with linux to take over the desktop in ( $current.year - 2000 ) years from now; and modern software is abysmal.

    While pdf / ps / di / ... all have their limitations; spend a day with your default font size switched to 16 or 18 on everything -- your computer ( + apps like firefox that gloriously ignore system defaults ); your i/a/? - phone & pad.

    How well do things work?

    Apple's on i-devices is the funniest; switch the font size, and piles of your settings become unreachable because they are rendered off the screen, with no scrolling ability. I would have been truly joyful if it made it impossible for you to switch the font size for this reason. Maybe the next update, which is likely in hours....

    So, yes, please, clever *designers* or whatever pretentious title you prefer this week; make PDF, PS, ... obsolete. But not just by saying it.

  44. jwill

    PDF is a reasonable way of posting a printed message.

    PDF can be read not only by Adobe Reader but many other online applications such as Chromium, Emacs, GhostView, Krusader, LibreOffice Draw, Okular, Opera, XnView MP, and others.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love pdf

    I love pdfs for all the reasons the author hates them.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You've got it exactly backwards.

    If you look at what has happened to the field of clinical medicine, electronic medical records used to include discrete reports and notes which encapsulated particular finding or a particular clinicians thoughts about the patient's contemporaneous condition.

    The appropriate way to digitalize this information would have been to create easily accessible and indexed.pdfs which would have improved portability, accessibility, and sharing.

    Instead, the for-profit electronic medical records companies created large relational databases with multiple links. The individual clinician navigates by clicking on various links to give you different skews of the database. Unfortunately, this navigation depletes the collection of data of its relational implications so that it becomes increasingly difficult for one clinician to understand what the other clinician was thinking of. The printed version of the medical record, which is the official transcript used for medical legal purposes, is virtually unintelligible, since the data is presented in a format that is entirely foreign to every clinician that has entered the data. The progress notes of clinicians also become meaningless because they're created with automatic imports of various lists of data which are not rated for their relevance to the particular note at hand. As a result, what used to be a one-page progress note from a physician now encompasses 10 to 20 pages of aging data and clinical parameters which are not accurate at the time of the note. This "modernization" of the medical record is beneficial to large for-profit medical entities and pharmaceutical companies because it provides instant access for billing and sales parameters. It is utilized to overcome every measure of productivity that Medicare and insurance providers could dream of, maximizing reimbursement. However, it makes patient care difficult if not impossible and dilutes human cognition and problem solving to the point that mistakes are made on a daily basis.

    The simple implementation of PDFs without linkages would have provided all the advantages of electronic medical records with none of the disutility.

  47. sketharaman

    PDF is cancel proof

    I don't know how true it is but I've heard this story about a guy who posts a video on YouTube and, a few minutes later, gets canceled from all Google products and loses access to all his Docs and Sheets because the background music in his video violated YouTube TOS. It can be a PITA to handle different file formats but there's something to be said for being able to download your files to your PC and keeping them in your own safe custody as against being held ransom by Internet oligopolies.

  48. YetAnotherXyzzy

    I've never understood the benefit of baking a PDF reader into a web browser in the first place. I prefer each of my tools to do one job well, and the current trend of bloating browsers into 100-bladed pocket knives that do everything but nothing well does not impress me.

  49. CJ Hinke

    The problem with PDFs is not corporate. Blame Sonny Bono.

    America's copyright crazies have led to unalterable documents. My worst ever: Canadian govt forms which won't even display in my browser, let alone download or fill in.

    I lobe PDFs. They should be copiable and changeable.

    And what other format would be better, anyway???

  50. ShannonB

    Okay things like copy paste and formatting would be nice, but many websites block this anyway.

    I deal with financial statements from many companies and pdf's are way, way better. I roughly know where the data I'm looking for is based on the length of the document.

    Many businesses have fancy web financials and they're terrible even when implemented well. I don't want to have to scroll around looking for where the content menu is, then figure out which ambiguous heading they've placed a submenu to the data I'm looking for. Pdf's I can just scroll, no surprises on the direction of the document or obscure placement of links.

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