Oh, god I hate PDF for on-screen viewing

Honestly, I don’t understand how somebody can prefer PDF to HTML for on-screen viewing. Really? That is possible? If you’re one of them, can you help me understand?

There is no doubt that PDF is superior, if you’re going to print the document, but if you’re going to read it on-screen, I don’t even know where to begin listing why PDF sucks. But I’ll try. My top gripes are:

  • It is a different environment. My web browser buttons, extensions, history don’t work. Selecting text works differently. Searching works differently. Right-clicking, cut’n’paste all work differently. It’s a completely different environment from that page I came from. Why?
  • I’m served a “individual page metaphor”, rather than a “continuous page” one. Why do I have to see headers and footers for what would be separate pages if I were to print it?
  • PDF files tend to misbehave on Ubuntu/Linux. That is likely not a problem for you.

I realize that I’m passionate and emotional about this issue. So I googled “pdf usability studies“. Yeah, right. Thankfully the first relevant hit was PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox on useit.com). I don’t always agree with Jakob Nielsen (I mean http://www.useit.com is perhaps usable, but man is it ugly!) Mostly, though I got links to PDF files containing the conclusions of usability studies on all sorts of other things. So not all usability experts seem to hate PDF files. :-( On the other side of the coin, way down in the list was PDF usability: Debate and reality on acrobatusers.com. I guess it isn’t surprising that somebody on acrobatusers.com likes PDF files! ;-)

Jakob Nielsen mentions usability studies and research and quotes from some of them, but I’m wondering if there is other, independent studies or research – not loud opinions like this one! Of course I’m hoping for links that confirm my point of view, but really I’d like to know what “people” think.

3 Comments

  1. Peter says:

    I must admit, that I find .doc to be equaly bad for on-screen viewing. Especially since I don’t have MS Office natively on Linux.

  2. John Bailo says:

    I use all different size screens with a browser including my 32″ LCD.

    The beauty of HTML and what few people understand is that if done right, it auto forms for the browser size.

    With PDF if i size the text for very large the lines don’t wrap…I have to H-scroll back and forth to read!!

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