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.