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Is PDF format the most efficient today?

What is the PDF format good for?

 The PDF format is widely used. Is it the most suitable today?This PDF format that is so familiar to us, is it the right tool today in the digital age?

PDF format has become a reflex for most of us. If we want to send a document that should not be modified by the recipient, we send it in PDF format (Portable Documents Format).

It must be said that Adobe, like Microsoft with Word, has carried out a masterstroke: Installing its Acrobat software on every computer by default.

In fact, in the great majority of cases, when we want to consult  technical documentation: online, we find it in PDF format.

Advantages... or drawbacks of the PDF format?

PDF is far from being the most efficient reading format, or most comfortable on the screen.

This doyen of text formats is static. It does not adapt to screen formats (and portrait mode screens have been around for a long time!). The document dimensions, as designed, are those shown on the reading media being used (computer, tablet, reader, smartphone, etc.).

Admittedly, this format respects and retains the content characteristics and page layout of the document, but it does not suppress page breaks. What's more, it cuts off reading and offers  no flexibility when reading. The latter can thus quickly become laborious, even impossible when the screen is too small. The document loses its appeal.

In brief, Web formats are much more suitable!

So why do we see PDF format everywhere? The reason is simple. Word only allows production of relatively good-quality PDF files, while the Web format is atrocious.

Based on a recent article in TCWorld(from the very serious Tekom), PDF format may still have very many advantages. Arguments favoring PDFs for ease of use include research options, the ability to print on paper, off-line functionality and the wide selection of available PDF readers. Drawbacks are dependence on the availability of a device, the risk of selecting incorrectly when downloading lists, and its weak responsiveness.

Comparison of PDF/Web format functionalities

  • PDF offers the ability to search. I admit that I don't understanding this argument. The only search possible on a PDF is full text search, the same as on all other formats (except for paper...). In contrast, Web formats offer many additional options: key-word search, category search, etc.

  • PDF allows printing on paper. That's true! However, printing options from a Web format are increasingly efficient. We must admit that a good PDF is practical for a printer... Except if the same document could easily be published in several formats from a single source.

  • PDF provides Off-line viewing. Web formats are also easily disseminated off-line! However, this functionality is rarely used and little-known.

  • There is a wide selection of PDF readers: ditto for Web readers!

Advantages of structured writing in PDF format

There are other disadvantages of PDF format that are not mentioned, but which are nonetheless substantial:

  • it invades email inboxes, which quickly become bloated;

  • you never know which version you have, nor if it works with the latest version of a document.

So why continue to use the PDF format?

With a structured writing tool like Calenco®, which offers instant publishing of multi-format documents, you have to ask yourself if thePDF formatstill has any advantage over a Web publication...

And in spite of all that, if I think about it a little. I am the first to say that I prefer reading from a PDF rather than on a Website...So, why is this? Because I learned to read using a notebook. A good, old-fashioned book with pages that I turned using my finger. And now my brain needs that harmonious page format (A4!). It needs borders at the top and the bottom, the left and the right. An average of 15 words per line and 20 lines per page gives it shape.

The new generation dares to question PDF format

Luckily, the new generation of professionals arriving on the scene learned to read on a screen. They have the power to say: No, I no longer want this dusty old medium. I want to read on the run, on a tablet or a Smartphone. I want hyperlinks and dynamic content according to my situation.

Businesses who have only PDF to offer them are at a disadvantage compared to more innovative companies who have anticipated this change. They will be producing their content independent of form, in a structured fashion, ready to be disseminated on all media and formats in one click!

After all, even airline pilots are using the iPad.

Structured technical documentation tools like Calenco have a bright future.

And as a good example deserves a long explanation, you may also download this article in PDF, e-Pub and Word (the geekiest can even recover the  XML).