(Un)Portable Document Formats


I have been buying a reading Battletech stuff for many years. In recent years, thanks to the iPad, I have been able to switch to eBooks for most new purchases of larger format texts. This saves space on my shelves, and since the downloads are packaged as mostly DRM-free PDFs, I am confident I will be able to access them for the foreseeable future. And eBooks are great for travel, since they do not take up any additional space, and if they are "lost", they can be re-downloaded. While I have used eBook readers for years (and my current eReader of choice, and favorite ever, by far, is the NOOK: The Simple Touch Reader), e-ink, paperpack-sized screens do not work too well for letter-size PDFs. But the iPad solves that.

So with PDFs being a universal document format, why has the format become so complicated? It used to be that a PDF was a PDF. In all of the previous PDFs I have purchased, I have had exactly one problem, and that was with an embedded font that appeared in Acrobat Reader, but not in Preview.app or iBooks. That was fixable (by turning the few affected pages into images), but with a recent purchase, I have been flummoxed by the potential incompatibility of PDFs.

In the long awaited BattleTech: Era Report: 2750 – long-awaited if you are into Battletech I suppose – the idea of a PDF as a "Portable Document Format" has completely broken down. I tend to view my purchased PDFs in iBooks for the iPad (rather than GoodReader or PDF Pen), because I can dump them into iTunes, and they end up on the iPad in iBooks. I back up the "books" directly of iTunes using Crashplan and also keep a copy of all of my books in Dropbox, so they are pretty well backed up. In the case of this document, most of its graphics do not show up in iBooks on the iPad. Or PDF Pen on the iPad. Or GoodReader on the iPad. Or Preview.app on the mac. Or PDF Pen on the Mac.

Luckily, everything works in Adobe Reader, which is good and bad. Adobe Reader on the Mac is very bloated and I tend to avoid it. On the iPad it is amongst the slowest PDF readers to use, taking upwards of 30 seconds to render a color page on the latest generation iPad.

I emailed Catalyst (the publisher) about this last week, and I assume they will fix it. But the point is, they should not have to worry about it. The PDF was encoded with Adobe InDesign CS5 for pete's sake! It should just work in a PDF viewer. Otherwise we end up with document fragmentation. There are two huge reasons that I avoid Microsoft Word like the plague. First, the interface, which I wrote about a while back here, and second, the fragmentation of the format with the introduction of .docx. I hope the same does not happen with PDFs, especially purchased PDFs, but I fear that it has already happened.

The PDF format is getting pretty tarnished (Atlanta, 2012)
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