Thursday, January 03, 2008

PDF "Trouble"

I like Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror blog. I use it as fodder for many posts at my internal work blog. It covers a lot of "looking forward" topics for my group, but it doesn't hit home as much as it could. Some of those topics are so far out that my coworkers just aren't thinking about these things yet.

That changed today.

Jeff's post on PDFs is directly relevant to things that I do on a daily (or monthly) basis. In it, he argues against PDF and for HTML, which 99% of the time is fine. The user experience is better with HTML, it can do neat things by interfacing with the browser.

However, it doesn't allow the user to save their content. PDF does. Why is this important? Because you need to save a legal document.

An aside, my work currently consists of producing electronic statements for large companies. Your monthly cable bill, your wireless bill, your credit card name I have produced many HTML based statements, which are great. They interface with the end user, can allow them to sort transactions in some cases, or download CSV files to import into a spreadsheet. So why is it, that I argue against Jeff and for PDF? Because you can save PDF and get a file that looks and feels like that paper document I get in the mail.

Look and feel is important for large companies. They have spent loads of cash on print document authoring software. They spent even more cash on print vendor contracts or large print shops. It is important that the document they produce for paper looks the same or very similar then the one on the web. It reduces customer care costs if they are the same. PDF allows for that. You can do it with HTML, and some forward looking companies and utility startups are doing so.

I believe Jeff is simply ignorant of some of the uses for PDF, and probably doesn't know about the world I interface with.. But read the comments and you see a lot of users who just don't understand the advantages of PDF when it comes to statements. They overestimate the client and their legal team, as well as the end user.

As companies try to get more "green", they will try to reduce paper costs which means turning paper off for customers. As this occurs, HTML (well, actually the browsers) will have to come up with a better way to save a statement. Obviously IE can package a statement in an mht file. But Firefox, Opera and Safari can't. And we all know the holy wars that are unleashed when you limit your audience to one browser.

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