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Adobe Pushing For Flash and PDF In Open Government Initiative

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the open-is-relative dept.

Government 172

angryrice tips news that Adobe seems to be campaigning for the inclusion of Flash and PDF in the Obama administration's efforts at increasing government transparency and openness. A post from the Sunlight Labs blog is critical of Adobe's undertaking, in part since PDF is often "non-parsable by software, unfindable by search engines, and unreliable if text is extracted." They also say government's priority should be to publish datasets and the APIs to interact with them, rather than choosing how they're displayed in fancy graphs and charts.

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172 comments

don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1, Informative)

vaporland (713337) | more than 4 years ago | (#29933945)

"non-parsable by software, unfindable by search engines, and unreliable if text is extracted."

I don't believe this is true - I find PDF documents in search results all the time. The consistency and reliability of PDF for forms creation has no real competition. If you hate Adobe, ok, but don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful...

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#29933975)

I have no problem with PDFs, there are a number of free and commercial applications out there that can work with them.

Flash on the other hand is absolutely an abomination that must be wiped from the net. They still haven't released a proper version for *BSD and they commonly don't bother with less popular OSes. If they want it to be used for this sort of purpose then they need to get their act together and make it available for all operating environments on an equal basis. Which I don't think they have the resources to do.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (4, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934027)

PDF remains difficult to manage. Like MS Word documents, an incredible amount of resources is wasted in display information rather than actual text or graphical content. Unlike MS Word, they're parseable: but unfortunately like MS Word, the commercial vendor-sold document creation tool (Adobe Acrobat) generates unstable and unreliable content that interacts very badly with other tools. Oddly, the ghostscript created PDF remains very stable and legible, and tools like "PDFCreator" which uses ghostscript creates long-term viable PDF printouts of other document formats. I use it for complex MS Word documents that cannot be handled by other software, even different versions of MS Word.

Adobe can actually do better with this, and I hope that they will in the future. But it's not stable enough to be reliably indexed or viewable even 5 years in the future, much less 10 or 20 or 100 such as may be needed for legal or historical documents.

Flash, you're quite right. Unless they open up the source, it has no business as yet another document format.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934153)

but unfortunately like MS Word, the commercial vendor-sold document creation tool (Adobe Acrobat) generates unstable and unreliable content that interacts very badly with other tools
Can you be more specific as to what problems you have had using files from acrobat in other tools?

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (3, Interesting)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934331)

Printing documents created in other language versions of Acrobat. In particular, the Adobe Acrobat for German created documents that were not only unviewable in a normal Acrobat viewer, but when used to "print PDF" for MS Word documents, created documents that actually crashed Windows computers. The Acrobat for Hebrew didn't crash Windows with the printed documents, but was filled with layout errors when rendered even by Acrobat Reader, errors that didn't show up in the Adobe Acrobat tool. Much of this may have been fixed with the latest release, but I'm not spending nor suggesting that my peers overseas spend all the money needed to upgrade.

Getting our colleagues to stop using Acrobat and use _anything else_ to generate their documents, and use PDFCreator to print them as PDF, stabilized the situation enough for us to generate the documents we needed. It didn't provide PDF forms for people to fill out, which was its only flaw.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (3, Interesting)

xjimhb (234034) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934647)

Just recently I had to look at, and print a few pages from, a PDF document. Knowing where it came from, a corporation that is only very slowly dipping a toe in the water of software other than the big names, I'm sure it was done with Adobe.

Now I don't even have the Adobe Acrobat reader on my system, when I try to install it, the install crashes. But Fedora comes with several other PDF readers, and the default is set to "Evince" which works fine MOST of the time.

But I got this PDF, and one page was a picture of a tax form, and when I tried to print it, the tax form came out as a big black blob - man, does that waste ink! Obviously I killed the print job to try something else. (Just VIEWING this tax form was fine, only printing messed up.)

I remembered using "Xpdf" a while ago, so I tried that, and voila, the tax form printed perfectly. Since I knew there were more tax forms in there, I used Xpdf for the rest of the job.

So here is a case where two different PDF viewers reacted differently to the same PDF file. I think what we need is is an OPEN DEFINITION for PDF files, probably a subset of Adobe's definition, that any OSS viewer can follow and get the proper results - and ask the user what to do with files that don't follow it.

And tell Adobe they can either follow the open definition, or stuff it where the sun don't shine!

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934951)

I think what we need is is an OPEN DEFINITION for PDF files, probably a subset of Adobe's definition, that any OSS viewer can follow and get the proper results - and ask the user what to do with files that don't follow it.

There is such; Adobe publishes it and makes it freely available on its web site. It's possible your file didn't follow it, but it's more likely your reader wasn't 100% compliant; it's a very complicated specification.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934361)

Unlike micros~1 word documents, there are freely available specifications and a reasonable number of quite reasonable third party implementations that can either display or generate PDF, or even both. That is to say, you can very well ``do PDF'' without ever using adobe software. Part of its success is that it's a dumbed-down version of PostScript, also open and arguably the right way to talk to printers. That's a whole sight better than micros~1's ooxml abomination, that once standardized turned out to have not even one conformant working implementation. Agree on the flash, but there's more.

PDF is pretty good on storing bound-for-paper documents (and when doing that, use metric paper, dammit) though for scans you're probably better off with DJVU. Flash is basically pure concentrated dancing rodents, and has very little to offer beyond gimmicks. Unless it opens, and opens soon, it will have no staying power and flash data will be rendered useless in a decade or two. That's bad for archiving.

The core goal should be content: Content, interop, accessability for the disabled, accessability for non-wintendo machines regardless of marketshare, archiving, being able to re-use, and still being able to access centuries down the road. PDF may qualify, flash certainly does not.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934247)

I agree that open government docs should stay away from Flash. I don't agree that Flash is an abomination because Adobe does not bother with less popular OSes. Why should they implement Flash on less popular OSes? That costs Adobe real money and then only a handful of users would benefit. If you were in charge of the engineering budget at Adobe, would you spend $ on a feature for Mac and Windows that 100 million people would use or would you use that same $ to port Flash to a less popular OS with 10,000 users?

PDF and Flash are massively multiplatform (2, Interesting)

Ilgaz (86384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934665)

Adobe ships Flash/PDF readers/plugins to: Windows, OS X, Symbian (in some form), Linux, *BSD and various, uncountable tiny platforms. iPhone/iPod does not count because of obvious reasons.

Lets see what MS Silverlight ships to: Windows/Intel Mac. Damn thing is so tied to Windows that they couldn't even convert/ship the V2 for PPC Macs or they simply abandoned them. (like we cared!)

MS XPS format and viewer is the answer to PDF which, some people who didn't use Windows have never, ever heard of. It is that Windows centric. Despise all rude attempts by MS (adding XPS printer without etc), it has never, ever took off.

What we need is, something combines ODF and PDF. You can add binary file to PDF document like some layer. ROM LogicWare, less known Office (Papyrus) developer does it right now. The files are both PDF and their own edit format, transparent to PDF readers and NOT a hack.

Of course, people will spend time "omg flash, pdf, Adobe is slow" flaming rather than finding a solution to a real problem. Asking government to use Flash is really absurd but the real one to blame here is MS and open source based large companies. If they have no alternative, Adobe will suggest PDF of course. What else they should use? MS XPS?

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934813)

Because Flash is now a crucial part of the internet. Until HTML 5 comes out with video standards and the like, Flash is about the only way you can embed videos in sites without ruining the layout of the site with a third-party media player and without your users searching for codecs.

If Adobe would simply release the source to the Flash player, they could -save- money, have full platform compatibility and perhaps make more money with the Flash creation products. Think of it this way, if there was a fast language (most apps in Flash seem to load, run and interact faster than Java) that you could truly write once and run anywhere, it would be a hit. Flash could be this language if Adobe just opens up the player. Until they open it up, I expect them to do a good job and port it to every single OS or platform where it is allowed because it is good for business for them and helps that platform (which in all honesty Adobe should want to kill Windows as quickly as possible and move the world to OS X and Linux).

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934317)

With the way CSS is developing, won't flash be redundant soon anyway? I certainly hope so!

Free programs only work with some govt PDFs (1)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934747)

A number of government forms don't work with the free PDF readers.

This is because Adobe broke its own published spec with its LiveCycle product, and by default it saves files that aren't compatible with anything else. It does a great job of forcing you to buy LiveCycle/Acrobat instead of using free tools. The Adobe people will tell you that it speeds up rendering of downloaded data, which I find hard to believe as the files are between 2x and 3x the size of a regular PDF.

The current use of Adobe products for government forms is a nightmare, it seems like a dumb idea to extend it.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (2, Interesting)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934009)

PDFs are only searchable if the document contains text. Half the time PDFs contain text-as-image, which is about as useful to a search engine as a captcha image. Google doesn't run OCR on PDFs, AFAIK. Although, come to think of it, that sounds like something they'd get sued by a random company for doing for "violating copyright proprietary information".

What do you want? (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934035)

Perhaps you know of a document format where the text in images IS searchable?

Re:What do you want? (2, Interesting)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934077)

A document format shouldn't store text as an image. That's why it's called text.

Re:What do you want? (2, Insightful)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934175)

That is not really a format issue though, in any format that supports images I can insert an image containing text.

Which idiot managed to do it? (2, Informative)

Ilgaz (86384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934741)

I work with PDFs a lot, especially on OS X. I am telling you from an OS which you can have 60 KB 1080p screenshots in PDF in some circumstances: Whoever did that "text as image" trick, he is a complete moron.

One of the reasons that PDF took off is exactly embedding fonts used in a document so it will appear as pixel perfect on client machines.

As last resort (and a good practice), you can embed unformatted pure text of the entire PDF in your PDF file. PDF, like Quicktime Mov is one of the formats where people doesn't use the features and bitch about the size of client etc.

Re:What do you want? (2, Interesting)

trickyD1ck (1313117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934089)

Actually, OneNote can search in images: "Powerful search capabilities can help you locate information from text within pictures or from spoken words in audio and video recordings." http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/HA101656661033.aspx [microsoft.com]

Re:What do you want? (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934229)

You're missing the point. PDFs do not store text. Text is a stream of characters. PDFs store glyphs and their locations. It is more or less possible to convert glyphs into characters, although things like ligatures and the fact that spaces are not really represented make this difficult. In the metadata, some PDFs also store the text of the document, allowing it to be extracted. Given that the PDF is created automatically from the text in most cases, the text is more useful. You can create the PDF from the text easily, but creating the text from the PDF is much harder.

Re:What do you want? (1)

PhrstBrn (751463) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934591)

Sure, whatever. It's not text, it's "something else". But that something else can easily be converted to text.

You can copy/paste text out of a PDF in almost all PDF reader software. You can't possibly argue that you can't extract text from the PDF.

Re:What do you want? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934707)

It depends on how the PDF was created. If the PDF had the source text embedded in the metadata then it will work fine. Now try it with a PDF that's generated by printing to PostScript and then distilling to PDF (as a lot of PDFs are). It won't work.

Re:What do you want? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934561)

ASCII

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934043)

The summary does not do a good job of reflecting the original blog post's point. The point was that the government should make data available in a machine-parseable and generic format. PDF is a great format for storing typeset pages, but it is a terrible format for publishing data. It's easy to generate beautiful PDFs from well-structured data but it's much harder to go the other way. Would you rather have budget figures (for example) as a CSV file in a well-defined format or as a PDF of tables and graphs? If the data is available in the former format, it's easy for you or a third party to produce the latter format. If it's only available in the PDF form then it's much harder to create the CSV.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

eugene2k (1213062) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934403)

Better JSON or XML than CSV

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (2, Interesting)

John Whitley (6067) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935181)

CSV is kinda evil (see my post above), but it's better for tabular data than JSON or XML. Again, a tabular serialization format such as Avro, Thrift, or Protocol Buffers might well be far better than CSV for tabular data. JSON has quite a bit of format bloat, and would need some standardized way to explain the data's schema for further analysis. XML is the king of format bloat, but at least has standard schema representations. XML is far better for semi-structured or unstructured data than tables.

data formats independent of campaign donors (2, Informative)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934417)

The summary does not do a good job of reflecting the original blog post's point. The point was that the government should make data available in a machine-parseable and generic format. PDF is a great format for storing typeset pages, but it is a terrible format for publishing data. It's easy to generate beautiful PDFs from well-structured data but it's much harder to go the other way. Would you rather have budget figures (for example) as a CSV file in a well-defined format or as a PDF of tables and graphs? If the data is available in the former format, it's easy for you or a third party to produce the latter format. If it's only available in the PDF form then it's much harder to create the CSV.

If the goal is to make the data available, then even CSV would be a better option than PDF. PDF, while pretty, is a terminal format and is the digital equivalent of a mayfly. It's paper that hasn't happened yet and when it does it will exist for a few short hours before finding its way to the circular file.

Much of the government data consists of tables and tables of data. gzipped csv would be readable by anyone, so would ODF. Adobe appears to be looking for a handout at the expense of creating a useful and open data system.

Put it in context: open government requires data formats that are independent of campaign donors.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

John Whitley (6067) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935151)

It's easy to generate beautiful PDFs from well-structured data but it's much harder to go the other way. Would you rather have budget figures (for example) as a CSV file in a well-defined format or as a PDF of tables and graphs?

More importantly, it's then easy to import that data for visualization and analysis purposes. Data presented as a PDF file is effectively so inaccessible that it will rarely be extracted for further analysis, meaning that some gov't functionary becomes responsible for the presentation and analysis instead of members of the public. Then a panoply of tools become available for finding out things from that data that no one ever knew were there. Something like Tableau Desktop [tableausoftware.com] can slurp in CSV data (or data imported to a slew of OSS or commercial DBs) and allow very rapid exploration.

As an aside, I will point out that CSV is an _evil_ format. Did you know it can be generated in localized forms (without any distinguishing metadata), that mean comma is supplanted for use as a thousands separator? Oops. Really, what idiot thought it was a good idea to have a localized data format... Much better to use a serialization format like Avro [apache.org] which uses a compact serialization for tabular data (akin to Protocol Buffers or Thrift) and the schema data (i.e. the description of the table's structure: columns, types, etc.) as a sidecar file in JSON.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (2, Informative)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934149)

Many implementations of PDF converters merely print a document to images and then embed the images into a PDF. Those are non-searchable and no text can be extracted with the existing tools. I once created a documentation website which relied on these embedded image types of PDF documents. I had to implement an OCR solution in order to extract the text to make my clients documentation searchable. It was ugly and a real pain in the ass.

Certainly, PDF can be beautiful, but it is often not implemented that way. Personally, I'm a big fan of PDF. If not implemented properly, I try to avoid it.

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934635)

Can I hate all the multimedia/hyperlink/scripting/vulnerabilities they've added to PDF?

I'll back this so long as it's PDF light - text and graphics only (OK, maybe I'll allow hyperlinks...).

Re:don't hate PDF 'cause it's beautiful (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935683)

PDF/A is the term you are looking for. It is the ISO-defined subset of PDF that prohibits encryption, JavaScript, sound and video.

This is terrible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29933963)

I am so sick of flash-based interfaces. Augh.

PDF is Fine (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29933967)

PDF is fine, stop complaining. PDF is handled really easily by most mail aps, browsers, etc these days. APIs sound like a headache if you ask me.

Nobody likes flash (5, Insightful)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#29933993)

Nobody likes Flash, and they probably shouldn't use it for anything. But there's not much wrong with PDF, if it's done right. When publishing something, one could offer "source" (some sane, machine-readable format) and PDF (autogenerated from the source, and prettified for easier reading).

PDF shouldn't be used as a way to encapsulate scanned JPEGs and pretend they're a real electronic document.

I would also note that many of the complaints about PDF as a format in TFA are really complaints about Adobe's abysmal PDF reading software. For example, the concern about the visually impaired: KDE's Okular does speech synthesis and has a high-contrast mode.

Re:Nobody likes flash (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934455)

Nobody likes Flash (around here)
- fixed that for you

try to not confused between what you want and what everyone else wants.

have u noticed that flash seems to get more and more powerful with each iteration and is available on more and more devices.

animation and video are a part of the web and it would be quite surprising if that situation changed - whether or not flash plays nicely with your particular choice of obscure operating system.

you don't have to like flash... why should you. its just that the internet would suffer terribly if you were to just... ya know... go elsewhere.

Re:Nobody likes flash (sorry, yes they do...) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29935203)

PDF and Flash are commonly used and extremely powerful. They can be and are used with great success. Your points are valid, but they are not Adobe's fault. Just because people make Flash intro pages or scan jpg's into a PDF is outside of the control of Adobe.

Anyone can create a PDF reader or flash player without paying Adobe a cent.

Re:Nobody likes flash (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29935323)

PDF is also not really an open standard. It's mostly open - but some very interesting features, like "Allow commenting in Reader" and "Allow Reader to save filled-in forms" cannot be implemented using published standards information.

I suppose it's ok if the website offers an option to return data in multiple forms (eg. here's a link to the original word file, or here's a PDF if you can't read Word), but it doesn't quite seem appropriate as _the_ way to present information.

Re:Nobody likes flash (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935519)

If you are going to suggest presenting word document, then complaining about pdf not being open standard is somewhat hypocritical. The problem actually has nothing to do with openness of the pdf format, but rather with the fact that Adobe Reader is closed. Anybody is free to implement a reader that will allow to save filled in forms, and will allow commenting of pdf file, there is nothing in the format that could prevent it.

Also, creating pdf files from word documents is not the best way of doing it, in fact, I suspect that a lot of the bad rap that pdf gets is due to a huge amount of lousy pdf files created from word documents flooding the internet.

Re:Nobody likes flash (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935695)

Anybody is free to implement a reader that will allow to save filled in forms

Unless they're Microsoft. In that case, Adobe takes them to court and forces them to remove any PDF-relating features. PDF is an "open format" my ass. Adobe talks the talk, but they sure don't walk the walk.

Re:Nobody likes flash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29935461)

PDF is piss poor at putting data up in a format usable by other computers for data retrieval and number crunching. It can't assign meaning to data, unlike something truly open such as, say, XML. It's an awful idea. Flash is even worse for openness so don't even get me started there.

Personally I think Adobe should be should be given a boot to the head for trying to get their grubby paws on the initiative. They know just as well as I do how poorly suited their tools are to the real spirit of government openness. How they sleep at night while spewing such blatant tripe is beyond me.

The future is ODF and html5 (2, Informative)

quantic_oscillation7 (973678) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934007)

The future is ODF (a real open xml) and of course PDF, but specially html5+js+canvas+svg+ogg vorbis/theora for rich web content.

With this kind of technology that the new browsers bring to the arena, adobe is getting scared!

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934023)

but specially html5+js+canvas+svg+ogg vorbis/theora for rich web content.

Who has announced authoring tools for this stack that are anywhere near as capable as even Flash 3, let alone Flash CS4? Say I want to make an animated SVG like the Flash animations I see on Newgrounds. What package should I start with?

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (4, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934289)

This sort of authoring is easily handled in vi - or emacs - your choice.

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (2, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934451)

Yeah, and you can hex edit an SWF file too. But change a letter, refresh, change a letter, refresh, is not the kind of editing that graphic designers prefer to do. If that's what SVG has to offer, the market will choose SWF. I can only hope your comment was sarcasm.

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (1)

quantic_oscillation7 (973678) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934853)

we are talking about GOVERNMENT, so there's some points that mus be adressed:

1.w3c accessibility
i dont't know where and how adobe flash or the other cancer,ms-novell-silverlight-moonlight coud do that.

of course this may be very problematic, at least here in Portugal since the portuguese government is in bed with microsoft, and already used ms-silverlight for at least one case.

2.it's the GOVERNMENT, so, it may be utopic, but i hope they have more real engineers and less point and click boys and girls.

of course once again, here in Portugal, this could be difficult since they're even don't adress security issues like the portuguese government network been spied by the Ghostnet, they rather appeal to some cibersecurity stupid law than correct this severe problems.

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (2, Insightful)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934051)

Right...

In order to read a document, what I really need to replace the heavyweight Adobe Reader, is a bloated modern browser ! :D

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934121)

The future is typically whoever gets there first; Adobe is shipping a great product (from a producer's prospective) right now today. SVG has been around for how long now? And it's still just a minor player; same with ogg. HTML5 will eventually make inroads, but the spec doesn't mandate any specific codecs. On top of that, it requires the browser to implement basic navigation controls; producers are going to want to keep their own in-house player controls.

Re:The future is ODF and html5 (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934477)

On top of that, [HTML 5 video] requires the browser to implement basic navigation controls; producers are going to want to keep their own in-house player controls.

That's still doable. JavaScript running in an HTML 5 page can disable the browser's built-in controls in a <video> element and control the video itself.

Obama and Flash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934021)

Why am I not surprised?

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934047)

The point being about open government, freedom of information and accessibility of data.
PDF carries the information you're looking for in a less convenient form, which more to
the point is frequently derived from a source that could easily provide a more convenient
form of access. Sunlight labs puts it this way:
We can turn XML into PDFs. We can't turn PDFs into XML.

We've had a couple of decades now since SGML, a bunch of progress on its derived and
related technologies, but 'downgrading' the publicly accessible format to PDF seems
like a step in the wrong direction simply to make things look nice and be a
no-brainer to publish.

One condition (1)

PotatoFiend (1330299) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934073)

Flash should only be considered if the government can mandate that Adobe provide and competently maintain a Flash player of comparable quality for all major desktop, mobile, and handheld OSes and platforms. The alpha-quality Flash player for 64-bit Linux sucks donkey balls while Windows gets star treatment. Open source would be another plus, but right now I'd settle for a 64-bit Linux binary that didn't crash my browsers constantly.

Heads should roll at Adobe (1)

Obispus (803786) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934081)

From TFA

the entire site--designed in Flash--is practically inaccessible. After just a cursory browsing, here are some of the usability and data accessibility issues we observed. You can't select, copy, or paste any text. Your browser's font override features won't work, so you can't adjust the font or its size to be more readable. Your browser's built-in in-page search won't work, and you can't use the keyboard to scroll through the text. You can't parse or scrape the data in any way; the design is fixed-width, so it's not going to work well on different screen sizes; and browser plugins, like Greasemonkey, can't adjust anything. Basically when it comes to text at all, if you don't like the style or are visually impaired, you're screwed.

Way to go to convince government and its constituents that Flash and PDF will help them put together open websites and follow "ADA Guidelines for the Web" aimed at ensuring accessibility...

Tremor (2, Funny)

sleeponthemic (1253494) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934087)

They also say government's priority should be to publish datasets and the APIs to interact with them, rather than choosing how they're displayed in fancy graphs and charts.

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of IT workers suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

whos it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934347)

Microsofters are not IT workers. Political activists, maybe. Certainly they are not IT.

Re:Tremor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934531)

But the government SHOULD publish the data and offer a viewer to help people digest it. People should be able to figure the data out themselves, and not have "spoonfed graphs that show what we want you to see" as the only option.

If not PDF, then Microsoft's XPS: XML Paper Spec. (1)

optikos (1187213) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934095)

Campaigning against PDF in any way might effectively equate to implicitly campaigning for Microsoft's XML Paper Specification (XPS)

PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (3, Interesting)

mattr (78516) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934101)

GP is right. Government should focus on doing what government is needed for success, such as determining standards for formats that everyone can use, with input from academia and industry. For example a human readable parsable format that one could embed in a web page for semantic metadata. Or funding open source software to make it easy (cross platform) to input such data (I am thinking of information about cited papers or books). Typeset information is nice but we already are drowning in information - how many pages of Google results do you usually look at? And we need help before generating 10 times as much.

Why PDF is bad:
- It is a potable typeset document package. Not a data sharing package that could be pulled apart easily with tools automatically.
- PDF is extremely hard to parse, and using current free software does not always give good results.
- You destroy useful document structure, or in the case of ASCII text parsability and small size, when you convert to PDF. You can't just convert back to the original.
- It takes significant processing power and commercial software to display well and reliability as far as I can see. Having just gotten the latest Mac I feel like I'm in a dauntless battleship, but I have had many trouble with different unix tools in the past.
- Scientists publish PDF too but then also use other formats for data. For example on arxiv, one scientists recently published animations inside a zip but it was hard to find the link
- It is difficult to manage bibliographic information automatically.
- It is proprietary
- It requires a huge amount of data, and arcane knowledge, just to build a parser that works most of the time (such as for Asian languages especially).

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934227)

- It is proprietary

FAIL.

PDF is an ISO standard. See: ISO 32000-1, Document management – Portable document format – Part 1: PDF 1.7

This doesn't change the fact that it is a portable typesetting document format though. It's good for read only documents from your word processor but it shouldn't be (ab)used to store tables or graphs or whatever other crap people use it for.

---
As for Flash, lets not even go there. Flash is passable as a streaming video container, if you're making animated cartoons like Homestar Runner or as a platform for small web games but other than those use cases, you're using it wrong.

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935359)

Not only is it a standard, it's also *really* easy to parse. It's specifically structured so that any printer manufacturer can parse it and end up with *exactly* the same document as software displays.

It still doesn't change the fact that it's not for data transfer, but for pristine document layout though.

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (1)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934277)

The majority of those issues would be fixed by publishing LaTeX sources next to the PDFs generated from them.

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (1)

iris-n (1276146) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934385)

- Scientists publish PDF too but then also use other formats for data. For example on arxiv, one scientists recently published animations inside a zip but it was hard to find the link

Err... also? I've never seen a scientist using pdf to publish data. We use pdf (and ps and div) to publish typeset papers. The actual data is in a lot of formats, dependent on the field and application. I've seen csv, matlab's .mat, xml, jpeg, tiff, proprietary crap, etc.

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (4, Funny)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934553)

It is a potable typeset document package.

So you can drink a PDF?!

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29935247)

You can't?!

Re:PDF bad. Work on microformats please. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935259)

I usually look at the first 3 results of the first page of Google results. But that is related to the types of searches I usually run. I sort of expect that I am 'like most people' in that regard.

Well structured data is nice, but it isn't a panacea (for example, it can still be false).

Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (0, Flamebait)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934173)

PDF has become a defacto standard like GIFs, so I think it's an okay idea to embrace their usage, but only if PDF is open-licensed to all. Otherwise tell Adobe "no"

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (5, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934283)

What are you talking about? The PDF specification has been available as a free download from Adobe with no royalties payable by implementors since PDF was first created. More recently, the PDF/X family of specifications was approved by ISO. These define subsets of the PDF 1.4 specification for different uses (see ISO 15930). There are at least three open source PDF readers that I know of as well as several commercial viewers (Adobe Reader, FoxIt, Apple's Preview, and so on) and numerous tools can generate PDFs.

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934311)

Don't feed the trolls.

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (0, Flamebait)

Rick Bentley (988595) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935199)

free viewer != free

How many free programs do you know of that create .pdf's?

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935285)

There are a huge number of free programs that can create PDFs. Anything that uses Cairo for rendering can generate PDFs natively, although without some of the nice metadata. If you're using almost any modern operating system (Windows or anything that uses CUPS for printing, including Linux and OS X) then any application that can print can also generate PDFs. I use pdflatex very often and it produces beautiful PDFs with working hyperlinks and the table of contents in the bookmarks section, and it will happily import the PDFs that I've created with gnuplot or graphviz as well as commercial tools like OmniGraffle. My entire workflow involves creation of PDFs to send to my publisher. None of the tools that I use come from Adobe and most are Free Software.

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935295)

Apple uses PDF as the basis of the OS X display engine. When they adopted the NeXT OS as their next-generation to replace the "Classic" Mac OS, they switched from NeXT's Display PostScript precisely because PDF was a free and open-source specification. An OS X user can create a PDF file from pretty much any document simply by beginning a print operation then selecting "save as PDF" from the print dialog box.

Re:Tell Adobe to open-license PDF (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935563)

How many free programs do you know of that create .pdf's?

To lazy to count right now, but just what I use on more or less daily bases, about 20. Plus hundreds of others that I don't use.

Digital Stewardship : PDF vs PDF/A (2, Insightful)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934509)

PDF/A is already open. However, that doesn't mean that anyone knows how to produce it, especially some R.O.A.D. staffer or random hourly GS1.

Open or not, PDF/A is a display format and, in most cases, useless for information retrieval or automated data processing. PDF/A is a useful alternative to paper [digitalpreservation.gov] . However, the open government initiative is not talking about paper. It's about 'born digital [wired.com] ', machine readable data.

Re:Digital Stewardship : PDF vs PDF/A (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935269)

Useless is the wrong word. It took 15 lines of python wrapping xpdf for me to get a working system for dumping the transactions out of the last 6 years of my credit card statements.

It's ugly, but it works just fine.

WTF? (1)

dnaumov (453672) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934189)

PDF is often "non-parsable by software, unfindable by search engines, and unreliable if text is extracted."

Have these people not heard of Google? Just because YOU can't write software to parse PDF files doesn't mean that nobody else can and that it doesn't already exist.

Forget Google, every single Apple device does it (1)

Ilgaz (86384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934689)

If you look around, every single Apple computer, device (ipod/iphone) is actively indexing every single PDF thrown at them, instantly and keep database of it.

It is the famous "Spotlight" technology. They don't even need to look at Google, some of them have same kind of indexing technology (minus relation) running on their laptops.

One should check the TFA relations with MS. I am sure something will come up.

dear linus, (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934197)

thanks again for addressing the wireless issue, that helps us lamos a lot. now, could you place some attention towards the netflix issue as well as the unacceptable dvd playing/copying problems? you can tell the nazis that it's delaying our assimilation, not being able to watch/copy some of the highest grade propaganda that's ever been published. many kudos again.

Depends on the purpose (1)

PineHall (206441) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934201)

If you are publishing a document that can be printed then PDF is a good format. If you expect people to extract data from the document then you should look for a different format. It depends on the purpose of posting the document on the web.

Re:Depends on the purpose (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935585)

Either you provide data, or you provide a document. Extracting textual data from pdf is not any harder than extracting them from a word file or an odf document.

If you want to provide data, provide data, in a csv format of something simple like that.

In fact, with pdf, you can do both, since you can attach the cvs or whatever format data to the document.

PDF Yes, Flash No (5, Insightful)

markdavis (642305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934261)

I am OK with PDF. I would RATHER see documents in plain HTML, but there are times when formatting is important. In those cases, if it is to be read/print-only, PDF is the way to go. Otherwise, the gov should use ODF.

But Flash? Are you kidding? The last thing on earth we need is more Flash.

* Does not work on all devices
* Slow and/or consumes tons of CPU
* Consumes tons of RAM
* Consumes more bandwidth
* Makes it difficult or impossible to cut and paste
* Impossible to "search/find"
* Violates the native UI look and feel
* Fonts and font sizes are uncontrollable by the end user
* Can't scroll correctly much of the time
* Almost completely proprietary
* Rarely adjusts to screen size
* Often introduces extremely irritating animation.
* Doesn't allow text to be "seen" by the browser (or OS), making other plugins (like a screen reader) 100% useless

At least that SilverDark stuff isn't even on the radar- thank God for little favors.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (0, Redundant)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934567)

HTML has the same problem as PDF ... it describes how to display the data, not what it is. Using CSS and XML would be a far better idea. As in software development, separate the presentation from the data. It's fine for the government to provide both, as long as they're separate. You would always have the base XML to describe the actual data, and it's in an easily machine parsable format.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934587)

can i suggest that the only way for us to fight back against the use of flash is to boycott the internet completely!!!!

that will teach them!!!!!!

(oh, you're still here...)

the flash web browser does enable screen readers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934601)

http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/products/flashplayer/overview.html [adobe.com] "With integrated support for Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), Flash Player 10 makes content available via screen access technologies such as Window-Eyes from GW Micro and JAWS from Freedom Scientific."

But it is very bad that Adobe doesn't consider accessibility support to be a "must have" feature for the desktop version of their Flash Player.

Re:the flash web browser does enable screen reader (2, Interesting)

markdavis (642305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934999)

So there is a partial option for MS-Windows only. Great. Not exactly platform agnostic and open. I suppose it is better than nothing, though.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (2, Insightful)

gaspyy (514539) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934611)

Most of what you say is implementation-related rather than format-related. It's like saying that C sucks because there are so many crappy programs. I know about feeding the trolls, but for all those who don't know better, here we go:

Nothing "just works" on all devices and in this area flash fares better than most other technologies; agree is slow; not really agree on RAM usage.

Flash uses less bandwidth than alternatives, it's quite very well optimized. Sure, someone can stuff some 10 min. mp3s encoded at 256kbps and and bunch of 2048x2048 bitmaps but that's another story.

Cut/Paste is more tedious because of security reasons but keyboard shortcuts work. Search works too and static text is indexed by Google.

Agree on native UI, but then so it's Java. Font size is controllable by user if the app is done properly -- granted, user can't override any settings.
Scrolling - never had an issue. Specs are open. Rarely adjust to screen size - are you kidding me? it's vector, by default it will adjust to anything and can be programmed a lot better than CSS/HTML.

Irritating animation - not a fault of the format itself.
Works with screen readers -- seriously, have you TRIED it?

What Adobe is pushing is most likely their "Flashpaper" format, something similar to PDF but lighter.

One more comment from the summary: "unfindable by search engines" - where does this come from? Google and all have been indexing PDF files since 10 years ago.

I know Slashdot crowd loves to hate flash, but at least hate it for the right reasons: its lack of speed and real 3d hardware acceleration.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (2, Insightful)

Vexorian (959249) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934835)

I know Slashdot crowd loves to hate flash, but at least hate it for the right reasons: its lack of speed and real 3d hardware acceleration.

Those are very lame reasons. We are talking about open government initiative here, not about "standard for web games" initiative. Flash is:

Not portable: Many platforms lack proper support. Flash can't be legally redistributed, alternatives are poor. It is no open format in any way.

Bad for accessibility.

Not a web standard or anything close to it.

Nothing "just works" on all devices

Then make the format 100% free to get, 100% easy implement and to 100% redistributable without royalties. So that the device and platform makes actually can make it work instead of asking for Adobe's charity. Ever wonder how come XHTML more than just works on all devices? Without those things, flash is terrible for this job in question which is as a tool to give access to all the citizens to government information.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (1)

Vexorian (959249) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934849)

Oh, and no half assed "openish" attempts a la MS. The whole entirety of it would have to be open, including the codecs and the tools to generate them. Nothing about proprietary extensions making the standard optionally-open. Also, as a standard for open government initiative, giberish like DRM must be completely out of the question.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (1)

markdavis (642305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935105)

>Most of what you say is implementation-related rather than format-related. It's like saying that C sucks because there are so many crappy programs.

I will agree that there are better and worse ways to IMPLEMENT Flash, but even properly implemented, it doesn't address all (or most) of my issues.

>Nothing "just works" on all devices and in this area flash fares better than most other technologies; agree is slow; not really agree on RAM usage.

HTML works fine on all devices. 95% of the time I see Flash used, it is totally unnecessary.

>Flash uses less bandwidth than alternatives, it's quite very well optimized. Sure, someone can stuff some 10 min. mp3s encoded at 256kbps and and bunch of 2048x2048 bitmaps but that's another story.

Agreed- for when you really need video or audio, that is one of the few times Flash shines (although it is still a pig). But we are mostly talking about documents, not multimedia. And for general website use and documents, rarely does Flash really add anything useful to counteract the tremendous negatives.

>Cut/Paste is more tedious because of security reasons but keyboard shortcuts work.

I cannot highlight and middle paste somewhere, so it is at least 1/2 broken.

> Search works too and static text is indexed by Google.

Funny, when I do control-F in firefox and ask to find something, it never finds anything inside a Flash object.

>Agree on native UI, but then so it's Java.

And I agree on Java- it is usually unnecessary and an annoying pig too. But I encounter Java less than 1% of the time I encounter unnecessary Flash.

> Font size is controllable by user if the app is done properly -- granted, user can't override any settings.

And that is what I am talking about. I am rarely, if ever in control when viewing anything Flash. I can do ONLY what the developer decided I should be allowed to do, and only in their non-standard way.

> Rarely adjust to screen size - are you kidding me? it's vector, by default it will adjust to anything and can be programmed a lot better than CSS/HTML.

Try this on your small internet tablet or Flash supporting phone: http://blueswitch.com/ [blueswitch.com] It is a perfect example of the typical Flash site that doesn't adjust to anything. And without Flash, there is essentially no content. If you have a large screen, it uses only a fraction of it. If you have a small screen, it is barely usable.

>Irritating animation - not a fault of the format itself.

True. And, yet, Flash developers can't seem to resist form over function.

>Works with screen readers -- seriously, have you TRIED it?

Under what platforms does it work? All? Can the browser see the text inside Flash? Can the OS?

>One more comment from the summary: "unfindable by search engines" - where does this come from? Google and all have been indexing PDF files since 10 years ago.

I assume they are referring to text within Flash objects, not PDF.

>I know Slashdot crowd loves to hate flash, but at least hate it for the right reasons: its lack of speed and real 3d hardware acceleration.

There are a lot more reasons to hate it than 3D and speed. I listed quite a few already. And you are correct that maybe half of my issues are with the typical IMPLEMENTATION of Flash and not Flash itself. But if 99% of the time I saw a steel pipe in someone's hand it was used to clobber and rob people, I might be upset when I see one.

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (1)

Vladimus (583117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934683)

HTML is a great middle ground. By following XHTML rules and combining it with CSS, you have a very parse-able document and can typeset it virtually any way you want. I've loved the PDF format since it was PostScript, since it can literally do anything involving typesetting or vectors, but trying to get data out of it sucks. It'd be great if adobe could somehow embed text data or XML into it, but I don't see that happening.

I wonder if SVG might work well.

Why blame Adobe when there are no alternatives (1)

Ilgaz (86384) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934771)

I will ask one thing as you seem to miss why HTML is not considered a print/distro format: "When did we have an embeddable font standard for HTML webpages?" as with Flash: "Is there a way to have a single file and infrastructure to show embedded videos in HTML5 form?"

They actually suggested people to use abandoned VP3 format for God's sake and the very same people have chosen TrueType (check why freetype exists) as font embedding format.

Re:Why blame Adobe when there are no alternatives (1)

Vladimus (583117) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935025)

I know you can't embed fonts in HTML, that's why it gives you the option of choosing different fonts. If you can't make a layout work with standard fonts you're not much of a designer. And, um, why would you publish data in an HTML5 video?

Re:PDF Yes, Flash No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29935069)

I'd like to second the notion that presentation formatting is not irrelevant for documents that are legally binding, but point out that presentation formatting is not necessarily contrary to documents published or archived by means of a text/markup file format. A few weeks ago there was a fair amount of coverage of the GPO conversion to XML of ten years worth of their SGML content (which would certainly be less of a bear than parsing out content from hundreds of thousands of pages of text/tables/etc from PDFs), and the CIO at the GPO indicated that to some extent their documents require (I would assume) further, non-machine-added markup for their typesetting platform, because human-readable pages are the primary goal. I would also assume that to some extent these formatting directives are platform-dependent rather than based on some public standard, but they could be using FO or something.

From http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/10/questions-and-answers-about-th.html [oreilly.com] :

The Federal Register composition is structured in a way to support printing the publication. As such, there are a number of formatting functions in the composition code that, from a pure XML perspective, are not needed. However, formatting is at times critical to properly interpret the publication. Therefore in our transformation process, we could not eliminate all the formatting elements in the source SGML. The result is an XML rendition that still contains some formatting elements.

Adobe SW = Wasted CPU (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934463)

Has anyone else noticed that Adobe software is crap, inefficient crap?

Further, the recent PDF specifications add DRM which shouldn't be allowed in government publications. If the govt agrees to use a PDF version that open source software can completely read, parse, and convert, then it is fine PROVIDED the raw data is available in open formats too.

Re:Adobe SW = Wasted CPU (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 4 years ago | (#29935429)

"Further, the recent PDF specifications add DRM which shouldn't be allowed in government publications. If the govt agrees to use a PDF version that open source software can completely read, parse, and convert, then it is fine PROVIDED the raw data is available in open formats too."

No, it's not fine because, as others have pointed out, PDF is mainly use for formatting documents. It's doing a pretty adequate job on that as well, and you can use third party software that can actually display it without the drawbacks of the *HORRIBLE* Adobe software. But that does not make it a good mechanism for storing information that can be indexed in any useful way (except simply parsing the text). Hell, you can't even /select/ text normally using most PDF readers.

NO to Adobe! (1)

SirAstral (1349985) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934517)

I guess most of you do not realize that Adobe produces SpyWare by default in their own products?

Flash for example has iesnare built into itself. This all allows machine profiling that everyone agrees to when you install their bullshit software!

You can't trust a company that has already done something to make you distrust them.

Re:NO to Adobe! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934693)

"You can't trust a company that has already done something to make you distrust them."

how eloquent. you should be our spokesman as we make our last stand!!!!!!

join with me brothers and start the great internet boycott now!!!!!!

You really cannot argue with the dataset idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934811)

If the data is out there in some easily consumable format then it really doesn't matter whether it's displayed in Flash, PDF or whatever. Choose your flavor of output/display. As the developer of a global app across the entire corporation the most popular output is Excel compatible using either CSV or XML format because people want to do their own thing. Of course, we don't support any of what they do with it. We produce the official results each month and if their numbers don't match ours it's their responsibility to prove otherwise.

Flash sucks (1)

minkie (814488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934881)

Flash is evil for man reasons, but the most in-your-face reason if you use a Mac is that the Mac Flash plugin crashes all the time. It is the #1 (by far) reason for Safari crashes on the Mac.

I'm not wild about PDF, but at least I don't see PDF viewers crashing all over the place.

Hate to Nitpick (1)

sehryan (412731) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934921)

"...unfindable by search engines..."
That is absolutely not true. Anyone who uses Google knows that the search engine can read PDFs, identify if any of the keywords are located within, and then provide a link both directly to the PDF as well as to an HTML version.

If They Open the Formats (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934975)

This could be a Good Thing, if it means that the formats will be made and remain open. IIRC, PDF is already an open standard, and supported by various programs from multiple sources. I would applaud it if the same were to happen to Flash. And if both formats are open and widely supported, the government could do a lot worse than using them.

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