Generalization and PDFs

I was browsing a blog I rarely visit and ran into an authoritative statement from someone, talking about all the time spent converting “images” like PDFs into text, saying that only text can be reflowed and resized.

And I scratched my head. And opened up Adobe Reader to my latest book. And clicked on View, then Reflow, then changed the size of the window in various ways.

Odd. It sure looked as though it was reflowing the text. If I wanted to resize the text, I could Zoom–and as long as Reflow was checked, it would just keep reflowing.

(OK, the reflow isn’t perfect: It turned a series of bullets into a single paragraph. But that’s not so terrible.)

I also tried the read-aloud feature, which I haven’t really tried before. Much better than I would expect, with a reasonably natural-sounding flow (a female voice). I could listen to that without being bothered by its artificiality.

Some are not all

Sure, some PDFs are just images and won’t reflow worth a damn (nor will the read-aloud features work). But some are not all.

Some PDFs–many PDFs, I’d guess, for contemporary documents as opposed to scanned books and the like–are PDFs in order to preserve desired typography and layout. Such PDFs can, unless the creator says not to allow it, be reflowed, resized, read aloud…

Am I missing something? Was I imagining that Adobe Reader was reflowing the PDF?

Or is this just another example of sloppy generalization, probably coupled with an anti-PDF attitude?

5 Responses to “Generalization and PDFs”

  1. bowerbird says:

    the current version of the adobe viewer-app
    does indeed do a good job of reflowing text.

    previous versions did not, not unless the .pdf
    was “tagged” by its creator, which was rare…

    adobe doesn’t really tout this new capability,
    however, since it plays against their “asset”
    that a .pdf displays as the author intended…

    but the statement wasn’t “another example of
    sloppy generalization”, nor “anti-pdf”, since it
    was based on years and years of experience,
    which has only recently become “out-dated”…


  2. walt says:

    Well, since I don’t reference either the blog or the comment, I’m not sure I’ll back down on what I saw as both overgeneralization or an anti-pdf sentiment. I’ve certainly seen both often enough in reference to PDF, along with “bloated” and “slow” being applied LONG after Adobe came out with fast versions of Reader.

    Still, I’ll accept the notion that PDFs were historically less flexible than they are now (and can certainly be made less flexible)–and there’s no question that I use PDF in order to maintain that asset, that is, the display I intended. (People can override aspects of that display, but must do so by choice.)

    There’s also no question that, in some people’s minds, it’s inappropriate for the author or publisher to maintain control of typography and layout–or even to care about anything but the text itself. I’ve seen that come through loud and clear in any number of cases…although, in the case of the unlabeled comment on the unlabeled blog post, I don’t believe that’s true.

  3. bowerbird says:

    i wasn’t suggesting you should “back down”.

    just telling where the statement came from.
    it’s probably something someone has been
    saying for years and years, since it had been
    accurate for a period of years, until recently.

    and considering what most people use it for,
    the adobe reader has indeed been slow, and
    bloated too, and that hasn’t really changed…
    (search functionality is notoriously lethargic.)

    what _has_ changed recently is their move to
    the flash-based “digital editions” reader-app,
    which has not shown the rock-solid stability
    that the adobe viewer has traditionally had…
    and it might be a while before they get it back,
    since flash is a technology which they bought,
    rather than one they’ve birthed and nurtured.

    still, with the big screens on our desks now,
    the frozen-format of the .pdf isn’t nearly as
    irritating as it once was. that’s the good news.


  4. bowerbird says:

    walt, i took a fresh look at adobe reader and
    found yet another nice surprise, namely that
    it now supports a 2-up interface in full-screen.

    before, full-screen mode used to be 1-page,
    even if you’d specified 2-up mode instead…

    this finally brings the viewer to a usable state!


  5. walt says:

    Slightly unrelated, but I accidentally discovered a Word2007 feature–that might have been there in earlier versions, but I don’t think so.

    I already knew Word would start displaying two pages at a time if you dropped the view percentage enough for them to fit–which isn’t as useful as it might be, because it’s showing odd:even pairs rather than the even:odd pairs you’d have in a printed document. (That is, you’ll see pages 1&2 together, not 2&3–but 2&3 are facing pages in any typical two-sided document.)

    What I hadn’t seen before: If you keep dropping the view percentage, Word goes to a multipage view with more than two pages at a time, and keeps adding to that. At 20% (which gives a good large thumbnail showing overall layout, but no readable text), I get 28 pages (7 across, 4 down) on a 1280×1024 screen… Neat.