I Hate PDFs

I don’t really hate PDF. It’s good for what it’s meant to do: typeset a document in a fixed format. This is good for printing and for reliably previewing what the printed material would look like. It is not good for the web. PDFs are more difficult to read than webpages and do not integrate into web browsers very well. Their fixed layouts also feel out of place in a medium where layouts ought to be more fluid.

Most web designers intuitively know not to use PDFs for web content. After all, you almost never encounter an entire website in PDF format, and for good reason. The problem comes with materials that aren’t specifically written for the web, they just end up on it: manuals, academic papers, and the like. Sometimes I will be googling a subject and find a paper that’s only available in PDF. This annoys me. (I’m talking about relatively small works, not thick books here.) If there are, say, complicated mathematical formulae with all sorts of fancy symbols, then I can understand the argument that it is easier to just typeset it only for PDF and not even worry about how to represent it in HTML—although I do think it shouldn’t be too hard to convert the formulae to GIF or PNG. If you just have mostly text with a couple of images, then it ought to work just fine in HTML. You don’t have to do the conversion by hand; it ought to be possible to do it automatically. Whatever you used to make the PDF might have HTML output, too. Or, if not, you might be able to convert the PDF itself to HTML.

If you don’t have the time to do the conversion, find somebody who does! It shouldn’t be too difficult if the process can be somewhat automated. But the best thing to do is make sure the situation doesn’t arise too often in the first place. It shouldn’t be too difficult to make an HTML file to go with the PDF file when you upload. If you get it out of the way then, you won’t have to go back and do it later.