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  1. 1. Making PDF Documents Fly By Gabrielle Dara Krim A White Paper from Integration New Media Integration New Media, Inc. 1425 West René-Levesque Blvd., Suite 906 Montreal (Quebec) H3G 1T7 Canada Tel.: +1 514 871-1333 Fax: +1 514 871 9251 www.IntegrationNewMedia.com
  2. 2. Making PDF Documents Fly Current trends in PDF publishing By now we all know the benefits of Portable Document Format (PDF) for publishing content where layout and design are important – PDF is the best format to use if you want to preserve fonts and colors of the original document. PDF documents are scalable, render faithfully on all computer screens, and print out exactly as they appear on screen. Not to mention the many design and editing tools that automatically output to PDF format. This de facto standard for publishing has been around for about 10 years and continues to grow in popularity. Traditionally used within corporations, to distribute corporate documents among employees, PDF is now one of the most common formats for publishing information destined for public consumption, via the World Wide Web. PDF documents can be found in areas as diverse as newspapers, government, culinary arts, astronomy, etc. However, not everyone is a PDF fan. Compared to web pages, PDF documents are criticized for being too heavy and taking too long to load. They are often associated with large amounts of uninterrupted text, which are difficult to read on screen. And PDF documents launch in a separate browser window with the Adobe Reader menu and toolbar, throwing the user out of the web site’s familiar interface and thereby destroying the harmonious, comforting environment, so carefully established by the web designer. They are also thought of as static objects, out of place in the dynamic World Wide Web. “According to many statistics, the average attention span for web browsing is about 10 seconds.” Computer-based presentations, both CD-ROM and web-based, have come a long way in terms of the ability to inform and influence. By incorporating not only text and static graphics, but also audio, video and animation, computer-based content can stimulate more of the senses and thereby fully engage the user. The addition of interactivity further encourages users to focus on the content, make decisions, voice their opinions and actively participate in learning or exploring. However, a presentation, advertisement, or e-learning application can only be effective if it captures and retains the audience’s attention, and any distraction, such as shifting to a new user interface or waiting for an application to open, can jeopardize that tenuous hold. According to many statistics, the average attention span for web browsing is about 10 seconds. Therefore, in order to compete with the myriad of alternative products and sources of information, content must be visually appealing, responsive and targeted to the user’s needs and preferences. Can PDF documents deliver this kind of user experience? 2 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  3. 3. Making PDF Documents Fly Adobe® has made some recent progress in this direction. With Acrobat 6®, released in May of this year, authors can now incorporate Flash® animation within their PDF documents. There is also a new search engine, which allows users to search for phrases within a single document or across multiple documents. And Acrobat’s support for form controls allows for the element of interactivity. But, you say you already have static PDF documents and you want to be able to reuse them? Don’t despair; there is an even better way to bring your PDF documents to life. Marrying PDF documents with multimedia Multimedia authoring environments such as Director®, Authorware®, Flash® and PowerPoint® allow for rich multi-sensory experiences by embedding sound, text, animation and still images. And, with the exception of PowerPoint, these applications can be “programmed” to allow sophisticated interaction and navigation. They can ask questions to collect information on user preferences and abilities, and subsequently tailor the content presented to the user’s profile. They even have the capacity to monitor individual or group usage patterns. By marrying PDF documents with such rich-media applications, content developers can make use of existing PDF material, while gaining the highest possible degree of interactivity and the ability to incorporate a wide variety of stimuli. The illustration below shows a product catalog that uses PDF documents in a multimedia presentation along with video, text and still photographs. PDF documents are used to illustrate technical information and pricing. Pictures and videos demonstrate the products in action. JLG e-catalog screenshot courtesy of Andy Petroski 3 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  4. 4. Making PDF Documents Fly There are two approaches to using PDF documents with multimedia applications: 1) Launch PDF documents in a separate application window 2) Integrate PDF documents directly within the multi-media environment All of the above mentioned authoring tools have the ability to launch an external application, such as Adobe Reader, in a separate window. This type of solution is often free and it only requires that the end-user have a version of Adobe Reader on his system. However, it may require some scripting by the developer, and the deployment is not always reliable -- may behave differently across different operating systems, and will not work at all if system registry settings are not correct or the application is not present. This approach also breaks the continuity and flow of the application, and disrupts the end- user’s experience, forcing him to shift attention to another user interface. It is preferable to integrate PDF documents within the application, so that the user is not thrown out of his working environment. Current options for integrating PDFs There are only two solutions that currently offer seamless integration of PDF documents within multimedia environments. One is an Xtra extension for Director and Authorware created by Integration New Media (INM), and appropriately named PDF Xtra. The other is Flash; the new release of Flash MX 2004 is now able to import PDF documents. These two solutions work very differently and are best suited to different delivery strategies. Either solution can be delivered either locally or via the Internet. However, Flash is optimized for web delivery, whereas the PDF Xtra solution, which uses Director or Authorware, is better suited to CD-ROM and Intranet delivery. The fundamental differences inherent in Flash and Director also influence how they support PDF documents. Flash imports PDF documents Flash allows you to import PDF documents directly into your movie, so that their contents are available to be displayed as is or manipulated within the authoring environment. The original PDF contents are converted to separate objects in Flash. Upon importing a document there are several options to choose from, which allow the author to convert each page to an image format (rasterize), or import each individual element as a vector-formatted object. This flexibility can be useful if the intent is to animate individual elements of the original document 4 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  5. 5. Making PDF Documents Fly within Flash. However, it also negates some of the key benefits of using PDF in the first place. Among the drawbacks of the Flash solution, the following stand out: 1) Because the original contents are altered in Flash, this means if any changes are made to the original source, the document will have to be re-imported into Flash. If there are animation effects on individual elements they will have to be redone, etc. 2) If you choose to rasterize your pages, they will no longer print or render smoothly when scaled, as they do in Acrobat/ Reader. 3) You must have the original fonts used in the PDF document, or else they will be substituted when the document is imported to Flash, even if the fonts are embedded in the original PDF. 4) There is no automatic way to allow the end-user to scroll the document, resize or navigate through it. This kind of interaction has to be implemented by the developer using action script. Nevertheless, considering that this is the first version of Flash to support PDF documents, Macromedia has done a wonderful job. It will be interesting to see how the feature evolves over time. PDF Xtra links documents INM’s PDF Xtra links your PDF document to Director or Authorware, with the option to specify a variety of custom display settings or elect to use the document’s default settings. Because the original PDF documents are linked and not imported or converted, they do not have to be re-imported if you decide to make changes to them. Your content files can even be replaced on disk just before final packaging, without the need to re-enter the authoring environment. At run-time, PDF Xtra launches Acrobat or Adobe Reader silently in the background, so the user never leaves the multimedia environment. The end- user can control the display, navigation, and printing at run-time, either via the optional Adobe Reader toolbar, right-click menu, or via your own custom buttons. The hand and text selection tools are automatically enabled so the user can scroll long pages within the presentation window. PDF form controls are also automatically active. Pre-coded user interactions, called behaviors, make it easy to build a custom user interface in Director without using any scripting. In addition, an elaborate application programming interface is available for more advanced programmers. 5 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  6. 6. Making PDF Documents Fly Screenshot of PDF document displayed within Director’s stage PDF Xtra is very simple to learn and use, and it allows you to display PDF documents cleanly within Director and Authorware. However, because PDF Xtra uses Adobe Acrobat or Reader, there a few limitations, depending on the operating system and delivery requirements of your project: 1) Acrobat or Adobe Reader has to be available on the end-user’s system. Developers can either use a built-in method, to test if a version of Acrobat/Reader is found on the hard disk, or deliver a specific version of the free Adobe Reader along with the project on CD-ROM. 2) The full version of Acrobat and the free Reader do not support the all of the same functions. If you simply need to display and navigate through PDF documents you will not run into difficulties, but some of the more sophisticated operations, such as retrieving a document’s text, require the professional version of Acrobat, which cannot be delivered on CD-ROM. 3) There are differences in the functions supported by Acrobat/Reader from Windows to Mac. On Windows the functions to navigate from page to page are supported in all versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat, whereas on Mac they are not. 4) The PDF document must sit on top of all other graphical elements; you cannot place a button or graphic within the area occupied by the PDF document. 5) User interaction (mouse-clicking) on the document is interpreted directly by the Adobe application and the underlying multimedia application does not receive any notification of events, such as when the user moves to a different page, or when a document is finished printing. 6 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  7. 7. Making PDF Documents Fly What the future may hold Given the ever-growing popularity of PDF and the increasing need to offer more interactive multimedia experiences, while controlling development costs, the next generation of PDF integration tools will continue to evolve, to better meet the needs of developers, project sponsors and ultimately, the end-user. One can get an idea of what the future may hold from the findings of a recent survey of multimedia developers, conducted by Integration New Media. The survey participants had all developed multimedia projects, using PDF documents, within the last two years. The needs expressed in participants’ wish lists reveal certain trends that are emerging in the industry: - A self-contained product - the ability to seamlessly integrate PDF documents within a multimedia project, but without requiring additional applications, such as Acrobat or Reader. - Transparent document integration – blending the PDF documents into the user interface (no separate windows or toolbars), resulting in the best possible visual experience for the user. - Enhanced creative capabilities - allowing for rich media and document layout creativity, e.g., customizable toolbars and buttons, ability to add effects to the PDF, such as transparency, inks, animation, etc. - Cross-platform consistency – Projects need to run identically on all platforms, which in turn widens the audience reach, while reducing end- user support. Developers will no longer have to worry about whether Acrobat or Reader is installed on their clients’ computers, nor deal with inconsistencies between different versions of Acrobat/ Reader or between Mac and Windows. - Interactive PDFs – The end-user should be able to interact with the PDF document --click hyperlinks, buttons, form controls, etc. -- and the multimedia application should be able to monitor that interaction and have control over it. - Easy to learn and excellent support – As Authoring tools become increasingly user- friendly, more junior developers will enter this market, creating a need for easy-to-use products with superior product support. 7 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  8. 8. Making PDF Documents Fly Conclusion Although the world of multimedia is becoming vastly popular, it does not necessarily mean the end of traditional desktop publishing. Rather, there is a bridge that can be built between these two mediums. Creating the right blend between the two can not only lead to increased productivity, but can help you deliver your message in a more efficient and more effective manner. The developers’ wish list of functionalities gives us an idea of what to anticipate in the next generation of PDF integration tools. And with the arrival of better adapted development tools, we can expect to see a new wave of e-catalogs, e-learning and edutainment publications come to life in immersing, rich-media, even from beginner and non-expert developers -- a real step in rendering multimedia accessible to everyone. Gabrielle Krim has a B.A. in Computer Science from Cornell University and a M.A. in Educational Technology from Concordia University. She has over 10 years experience in the industry, as a software developer and multimedia author for database and e-learning projects. She has been working for INM as Instructional Designer and Product Manager since March 2002. References www.IntegrationNewMedia.com www.macromedia.com 8 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.
  9. 9. Making PDF Documents Fly Summary - Current trends in PDF publishing Now that PDF publishing is becoming more mainstream, we are finding that users are demanding more – static PDF documents do not compete against dynamic web pages. - Marrying PDF documents with multimedia By integrating PDF documents within multimedia authoring environments, content developers can provide interactivity and a variety of multi-sensory elements, while reusing their existing PDF content. - Options for integrating PDF in multimedia INM’s PDF Xtra and Flash are the only solutions available which seamlessly integrate PDF documents directly into the authoring environment. This section discusses how their methods of integration differ and the advantages and disadvantages of each. - What to look forward to in the future As PDF integration tools evolve, they will become more streamlined, more reliable, and easier to learn and use. 9 © Integration New Media Inc 2003.