While I work in technology, my wife works for the Boston Public Market Association. She stays a healthy distance from my rantings about PDF, servers, user interfaces, accessibility and the like.
That said, my wife had a problem the other day which offered an exemplary use-case for PDF. It reminded me anew of why PDF fits the universal idea of an electronic document so well.
As secretary of the Association’s Board, she spends a lot of time on email; communicating with Board members, sending and receiving documents.
Email’s the essential form of communication in this case, because the end-users (that’s techie for “people”) demonstrate substantial variety in both the availability of and interest in software.
For most of those receiving (as opposed to creating or sending) documents, guess what? They’re interested in the document itself – they could care less about the software. The fact that different types of documents require different software (not to mention, different VERSIONS of different software) means nothing but pain.
Send out an Excel file, or worse, an .xlsx file, and you’ll hear about it. Refer to a specific tab on that spreadsheet, and you’ve lost at least part of your audience completely, no matter how great the content.
For authors and communicators everywhere, these are unforced errors; a measurable and needless expenditure of time and energy. The key thing to remember: Send the right type of content for the situation!
Do you really want your recipients to be able to edit that Word file with the fancy formatting? Or do you just want them to look at the document and be able to tell you – reliably – what’s wrong with it in the next Board meeting?
When you send proprietary files (ie, those requiring paid software to read), source files or anything out of the ordinary, you have a problem. Users might call you on the phone, confused. Others don’t call, but they don’t ever bother to try to overcome the hurdle of opening your document in the first place. Still others will succeed in opening the file, but won’t know how to use it – and will be too afraid to ask for help.
Only those of us in the “tech” line of work ever actually care to know or recall that (for example) .xlsx files require MS Office 2007 or higher, but MIGHT work in earlier versions of the software, depending on the features used!
Most people are interested in the “document”. They don’t know and don’t WANT to know that it was authored with Quark, or InDesign, or Excel, or whatever.
PDF to the Rescue!
What’s cool about PDF is that it completely overcomes all the issues I’ve mentioned above.
- PDF files allow document distributors to deliver any type of document in a consistent, predictable, no-help-required format.
- PDF files allow all users to share the same identical reading experience, no matter the original document.
- PDF files are read by software that is traditionally and permanently available for free.
The BPMA’s document distribution problems were quickly and completely resolved when they switched from emailing Word, Excel, TIFF, InDesign and other file around, and standardized on PDF instead.
BPMA business is now less stressful and more productive – and I get farm-fresh produce!
By Duff Johnson