Will PDF docs become obsolete soon?

What is pdf?

PDF is a “fixed-layout document format” designed to preserve document fidelity, providing device-independent document appearance. PDF is a database of objects. PDF file is a Self-contained, quickly and easily created, Compact and able to compress document.

Brief History of PDF?

In 1991, Adobe cofounder Dr. John Warnock launched the paper-to-digital revolution with an idea he called The Camelot Project. The goal was to enable anyone to capture documents from any application, send electronic versions of these documents anywhere, and view and print them on any machine. By 1992, Camelot had developed into PDF. Today, it is the format trusted by businesses around the world.

Advantages of PDF

  • PDF is good when the file is destined for printing, and the precise printed page layout is important, or when there are images which should be rendered at high resolution on the printed page.
  • PDF is useful for taking fancy newsletters which are designed for the printed page, and making them available online without much hassle.
  • PDF format is currently useful for math and special symbols, until MathML and better internationalization is widely supported for HTML.

Drawbacks of PDF

There are significant challenges to working with information received within a PDF. By its nature, PDF is not an editable document format – even though the appearance of a PDF document mirrors what you might see in a Microsoft Word document, it cannot be changed, revised or manipulated easily. This is so because the PDF is simply an image of a document, it is almost impossible to edit.

However, this can be easily worked around by converting the PDF to Word, Excel or other editable file formats. Able2Extract assists users in converting their PDF documents into editable Word documents and formatted Excel spreadsheets.

  • PDF user has no choice of line length. At a nice font size the page often doesn’t fit on the screen. Reading 2-column output requires either a small font or lots of up-and-down scrolling. Headers and footers and page breaks get in the way.
  • Your audience is limited with PDF because it doesn’t work on all platforms – e.g. handheld browsers. It requires extra software and takes more memory and CPU power, which is a problem for older computers.
  • Images are embedded, so they aren’t easy to pull out as a .jpg or .gif file for reuse.
  • Hyperlinks work badly. Relative hyperlinks are generally preferable but don’t work on some platforms. Putting it all in one file to avoid this handicap makes it slower and harder to just read one part of the document.
  • PDF files are usually larger than a simple HTML version.
  • PDF documents are harder to reuse since they are not an editable source format and the formatting instructions are gone.
  • PDF “Security” is sometimes viewed by producers as a useful feature, but it is mostly useful “for keeping honest people honest”. Anything that someone can view on the screen can be captured for use elsewhere, so it won’t protect you from plagiarizers, etc. Features like printing or saving to a file can be made more difficult, but simply can’t be prevented.

The Future of PDF

Despite  PDF won’t be obsolete in the short term (5-10)  years because of the huge demand on  printing, document archiving and document exchange (where fidelity is important) PDF doesn’t seems to have any competition on the market right now.

However, what’s more likely to happen, in the coming few years, is that PDF will gradually be replaced, by many uses, as more responsive technologies are available for mobile screens. For example, it’s common to use PDF for electronic forms, but it’s possible that these PDF forms will be replaced with HTML web forms in the next few years as more and more companies go HTML5 crazy. Of course, even this won’t replace PDF forms entirely, it’ll just mean a reduced reliance on PDF for this particular use case.

For reading electronic books (eBooks) and interactive learning, using PDF files doesn’t make any sense. In fact, PDF has never been the optimal format for e-books. Whereas, EPUB or another file format like “Kindle” designed specifically for e-books will definitely replace PDF in the future. Given that, a lot of digital consumption is shifting to other devices, on the expense of PDF’s.


HTML is the New Kid in the Block?

  • Programs that create PDF are less available or cost more money than programs to produce HTML.
  • PDF information is less accessible than HTML, e.g. for those with vision impairments.
  • PDF is designed for printing, not browsing or spreading information. When the user does a copy-and-paste of text, it all ends up in one blob with paragraphs, lists, etc. all mushed together into one unformatted paragraph. Words that contain ligatures (like when “fi” is represented by a single joined printing symbol) will often be garbled. Often the entire selection doesn’t show up in the clipboard. Problems with hyphenation and multiple columns, etc. often crop up.
  • HTML web forms will replace PDF forms in the coming few years as more companies go HTML5 crazy.
  • With HTML 5, you need to think ahead and need to know way too much about that architecture you’re trying to distribute the file through… anyone who’s used Word to save a .DOC file to HTML and add it to an existing web page knows this.
  • Formats that use dynamic content flow into rendering models are rising, such as eBook. With Kindle format moving towards HTML5 and SVG support, these models will further morph into rich content formats (vector animations, some software embedding, like self-improvement books that contain self-scoring tests, data-heavy documents that update themselves…).
  • Ultimately, allowing PDFs to re-flow based on screen size (similar to how HTML files can be made responsive) is a pretty inelegant solution for a simple reason: the whole point of using a PDF is to maintain its original formatting.
  • The aspect ratio (which is usually not 4:3) and size of the pages in a PDF document is a poor match for a computer screen. So reading PDF on-line is generally a worse experience than reading HTML. With good HTML, the user can choose a font size and a window width so the text is easy to read, and the paragraphs are laid out to match the user’s preference.

  PDF HTML
On paper On Screen On paper On Screen
Readability ×
Technology Compatibility ×
Confidentiality ×
Convenience × ×
Environment Friendly ×
Academic Friendly ×
Printer friendly depends

  On paper On Screen
Readability PDF HTML
Technology Compatibility HTML
Confidentiality PDF HTML
Convenience PDF HTML
Environment Friendly HTML
Academic Friendly PDF HTML
Printer friendly PDF

Recent depates

A recent question on Quora was about Will PDF files become obsolete in 5–10 years?  Hereafter I give sample of the yes answers.

Venkatesh Rao

Yes. PDF is married to the needs of print. It has been useful as a digital format despite its rigidity because people have been using mostly standard desktop/laptop screens for information work.

Joel Geraci

Eventually, yes but in 5-10, no. PDF will be an important format for as long as humans are using paper. The reason is not about how easy it is to create the PDF file, it’s that you don’t need to consider that PDF may be a target when you’re authoring the document itself; it’s just always an option when you’re done.

Chris Dahl

I think that in the medium term that for specific use cases (i.e. reading & commenting & signing) HTML5 could replace the need for PDF (just look at EchoSign). But not the widespread replacement of the file format. It’s not (all) about whether there is a technology good enough to replace it — people and businesses would need to change how they work for it to happen, and i can’t see that happening (widespread) anytime soon.

Sophie Knowles

PDF’s vulnerability: smaller devices: All this being said, PDF files have serious competition as the fixed-layout nature of the file format makes them difficult to read when using smaller devices. While this problem was somewhat addressed with the release of PDF Reference 1.5 (allowing text to re-flow based on the size of the device), third-party support of this feature was limited until 2012.


Thesishub.org and PDFs

We at ThesisHub are dedicated to popularize the articles on various topics pertaining to publishing and writing journals which are only found in pdf forms and hard copies. We identify all the articles which are found in PDF format and republish them in HTML under the authorship of the original authors.

We at ThesisHub are not into pdfs. 72% of our subscribers/ visitors are using their mobiles to read our content. Therefore, most of our materials here are shared in HTML format because we understand the importance of re- creating reader friendly materials that can be easily accessed at any time.


Bottom-line

Twenty years ago, the only article format was paper, 10 to 15 years ago the format became PDF, and now a new way of usage has been created by the introduction of tablets. Does that mean that we threw away paper and will now throw away desktop computers? No – we apply the format and way of use that is applicable at the moment of use. And the same will hold for PDF and online HTML; I think there is a future for both. PDF will remain the preferred format for archiving and offline use, while online HTML will increasingly become the standard for online use, as it is so much richer and in tune with the ongoing developments in the regular research process.

The answer to the original question “Will PDF files become obsolete in 5–10 years?”:

((No))… for printing, archiving and document exchange.

((Yes))… for learning, training and for sharing of educational materials.


References:

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1 Comment
  1. Eng. Zaid A Alsmadi says

    We at ThesisHub are dedicated to popularize the articles on various topics pertaining to publishing and writing journals which are only found in pdf forms and hard copies. We identify all the articles which are found in PDF format and republish them in HTML under the authorship of the original authors.

    We at ThesisHub are not into pdfs. 72% of our subscribers/ visitors are using their mobiles to read our content. Therefore, most of our materials here are shared in HTML format because we understand the importance of re- creating reader friendly materials that can be easily accessed at any time.

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