If Adobe Ran the Internet (PDF vs. HTML)…

by admin on December 10, 2009

...Well, for one thing, I might have blogged more this month. As it is, I have spent most of December looking at HTML tags and CSS (cascading style sheet) declarations.

Good grief, how does anything look nice on the web with this crap acting as the glue? But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, let's start at the beginning.

Back , way back, even before the world wide internet was born, there were a couple of guys from Xerox who tackled the problem of creating a computer language to describe the appearance of information on two-dimensional static media. These guys came up with a stack-based programming language called Postscript. Now Postscript has its drawbacks. Does anybody remember the Red Bible? That was the big heavy book that described the specifications of Postscript and just as important to us sys admins at the time,  it also listed all the error codes. We saw a lot of Postscript errors back in the nineties, in no small part because Postscript was not the easiest language to learn or master. However, it did have advantages. It was an open specification. It could describe a page in astounding detail with absolute precision. And most important of all, Adobe, Quark, Macromedia and a few other companies were able to build a robust ensemble of graphic design tools that ultimately were able to render the artwork in Postscript and thus able to be tranferred and output to any imaging engine in the world that had a Postscript RIP in front of it.

However, that was not enough. People were tired of trying to program in Postscript and so along came Portable Document Format which neatly avoided all the problems of Postscript and again was an open format and quite frankly, in my bigoted opinion, a coup should have mounted against the pointy-heads who were running the internet at that time and they should have been forced to embrace the awesome of  PDF to make it the language of the internet.

Instead, we have HTML and if you calm your mind and find a quiet place in a field far away from the bustle of normal everyday life, you can hear the angels weeping. Hyper Text Markup Language is a brutal spec, no doubt about it, and it's bastard step-brother CSS is not much better.

Now how can I make such an arrogant statement? Easy. Back in the early nineties, a good prepress sys admin had to know a little bit of Postscript to fix files here and there. In the very early stages of PDF, for maybe a six month period between '96-'98, you might have poked around in the innards of PDF just out of curiosity. Now? Nobody does and why would they? To do graphic design and/or page layout, you don't need to know PDF, you just need to know Illustrator/Indesign/Photoshop/Quark/Your Favorite Program and the only limit to what you can put on the page is your level of talent.

But even a complete rookie of a web designer starting out in year 2009 comes to understand very quickly that they need to learn HTML and CSS because web design tools totally suck when it comes to WYSIWYG design and editing. Why do they suck? Because HTML is such a loose and leaky spec. Understand, when the first page layout programs came out in PC, everbody hated them because the prn  (windows postscript) blew up at the rip more often than not, as the windows postscript drivers were terrible.

As the quality of the window postscript drivers improved, surprise surprise the complaining about the windows page layout programs tailed off so today most designers will insist there is no difference between, let's say Creative Suite on the Mac and the PC.

But can you take a static HTML file from a Dreamweaver-created web site and plop it in a CMS like WordPress? Sure you can, but it won't look  the same. How about a Word doc exported as HTML? Actually, sometimes that works, trust me on that. Until you try to tweak the code just a little bit and then BOOM!! Because for one thing, you gotta find the accursed CSS file which carries all the formatting declarations. Secondly, some of the web browsers (okay I'm looking at you IE) don't follow the HTML spec, sad and pathetic as it is.

Gasp! I just ran out of bitter bile for tonight. Okay that's it. I'll never complain about the Adobe tax again aka releasing new versions of the CS suite  on a yearly basis. Back to web designing.

(Curse you you miserable mark-up validator, I did declare that statement in the style sheet).


Gordon Pritchard December 12, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Cricketdraw RULES!!!!


Laurens December 13, 2009 at 2:56 am

Thank God that PDF isn’t the language of the internet. You seem to have forgotten that there is such a thing as an XREF table in PDF. It is at the end of the file and an application needs to read it before it can do anything at all with the PDF. If there is even 1 bit ‘off’ in that table, chances are you cannot do a single thing with the PDF file.

In contrast, with HTML an application can start displaying stuff as soon as the first bytes of a file are being read. First you get to see the text and as additional files gets loaded, images and other stuff pops up. That makes browsing so much faster. Anything that is misunderstood is ignored so one corrupted byte somewhere won’t destroy the entire page.

I like PDF but even the current sorry state of HTML doesn’t make it a valid technology for the internet.

Maybe you forgot that Adobe Reader initially cost 50$ per pop (http://www.prepressure.com/pdf/basics/history). Would the web even have taken off at all if it would have started like that?

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