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Author Topic: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?  (Read 578 times)

a.l.e

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PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« on: September 21, 2016, 12:07:02 pm »
Quote
The more I work with this, the more problems I seem to get...

well, i must admit that i normally avoid helping people with their interactive PDFs...
it looks like the wrong answer to practically each task i can think of :-)

you asked good questions in a good way and i gave it one more time a try:
i'm still convinced that Scribus should better only support PDFs for print.

abusing of PDFs as a poor man's application platform does not look as a good idea to me...

conclusion: Excel is terrible, but still better than interactive PDFs :-)

GarryP

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2016, 03:07:32 pm »
a.l.e, I'm not quite in agreement with you that Scribus should be for print only.

The creation of PDFs that are not for print is probably the main use for Scribus for a lot of people. In other words, a lot of people create PDFs that never get printed, their PDFs just get digitally distributed. I'm sure you'll know this but I thought I'd try and clarify what I think you meant before people started complaining. (If I've misunderstood then please say so.)

However, I do totally agree that creating interactive PDFs is beyond what Scribus should be concentrating on. All of the form and javascript functionality must add a lot of overhead to the Scribus code which all needs maintenance and testing. I have no idea how many people use Scribus for interactive PDFs but I would be surprised if it was more than 1% of the total Scribus user base. Would it be better to potentially lose a small number of users than keep such functionality?

While I would have sympathy for those users that would lose functionality they relied on, there are surely better ways - it's 2016, not 1996 after all - to get responses from people, e.g. HTML Forms, Webforms, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, etc. etc.

For me, Scribus should be for making non-interactive PDFs only. Losing Form and Javascript functionality might also allow for some of the the Security options to go too. (For instance, how often would you want to distribute something and not let someone print or add annotations?) And if that all happens, would also losing the Presentation Effects be so much of a hardship?

So, all in all, Scribus should - in my opinion - lose the forms, lose javascript, and lose presentation effects. If the Scribus devs can concentrate on core functionality I think it will be better for the vast majority of users.

a.l.e

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2016, 04:06:52 pm »
hoi garry,

i agree with you.

just one remark on what you feel could need some clarification :-)

distributing PDF that are not supposed to be printed is IMO an historical error.
it does not make really sense to produce a digital document that does not adapt to the screen, wishes and needs of the reader.
but i have to agree, that there is no widespread better solution... except creating a website.

so, even if both PDF and Scribus have been created for sending a document to the professional print shop, there are usages that i'm very comfortable seeing supported by Scribus.
like digitally distributing a document that is also being printed.
(or one that could have been printed, if there was no email...)

you're right to point that out!

but as you write, scribus probably goes too far in (badly) supporting features that are too far away from its core business.

and i agree with the list of features you would like to see removed. i will add them to my personal list of candidates for removal.

less code to be maintained, fewer buttons in an UI that feels overcrowded. less questions from puzzled users...

... but if it's hard to get a feature to be added to scribus, getting a feature to be removed is almost impossible!
so, if anybody sees one of your pet features been questioned by me: there is probably not too much to worry about :-)

mnawij

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2016, 06:39:54 am »
+1 to both GarryP and a.l.e.

Scribus should be for print layout only.  There are other tools to convert print ready pdf's to web ready documents.

mnawij

Nermander

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2016, 09:29:53 am »
I'm wondering if not a fork of Scribus would be a good solution.

Keep the core Scribus to be intended for "print layout" and make a fork that is a "PDF authoring application".

Because I think the main reason many people are using Scribus for interactive PDFs etc is that there is no alternative.

GarryP

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2016, 02:40:46 pm »
Erika:

Apologies that this thread has been "hijacked" and gone off-topic a bit. This sometimes happens when you get people who have strong views about things. No-one is trying to infer that your enquiries are less important though so please continue to post.

a.l.e:

I think we're pretty much in agreement about how we think Scribus should be progressing in the future. A rock solid platform for page layout is much better than something that tries to do too much not as well.

I can also see what you mean about getting features removed. Once someone has gone to the trouble of creating something they're not very likely to rip it all out. No-one likes wasting time and effort.

General:

I think this whole situation has come about because the PDF format has been tinkered with for so long to include so many different uses that it has become a bit of a "dumping ground" for all kinds of things related to documents and the exchange of information. Adobe is desperately trying to hold on to its control over this kind of thing while other technologies are opening up all kinds of new/better ways of doing things.

Because Scribus uses PDFs as the "transport method" to get a page layout to an output mechanism (a printer), added to the fact that PDFs can encompass all kinds of other things other than what you need to get something printed, things have got a bit mixed up.

Adobe tried to make PDFs the "go-to" exchangeable document format decades ago so that it could control that area of business and kept adding features as it thought fit. In other words, "if everyone is using PDFs then everyone will need to buy Acrobat and the more features we add the more people will want/need to join the party".

Since Scribus also creates PDFs there's been an expectation that it should be able to offer all of the features that the PDF format allows. Essentially, Scribus has gone some way down the path of becoming an "open source Acrobat" when it's not supposed to be.

Scribus creates PDF output because that's what print shops expect to get. If print shops wanted a different file type then Scribus would produce that different type of file and there probably wouldn't be any issues about forms etc. because they simply wouldn't be used. (In this situation I would expect printing from Scribus to be much better and there would be no need for PDF export in the first place. NOTE: I'm not advocating this.)

When someone eventually comes up with an open source self-contained document format that includes page layout, images, colour management, fonts etc. which can be easily exchanged that is also responsive to the output mechanism - monitor/printer/tablet/eReader etc. - then PDFs may well disappear but that's probably quite far into the future. (It's an interesting thought experiment though.)

mnawij:

You've sparked my interest. Can you give some example of software that can convert PDFs to web-ready documents please? They sound intriguing.

Nermander:

A fork of Scribus sounds like an interesting idea. I have no idea how it would work in a practical sense but it's definitely something to think about. It sounds like it would introduce two "flavours" of Scribus where one is for print work and the other is for display work, which might be difficult to maintain.

Also, if one was just a subset of the other then I don't think anyone would download the "lite" version. They'd just go "full fat" and get all of the features even if they didn't need them. The cost to the user is the same - nothing - so why get less than what is available?

I think you're correct that most people will be using Scribus for interactive PDFs because there's no real alternative. However, I don't believe that Scribus should be thought of as an "open source Acrobat". I don't think Scribus should offer the functionality just because nothing else does.

General (again):

As a.l.e, mnawij and myself have noted earlier, in 2016 there are many different ways of interacting with users these days rather than using PDFs. In 1996 (or thereabouts) when form controls were introduced they were pretty much the only game in town. Internet access wasn't as ubiquitous as it is for a lot of people now and the only real alternative was to pass around Word documents containing Visual Basic and/or macros. Things have moved on quite a bit in twenty years.

In my opinion - and most of what I've said is just my opinion and therefore not worth more than that - perpetuating the use of interactive PDFs by allowing their creation in Scribus is just adding to the problem.

It's a case of using the right tool for the job. If Scribus had no functionality for PDF interactivity then people wouldn't complain about it not being up to scratch. It would simply not be there. People don't complain about the lack of fine typographical controls in GIMP because that's not what GIMP is for. In the same way, people shouldn't have cause to complain about forms in Scribus because it shouldn't offer that functionality.

Anyway, my fingers are tired now so I'll wait for a response.

P.S. In general, I think I'm agreeing with what everyone has said. I've just tried to add a bit of extra detail for other people reading this.

Nermander

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2016, 03:20:17 pm »
When it comes to an "open source self-contained document format that includes page layout, images, colour management, fonts etc", PostScript reaches quite far.

PDF is more or less just an extension of the PostScript format, to make it more structured.

There have been some attempts to make PostScript more structured, but it was only by using comments in the file to identify pages etc. I used much of this years ago when I made impositioning scripts. I used LaTeX and LyX to typset books from the Gutenberg Project, then imposed them (using my own perl scripts on top of psutils), printed and folded to practice bookbinding with.

GarryP

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2016, 04:44:37 pm »
I didn't realise that PostScript was open source; I thought Adobe still controlled it. It's good to learn stuff.

If Scribus could embed images, fonts and colour profiles in the SLA then it's pretty much there as an open source self-contained file that can be exchanged. (Obviously, imported SVGs would have to be kept as the original to pass onto other software that can handle everything that Scribus can't.)

As for responsive documents, I've been messing around with Visual Studio Blend a little bit recently and the tools in there for window layout (read as "page layout") are very interesting. Each item you add to the artboard (read as "canvas") can be locked - at a given distance - to any edge of the page or column/row so stuff moves around and resizes depending on how large the window/page is. I can see that sort of thing being useful if you need to, for instance, change paper size from, say, A4 landscape to A3 portrait (why you'd want to for printed material is another matter even though some people have asked for it but for eBooks it's probably a must-have feature).

It also has a very nice UI. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=173W8bls0ko&index=5&list=PLBDF977B2F1DAB358 for a quick overview of some of the features. (I really like the idea of being able to rotate and skew just by moving the pointer near to a control handle.)

I've also attached a simple animated GIF showing the basics. I wish Scribus could do stuff like this but whether it would be counted as a "core feature" isn't my call.

Ah, I've gone even further off topic haven't I!

mnawij

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2016, 01:23:00 am »
GarryP,

Google optimize pdf or downsample pdf and your OS.  In linux I use ghostscript, pdftk, imagemagick, GIMP, Inkscape, gsview,  pdf-compressor, PDF Studio & MasterPDF (both $paid$ applications), and a couple of others I cannot remember atm... whichever I think would be fastest for the file size, # of pages, etc...

Mac OSX and Windows I have the full Acrobat Suite and just use Acrobat Pro to optimize.  Though programs like novapdf or nitroPDf should work, though I have never used them.

mnawij

Nermander

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2016, 10:03:40 am »
I didn't realise that PostScript was open source; I thought Adobe still controlled it. It's good to learn stuff.

I'm not sure if PostScript really is open source, but in the Linux world PostScript has been the printing format to use for ages.


GarryP

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2016, 11:19:35 am »
mnawij: Thanks for the list of software. I'll have a look at them and see what interesting stuff I can find. (I've never heard of some of them so it will be good to see what they can do.)

Nermander: I think PostScript itself is still an Adobe thing but it's been unchanged for so long - a quick check on Wikipedia states "Stable release: PostScript 3 / 1997; 19 years ago" - that Adobe isn't too bothered about people doing open source-type things with it - e.g. GhostScript - as long as they don't go too far. Basically: "It's still our toy but you can play with it if you want to".

a.l.e

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2016, 11:23:53 am »
... i guess that it's not so important if it is opensource or not...

... what matters -- IMO -- is that postscript is a well documented and defined, stable format/programming language... and that one can freely use it, for whatever she sees fit.
even if nowadays i would not use it except for talking to a printer from a linux machine...

indeed, from my experience ps is not an alternative to pdf in the print workflow, since the former cannot (or usually does not) include all the resources needed for printing the file (fonts, color profiles).

and concerning the "self-contained" .sla files: i would really love to have them, but not for sending them to the print shop!
i have had some experiences in the pre-pdf era and it was no fun. believe me, PDF is a fine format for printing!
... if only the print shops (and the clients) would accept that PDFs are a non editable file that should only be checked for conformity and sent to the printer!
and if only they could correctly support the modern versions of PDFs with transparencies!

... i start feeling old...

GarryP

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2016, 11:56:30 am »
My idea of a new self-contained open source etc. etc. format was just a bit of a fantasy thing. I can't ever see it happening when PDF is so entrenched in people's workflows. It was a bit of a dream written down, nothing more than that.

dagoss

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Re: PDF forms: a feature or a anti-feature?
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2017, 03:54:34 pm »
I might be in the minority, but I actually use Scribus's PDF form abilities.

... but I'll be the first to admit that I don't do so by choice. I completely agree with the sentiment in this thread that PDFs should be for printing and there are better ways of distributing information on screens. Interactive feel like cludgy attempts to make a self-contained website I can send in email, and I die a little inside every time I add Javascript to a PDF.

Please save me--deprecate these features in Scribus and add something cool like Grep styles instead.