[Scribus] I'm looking for a Portable Document Format (not PDF)

Craig Ringer craig
Wed Feb 16 08:21:20 CET 2005

On Wed, 2005-02-16 at 17:24 +0000, Nik wrote:

> What is needed is a document format that is designed for the easy and 
> accurate exchange of documents. Sadly, Adobe are taking PDF in much same 
> direction that Microsoft took the Word file-format, where frequent 
> changes to the format meant that folks were forever playing version 
> catch-up.

I'm going to have to disagree there. I'd argue that the format changes
haven't been all that frequent, but more imporantly they're backward
compatible. Someone with Acrobat Distiller 6 can choose to produce a PDF
1.3 document for Acrobat 4 and that'll work just fine.

If document producers choose to ignore compatibility, that's not so much
a problem with the format as the producers of the documents.

I'm also totally unconvinced that any other format could avoid suffering
from featureitis to an even greater extent than PDF.

> I realise that Adobe always intended to make money from the PDF format, 
> and that changes to the format are a natural way for them to accomplish 
> that, but if I can't successfully read the PDF documents that I receive 
> or download, then PDF is no use to me as a portable document format.

Acrobat Reader 7 for Linux will help with that. I'm disappointed it's
taken them so long personally, but then ... I have _never_ run into a
PDF I can't use with Acrobat 5, and very few that GhostScript 8 can't
handle. Even xpdf copes with most of them fine.

> What I am looking for is a document format that is open enough that 
> anyone who wishes can build a reader and/or creator for it can.

That's PDF ;-)

> The format 
> should also be "XML compatable", in that if it isn't stored in XML 
> (which does compress fairly well), then it should be easily rendered 
> into XML, so that a text editor can be used to make changes.

I can't say I'd mind that, but I'm not convinced XML is really that big
an advantage for a format like PDF. An XML structure designed to do the
job of PDF would, I expect, be very complex and as hard to edit and
manipulate as PDF is. It'd also probably be very slow.

PDF is very space efficient and fairly fast to process. I'm not sure I'd
want to use an XML format instead, since I'm fairly certain you'd just
end up with "PDF-XML (bloated)" - slower, fatter, and just as hard to
work with.

My personal suspicion is that a language designed to fit the use case of
PDF - accurate cross-platform, cross-viewer representation of documents
- would have a hard time being easily editable as well.

> I am aware of SGML Document Interchange Format, but SGML seems to have 
> gone out of favour. Does anyone know of a format that fits the 
> requirements I've described, or could be made to?

In my opinion, the best approach is to work on improving the free PDF
viewers. They're already 90% of the way there. Imagine the work involved
in getting a new format up to the grade of PDF and getting authoring and
viewing software for it - eek! Why repeat that work?

Others here know a lot more about PDF and such than I, and should feel
free to inform me and the list of exactly how wrong I am. Still, this is
my impression from what I've read and from my experience with the

Craig Ringer

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