[Scribus] Creating PDF forms whose data can be saved with acrobat reader
Mon Mar 3 19:10:17 CET 2008
Gregory Pittman wrote:
> This is of interest, and worth figuring out. It's not clear to me that
> this is entirely in Adobe's interest to restrict this usage --
> encourages someone to develop a more open forms format.
Probably not. What's likely to happen in the long run is that as other
PDF readers are enhanced they'll gain full forms support, like Adobe
Reader but without requiring the same unlocking signature. Some of the
Linux-based ones are already moving in that direction - and with KDE 4
the KDE PDF viewer is likely to be ported to Mac OS X and Windows too.
So it's probably not going to be too long before users with non-Adobe
PDF readers can handle forms quite well.
Adobe's advantage is their user base. Their app is bundled on driver and
app installer CDs, pushed by websites, etc. An alternative form option
would have to provide the same sort of utility and resulting ubiquity
that Adobe Reader has to be really interesting. That's why they can sell
the ability to unlock extra form features in Reader to people - because
it's *already* on a user's machine. Alternative open forms formats would
not have that, and wouldn't be any better than telling the user to
download some other PDF utility.
Web forms are of course the main alternative, and just fine almost all
the time. I don't see saved PDF forms as hugely interesting except when
combined with digital signatures and widely accepted certificate
infrastructure, as is found within governments and large corporations,
where archival and attestation is very important. Unsurprisingly, this
is the market that the Adobe PDF enhancements stuff is targeted at.
I'm not really sure why people bother with this stuff for use with the
general public. If they're going to fill the form out, save it, and
email/upload it back to you without using a digital signature why not
use a web form? They can already fill it out and print it with Reader
without any special enabling, so that doesn't justify it. Reader also
any sort of feature enabling signature, and that's the only other reason
I can think of to use it. The latter case is just an alternative user
interface for a web form anyway.
> I've always felt that this is one of the big ways that proprietary
> formats are very wrong -- I take *my* data, *my* creative input, and it
> gets held hostage in a format I do not have complete rights over -- very
> very wrong.
It's a bit different in this case, in that PDF *is* an open format, it's
fully documented, and you can do basically whatever you want with it.
You can include your own enabling signature, for example. The only
difference is that Adobe's free Reader product (hardly the only PDF
reader in town) chooses not to honour feature enabling signatures from
people who're not authorized by Adobe.
What's happening here is a little different to the usual "proprietary
extensions" stuff that many companies like to get up to. Adobe has fully
documented the reader enabling mechanism, the only thing missing is the
private key required to use it. It's a backwards way of selling licenses
to Adobe Reader, where the license sold is to the ability to enable
extra features on Reader on a user's machine rather than the direct
rights to use Reader, and is paid for by the form creator rather than
the end user. It's not, in my view, hugely different from requiring a
license for products like Acrobat Pro and Acrobat Server, which operate
on PDF but are not free. It's not restricting what other PDF viewer apps
can do, nor what PDF creators can do to interact with other viewers and
it doesn't hide any data away in non-standard ways.
In a way I guess it *is* getting around the open standard nature of PDF
to provide enhanced features for Adobe products talking to Adobe
products. I don't much like it for that reason, but I do see it as very
different from using undocumented extensions to break compatibility in a
format or similar nastiness. There are no secret APIs or undocumented
binary blobs here.
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