Are PDFs all that bad?

Jakob Nielsen is Mr. Unequivocal again on his latest alertbox: PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption. Despite that, I'm cautiously optimistic about the promised next column about making PDFs work better.

One technique I like is opening PDFs in their own window, using one usability sin to cover another, since users often end up closing the browser window and thus their whole browser when a PDF file is opened.

And I don't buy the Adode myth that everyone has the PDF plugin. Having done field usability tests, I've noticed more users than you might expect simply don't have the plug-in. I have no hard numbers, but keep in mind that Internet Explorer has come built into Windows for some time now, while on many computers, PDFs are still a separate download. Try telling a user to go download 8.7 Megabytes over a dialup connection.

Another PDF annoyance: on Windows 2000 using roaming profiles, you have to accept the license agreement the first time you open a PDF file each session if that setting isn't saved between sessions. Occasionally, the window asking you to accept the agreement gets lost and appears to crash your browser.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, July 17, 2003 (Link)