• Say no to interactive PDF

It’s okay to say no to interactive PDF

It’s not much of a secret that I spend quite a bit of time on the front lines of the Adobe forums. Most of the blog posts I’ve written here and at InDesign Secrets are inspired by what I read there. It’s also no secret that I’m generally into short and sweet answers. So, what is it that got me thinking about writing a long blog post?

Lately, I’ve noticed a spike in users posting about frustrations with interactive PDF. In fact, not too many days go by that I don’t see someone trying to use interactive PDF for some ridiculously complicated document that PDF was never intended for. Now, don’t get me wrong…I love pushing the envelope, but there’s a point where you’re just wasting your time and effort and rather than give users the same response over and over again, along with the fact that I haven’t written a blog post in a while, I figured I’d climb up on my soapbox and shout this from my own little mountaintop. Don’t be surprised if you see links to this post show up on the forums.

So, what’s the problem with interactive PDF?

The PDF format for interactive documents has become a victim of its own success. It's time to explore alternatives to interactive PDF.

The PDF format for interactive documents has become a victim of its own success. It’s time to explore alternatives to interactive PDF.

Pop up menus; slideshows; videos (embedded and streamed), animations and scrolling content are among the top features I see people trying to squeeze into a PDF. But complicated forms with calculations, custom fonts, email submissions of only part of the form are also popular requests. Those things just don’t work (some of them, like fonts for text fields and calculations in forms can be added in Acrobat, but that’s not issue here. Read on for more) and the fact that your client or boss insists on a PDF is irrelevant (if he/she disagrees, feel free to point them to this post).

I realize that some of those might be possible with crazy workarounds using show / hide buttons but those things are bound to break when you pile 20, 30 or even more buttons on top of one another. If that’s not enough, most of the requests come with the requirement that the resultant PDF has to work everywhere. Everywhere includes, browsers and all desktop and mobile readers. Sorry, folks, but that’s just a pipe dream. No format works everywhere and that brings me to my main point.

The PDF format and more specifically, interactive PDF is actually a victim of its own success. There are countless reader applications for desktop and mobile devices as well as browser plugins and frankly, most them suck for interactive PDF; this includes Mac Preview. The problem is that most users think a PDF is a PDF is a PDF. This is simply not true.

As an aside, I think it’s worth pointing out that contrary to popular belief, Adobe, beyond supporting the format for Acrobat and Reader can’t do a thing about it. Even they haven’t produced mobile app that supports all of the interactive features and they’re not likely to.

One of the issues with mobile that simply can’t be overcome is the old workaround of using SWF to insert animations, multi state objects and video. While earlier version of Acrobat had flash player included, that is no longer the case and even it were, SWF files won’t play on mobile devices.

The PDF format and more specifically, interactive PDF is actually a victim of its own success. There are countless reader applications for desktop and mobile devices as well as browser plugins and frankly, most them suck for interactive PDF; this includes Mac Preview. The problem is that most users think a PDF is a PDF is a PDF. This is simply not true.

What’s the answer?

There is no single answer and I will say that for forms that can be distributed in a controlled manner, PDF may still be a very viable choice, especially in government applications or where privacy is paramount such as medical information. But beyond that you’ll have a difficult time convincing me that PDF is a good way to produce intricate, interactive documents.

For documents without forms, my first choice is to use Fixed Layout (FXL) EPUB. I already know what you’re thinking; limited reader support. But I see that as a positive. Everyone knows this and can prepare for it. FXL EPUB is not ubiquitous in the way that PDF is and recommending reader apps is totally acceptable. [For what it may be worth, iBooks on OSX and iOS are my go to apps for those operating systems while Readium for Chrome is terrific on Windows. Adobe Digital Editions has improved dramatically, as well and is available for all mobile and desktop platforms.]

That is not the case with PDF where many people expect that a PDF will work on any device on any reader and are shocked when it doesn’t. This takes me back to my initial point—PDF is a victim of its own success. In fact, many people don’t even call them PDFs. I’m sure you’ve all been asked about an “Adobe file.”

Another excellent choice for documents you want to make publicly available is Adobe’s new Publish Online feature available directly from InDesign. Publish Online supports all of the major features of FXL EPUB and with one click publishing, couldn’t be any easier to use.

By the way, I’m intentionally omitting anything related to digital publishing on the app side. Those choices are simply too expensive to compare to PDF.

What about forms?

The biggest complaint I see about forms is they don’t work in a browser. If having it work in a browser is the goal, why use PDF when an HTML form is so easy to add to a website? Alternatively, Google Forms are terrific for that type of thing and way easier to create than a form in InDesign. And most importantly, both are specifically intended for use in a browser.

So, I should never use PDF?

Well, let’s not get carried away. Of course, there are still great uses for interactive PDF. My favorite example would be InDesign Magazine. It’s essentially a static publication that has buttons for navigation for next page, previous page and hyperlinks in the TOC. Beyond that the use of interactivity is limited. This is truly a case of less is more and what you should be keeping in mind for your PDF documents.

Bottom line

I’ve always been a proponent of using the right tool for the job. Sure, you can drive a nail using the back of a wrench, but I’ll take a hammer for that any day of the week. Interactive PDF may be the right format for some uses, but for most interactive uses today, there a better choices. Please consider using them.

If you want to learn more about FXL Epub, check out Anne-Marie Concepcion’s lynda.com course. I also recommend Diane Burns’ course on creating animations. If you’d like to learn about multi state objects, check out my course on that subject. If you don’t have a lynda.com subscription, you can get a free 10-day trial. If you’re more of a book learner, check out Digital Publishing with Adobe InDesign CC: Moving Beyond Print to Digital by Diane Burns and Sandee Cohen. They cover a wealth of information including interactive PDF.

What do you think? Have you been tasked with or considered using interactive PDF for something that would be far easier and more effective with another format?

By |2018-05-31T19:58:13+00:00January 26th, 2016|Acrobat, Adobe, EPUB, InDesign, PDF, Rants|55 Comments


  1. Ben Vanderberg January 26, 2016 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Bob, I might have a bias on this one, but one of the primary issues I have seen a lot of documents that are interactive PDFs is that they also often require a signature. So people end up printing them out anyway.

    One thing to also consider is using Adobe eSign services. There is an option to create it as an online widget or embed it into your webpage. Also, it reads the PDF fields that you already have. It has the ability to do calculations easily. You get certified PDF at the end of it, and you can export a CSV of the values.

    Let me know your thoughts. Shoot me a response on LinkedIn. – Ben Vanderberg

    • Bob
      Bob January 26, 2016 at 4:24 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ben.

      Yeah I should have thought of the signature thing. But it really does fall into the category of using the right tool for the job. That said, if you need a digital signature, it might not necessarily be on a form. I’ve gotten NDA that I’ve had to sign. Nothing else to fill in.

  2. michaelejahn January 26, 2016 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    One use case is when i have to give an XFA form to someone who does not have access to the internet ( rare, but it happens ). XFA seems like it is dead as dillinger – last rev of the spec was 3.3 Jan 2012

  3. Max Wyss January 26, 2016 at 5:53 pm - Reply

    With all due respect, but the statements about forms are horrendously flawed. Yes, it may work when someone is in an area with LTE and Fiber. But otherwise, relying on an reliable, active internet connection for the whole time to work with the form is a guarantee for failure.

    A form must be functional, no matter and under which circumstances it gets filled. This means that the form must be smart, and self-contained. And, yes, we have something for that… it is called “PDF”. And, amazingly, that format provides two fundamental features: integrity of contents and integrity of presentation. There are many places where the form must not only have the contents, but it must look the way the issuer has set it, otherwise, it will be invalid.

    Another aspect is that relying on internet services is a violence of privacy, particularly when the servers are located in the US. Unacceptable for serious business and government…

    There is a frightening lack of understanding about forms out there, mainly among (major) software makers. The examples shown (and where Google Forms may work) are on the level of the signing up for the next field trip of the local bunny-breeders association. But when the form has to be the bearer of a business process (that’s one of the functions a form can have), slapping some fields with labels on a canvas is not enough. And you need a reliable platform.

    So far, only PDF provides this.

    (disclaimer: I have been creating smart PDFs (aka smart forms) since Acrobat JavaScript became publicly available, and my first “real” form was a specification application for belt drives, which is still in use, some 17 years after it came out).

    • Bob
      Bob January 26, 2016 at 6:30 pm - Reply

      Hi Max,

      I specifically mentioned government applications and situations where privacy was paramount being a case for using a PDF form. I also said that using HTML and/or google forms was for those situations where the form had to function in a browser. I thought I was pretty clear about that.

  4. Max Wyss January 26, 2016 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    XFA should never have been brought to the masses. Its intentional use was/is the base document for a forms server providing the most suitable “rendering” for the viewer. For that, it is very well suited. (it may now go back to that intentional use, after Adobe stopped throwing the design tool after Acrobat for Windows users).

    In your case, to phase out the XFA forms, you know whom to talk to…

  5. Derek Cross January 27, 2016 at 3:26 am - Reply

    The new forms feature in Windows 2016 looks promising.

  6. Ingo Eichel January 27, 2016 at 4:23 am - Reply

    For just an interactive document that is accessible at a big variety of devices go and check Adobe´s Publish Online directly from InDesign. Ok it´s available only with internet access – but that is true for web based fonts as well. If you combine that with a static PDF that you might have prepared for print purposes that is a great combination and accessable for everybody.

  7. Eugene Tyson January 27, 2016 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Hi Bob

    I recently completed a project where the client wanted an Interactive PDF for the iPad. When they downloaded Acrobat and ran the PDF on the iPad it was simply too slow, it was very laggy, even when I tested it myself. It just didn’t work well at all!

    I then attempted the wonderful Publish Online – and guess what, fonts went way out of line, simple text in one line, it was unusable, and this needed to be fixed and no time as I was at the end of the project.

    The exact same thing happened in the Fixed Layout ePub. I put it down to the fonts the customer uses in their brand guidelines, which is a very common font. However, in both Publish Online and the FXL Epub the fonts were completely out of line.

    Besides, the Publish Online only works if the person has access to the Web to view the document. In this case, the users would sometimes not be allowed to have access to the internet, think of places where you may not be allowed internet access, there’s quite a few.

    The document also needed to be pre-downloaded to the iPad for the users.

    The client then suggested that they need it to work in iBooks – as that’s what they always use, which was new information for us. I opened the interactive PDF in iBooks, and all the buttons disappeared, which is a pitfall in iBooks, not supporting buttons in interactive pdfs.

    I simply removed all the buttons. Added hyperlink masks over the ‘buttons’, and it all worked perfectly fine in iBooks. And adding a button state to the button even without a rollover, the buttons appear, but the Library bar appears on the iPad as the buttons were near the top, which wasn’t great, again a limitation of iBooks.

    As it was for iPad they didn’t need roll over states, they simply needed to be different colour when on that section of the publication. After replacing buttons with static rectangles, and including a hyperlink on a layer above – it worked perfectly on the iPad in iBooks.

    It’s not so much that’s it is ok to say No to interactive PDFs. It’s that some clients want things a certain way. It’s about exploring the pitfalls of the systems that you’re designing for, and figuring out the best way to deliver to that system.

    I also have another project that requires Interactive PDF as the responses are recoreded via javascripts to a system working in the backend to record the responses.

    PDFs are lot more powerful and using logic and intelligence in your PDF shouldn’t be discouraged.

    ePub is ok for certain things – but sometimes you want something a bit smarter and less problematic from system to system.

    – Publish Online is an unfinished product imo and shouldn’t even be in the public domain.

    PDF is a very good way to deliver content that appears the same on all devices, fonts don’t go askew, images stay put, and hyperlinks work perfectly.

    • Bob
      Bob January 27, 2016 at 8:22 am - Reply

      Good points Eugene but you really rehashed a lot of the problem with interactive PDF. I haven’t seen the kind of issues you have with Publish Online or FXL Epub as far as fonts going wonky.

      I strongly disagree with your assessment of Publish Online. I think it’s brilliant and it continues to get better. I’ve not seen any reports of serious issues like you had but given that you saw the same thing in both FXL Epub and Publish Online, I wonder if it was a font issue.

      It also seems that what you’re saying is that workarounds for PDF are okay but for FXL and Publish Online they’re not.

  8. Eugene January 27, 2016 at 10:39 am - Reply

    The supplied by the customer, there’s no way to change it. Honestly, it just doesn’t work in ePub or Publish Online. Fonts do go wonky – and that’s just the way it is at the moment.

    I agree an ePub would have better for iBooks – and I would have loved to supply that but the only way to get the fonts to display as per the layout was with an Interactive PDF. Which I had to change how the linking from pages worked – in terms of removing buttons and providing hyperlink frames over the page navigation etc.

    I understand the Publish Online is getting better, by you saying that you agree it’s still a work in progress. For example, support for updating an already published document didn’t come until much later. You can’t upload an interactive PDF, only a print version – which is a sore point with me as I require that at the moment.

    Honestly, the only thing that took away from the ePub and the Publish online is that the fonts wouldn’t stay.

    • Bob
      Bob January 27, 2016 at 10:52 am - Reply

      It’s absolutely a work in progress. That’s the exciting thing about. It’s getting better.

      Are you seeing those wonky font issues with all fonts? Just specific ones? Are there effects applied?

      And I agree that a nice feature enhancement would be to get the option to choose the actual PDF that gets uploaded.

  9. The Authors January 27, 2016 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    First I want to thank Bob for the mention of my book with Diane Burns. I’d also like to mention my book Creating Animations in Adobe® InDesign® CC One Step at a Time (with downloadable exercise files) from Adobe Press.

    Next, I would go further and say “It’s TIME to say no to interactive PDF.”

    Next, I have been an evangelist for “all the bells and whistles” PDFs since Acrobat 5.

    Finally, I apologize for the length of these comments. I will divide them up into segments for brevity.

    Why the spike?

    Bob has noticed a spike in users trying to use interactive PDF. I’ve see it too. I have a suspicion that since Adobe dropped support for Single-Edition DPS, those users have migrated back to interactive PDF.
    But the bottom line in the spike of users is that there is a market out there for some sort of electronic document, with interactivity, and perhaps audio/video, and perhaps animations for a wide variety of uses. The answer is the form of ePub 3 called Fixed Layout (FXL). But more about that later.

    Hammering with a wrench.

    Bob says he sees people “trying to use interactive PDF for some ridiculously complicated document that PDF was never intended for”. I have quite a few students and clients who ask me if it’s possible to have a set of buttons, in a PDF, that act in a certain way to show and hide visuals on the page. They want a single button to show the first visual and then they want the “same” button to show the next, and then another, and so on.

    Yes, there is a way to do it. But the steps are so complicated that I warn them not to bother. But it is SO EASY to do it in FXL.

    Pushing the envelope.

    Back in 2002, Pattie Belle Hastings, Bjorn Akselsen, and I co-authored Acrobat 5 Master Class. It might have well been called “Pushing the Envelope for Interactive PDF.” We showed what you can do with buttons, forms, and multimedia. We went even further with very rudimentary introductions to using JavaScript to do amazing things the ordinary interface doesn’t provide. Today I would never bother with any of those exercises. It’s too much work for little ROI.

    My feelings as to what’s wrong.

    First, let’s divide “interactivity” into two segments: Sexy and Utilitarian. Pop up menus; slideshows; videos (embedded and streamed), animations and scrolling content are the sexy features people want in their PDFs. Perhaps it’s because apps on tablets have whetted their appetites for these features.

    Forms, especially those with calculations, custom fonts, email submissions are the utilitarian features that are useful to business but not for anyone trying to mimic tablet apps.

    I’m mostly interested in the “sexy” features. (What can I say? Sex sells.)

    It’s the READERS stupid (not the people, the applications).

    As Bob says, “The interactive PDF is actually a victim of its own success.” The problem is that the PDF developer has lost any control over what application opens and runs the interactive document.

    It’s not that a “PDF is a PDF is a PDF.” It’s that there are too many applications that play interactive PDFs. Most users think a “Reader is a Reader is a Reader” and use whatever application opens the file first. Or whichever is free for a download. And developers forget that they have no control over what opens the file. I just did a quick search and found over 120 applications available to display PDFs on the Mac OS platform, over 150 on Android, and over 3,700 results in the iOS App store.

    And there’s no way to force users to open with the reader you want them to use. But let’s say you’re a company that can control what application your salespeople use to display interactive PDFs. So you would think that pushing for the Adobe Reader on all platforms would solve all problems. Nope! I just discovered last week that the simple button command to show/hide Acrobat layers doesn’t work using the Adobe Reader on iOS. I had to modify the project I was working on to be three pages rather than a single page with different layers.

    SWF for animations don’t work!

    Let’s just get this out of the way. Animations exported as SWF and re-placed into a single page PDF is a horrible mess.

    It’s sad that ever since Apple (and then Google) killed SWF on tablets that there have been no reliable way to play the animations from InDesign. UNTIL FXL ePub!

    Filling out forms.

    I wish that creating forms was as easy as Google forms. But as Bob says, “…for forms that can be distributed in a controlled manner, PDF may still be a very viable choice, especially in government applications or where privacy is paramount such as medical information.” But even for forms, you’ve still got Reader applications that can screw up information in PDF forms.

    So for the “sexy” interactive documents?

    I agree with Bob. It’s Fixed Layout (FXL) ePub without question. It supports all the sexy interactive features my clients have wanted such as buttons, links, and audio/video. But they ALSO support features PDF have never played such as animations and multi-state objects.

    And what apps shall show FXL?

    For Mac OS and iOS distribution, FXL files open without any problem and play all the sexy features. But for Windows and Android, the developer has to direct the user to download a plug-in such as Readium for Chrome or Adobe Digital Editions for Android. This is similar to the old days where developers had to explain to viewers how to get and install Flash Players.

    Many companies don’t let their employees install outside applications. Users don’t want to take the time to leave a web page to download something. It can be confusing to install a new application. (If you don’t believe me, I’ll tell you stories about my cousin in Florida and what happens to her.)

    Or thePub reader already installed may not play all the interactivity. So we’re back to what reader should the user open.

    We need a way for FXL files to open automatically, play all features on all platforms, without the user having to choose, download, install, or even think about how the document is being shown. I call this the “Grandmother Test.”

    Publish Online

    Adobe has introduced a “preview technology” called Publish Online. On first glance it may be the answer to all the FXL distribution problems. And passes the “Grandmother Test.” It runs in just about every modern browser. It shows all the sexy bells and whistles. It is easy to distribute.

    Unfortunately, at the moment, it can’t show documents offline. This causes it to fail what I call the “Elevator Test.”

    For an FXL to pass the “Elevator test,” a salesman should be able to take out a tablet, and click to play a Publish Online file in an elevator that has no internet connection.

    Great uses for interactive PDF?

    I disagree with Bob on how InDesign magazine is a great use for interactive PDF. There are two reasons ID mag is essentially a static publication.

    First, the publisher believes that there is a wide audience that prints the magazine for reading elsewhere. I remember creating a series of interactive quizzes that were published in the magazine. The biggest problem was the publisher and editor felt that the print people would be annoyed that they couldn’t play the quizzes. So we had to include an answer sheet at the end of the magazine. How 19th Century!

    I was probably the biggest advocate of pushing the envelope for ID Mag interactive features. But problems translating those features for print (think multi-media) made it difficult to push the envelope. We had a feature that used rollover effects for an interactive lesson. The problem was that users who were reading the magazine on tablets couldn’t invoke any rollovers. Eventually we dropped those type of articles.

    So it wasn’t a case of choosing “less is more.” It was a case of being limited by a print mindset and lack of tablet support.

    What I want?

    • A “wrapper” that would play single FXL ePub format on Mac OS, Windows, Android, and even Kindle! There is a possibility that Publish Online could be adapted to do this.

    • A way to monetize Publish Online so that only those who pay to subscribe to the document could view it. That would be perfect for magazines and teaching materials.

    • Viewing Publish Online offline.

    • More bells and whistles for FXL from InDesign!

    • Justin Putney and Chad Chelius have created a brilliant add-on for InDesign that allows you to create scrolling text or scrolling images.

    • Support for page transitions in FXL and Publish Online.

    • Better (easier) controls for MSOs.

    • Better (easier) controls for creating animations. My book on animations and Diane’s course on Lynda contain many examples of how we push animations to do more. And we even show how to “hack” into the code that controls animations. But we shouldn’t have to work so hard.

    OK, I’m done.

    Thanks Bob for bringing up the topic.

    • Bob
      Bob January 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Wow! Thanks for stopping by, Sandee.

      Great comments. I think we have a really good conversation started here and love (and share) your wish list.

  10. Derek Cross January 27, 2016 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Re my earlier comment, that should have be Word 2016! The forms feature looks good.

    • Bob
      Bob January 27, 2016 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      I figured as much, Derek.

  11. The Authors January 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm - Reply


    Tell us more about these Word 2016 form documents? Do they require the user to have Word? Can they be filled out online? Do they hold font positions? Can they export the form data from multiple sources into spreadsheets?

    I need much more information before I can make a judgement.

  12. Derek Cross January 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Hi Sandee

    Lynda.com have just published a tutorial on producing forms with the Windows version of Word 2016. I’ve spoken to the author, Gini Courter, who says that forms created can be opened and used by Word 2007 upwards. She also states that Word 2016 for Mac doesn’t have the same amount of form features as the Windows version. She has also produced the Mac version tutorial for Lynda.com, but they haven’t published it yet.

    I’ve been going through the tutorial and the features seems impressive. For example you can enable the form so the end-user can add an image. I don’t have Word 2016 yet, so I haven’t been able to test it personally yet.

  13. The Authors January 27, 2016 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    How can anyone think this is a viable alternative to PDF forms or Google forms?????

    You have to PAY for Microsoft Word.

    Pay! Money! It costs money!

    Despite the problems with PDF forms, at least the reader is free.

  14. Derek Cross January 28, 2016 at 1:43 am - Reply

    I don’t know about the US, but in the UK almost everyone with a computer has MSWord, so it is clearly a viable alternatively for distributing forms. We also have to pay for InDesign/Acrobat Pro – are they free in the US?

    • Bob
      Bob January 28, 2016 at 8:27 am - Reply

      I’m with Derek on this. I don’t know anyone without Word and with Office 365 having millions of subscribers, along with mobile versions that actually work, it’s a viable format for some forms.

  15. Max Wyss January 28, 2016 at 3:04 am - Reply

    @Bob: Actually, I did misinterpret the term “interactive PDF” as generic (a PDF with interactive elements), whereas after rereading the article, it seems to me that it means the “PDF” exported from InDesign as “interactive PDF”. In my (limited) understanding, such a PDF is actually not a “pure” PDF, but uses Flash components (how else can one explain a three-state radio button / checkbox; in PDF, a radio button / checkbox has two states).

    There is, however one very important reason why we have soon to say good-bye to the (InDesign) Interactive PDFs: According to https://www.pdf-tools.com/pdf/News-Events/publications/PDF-2-0-next-generation.aspx , PDF 2.0 (aka ISO 32000-2) dumps multimedia contents (sound, movie, etc.), but (as far as I understand the article, and an explanatory private message by the author of the article) moves them to “rich media” annotations.

    Anyway, that gets to forms. Because of some of the “strange” elements InDesign adds when creating an “interactive PDF”, it is not considered Best Practice to create forms using only InDesign; instead, use InDesign to create what it can best (the layout), maybe add basic fields, and then export as PDF and finish up the form in Acrobat.

    Maybe I am also a bit responsible that the discussion focused on forms. Here I stand by my words, PDF is (despite the issues with substandard viewers) the format of choice for forms, because of (among others) the features I mentioned already. And I also stand by my words that the web-based forms “technologies” very quickly hit limits when the form gets more complex; even with server-side support.

    To overcome the issues with substandard PDF viewers, Best Practice is to set up the form that it opens “dumb”, with good indication that the viewer used is too dumb to make use of the features of the form, and (depending on how much the form relies on the intelligence) to use a better PDF viewer, or continue with limited functionality. Then, the form has JavaScript which activates the intelligence, and deactivates or even removes the limiters for the dumb version. So, users with a smart PDF viewer (such as Acrobat, Reader (but not for mobile), Bluebeam, PDF Expert, etc.) get the fully functional form. In any case, the situation is “interesting”, and overall, I consider it worse than the web browser issues at their worst.

    Conclusion: We have to relearn the tools. But we should not dismiss PDF. Chances for improvements are bigger than ever, because they can no longer be blocked by one individual in a big corporation; if the committees can be convinced, they will become part of the standard; it takes time, but it will work out. So, get friendly with the ISO 32000 representative(s) in your country…

  16. Max Wyss January 28, 2016 at 3:19 am - Reply

    @Sandee: Some very good points. They will need a lot of persuasion at certain software vendors, but maybe, eventually, we get them (from my personal experience, it is going to be tough, as software vendors, particularly publicly traded private companies in the US, have other priorities than to care for their users…).

    About the “Masterclass” book. I consider it “state of the art” at the time. Acrobat 5 (the best Acrobat ever (so far)) was fresh, and we all thought that Adobe continues to ride the wave of improvements. … and then they came out with Acrobat 6… But back to the book. I think it was the best Acrobat book ever published, and anything coming out would have to judged against it. In fact, there are several people I know who normally get rid of software books quite quickly, when they become obsolete, but they do keep the Masterclass book. (do you think there would have been a chance for a sequel if Adobe hadn’t screwed up so badly?).

  17. Max Wyss January 28, 2016 at 3:30 am - Reply

    About forms in Word… Word has forms capabilities since a long time ago. However, in order to get something useful and reliable, extremely well trained and experienced staff is necessary; I know of only a few enterprises having mastered Word forms to the level of PDF forms (but only for internal use).

    More than 10 years ago, Microsoft actually brought out a forms system which was using Word as editing application, and which was hyped as “PDF Killer”… you may find some Infopath CDs in the Scrapyard of Time… It seems to be that there are still a few companies around using it, but they will sooner or later have to replace it.

    So, if Microsoft tries again to get forms to Word, it would be for a very limited use.

  18. The Authors January 28, 2016 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I don’t usually disagree 180• with you Bob, but I do here.

    Nothing can ever be used as a format for distribution of forms for business if those documents can only be read/opened by someone who has to pay for the software.

    What you and Derek are saying is essentially, “But all my friends have Word” or “there are millions of Office subscribers.”

    I agree that there are many, many, many (MANY!) people with some version of Word on their computer.

    But imagine what it would be like if you were one of the few, several, some, (a couple) of people who downloaded a form to apply for insurance, a job, a bank loan, a car loan, or just enroll in senior discounts, and you found out you would have to BUY a new piece of software to open and fill out that form!

    Remember when Adobe charged for the Acrobat Reader? How well did that work out?

    • Bob
      Bob January 28, 2016 at 9:11 am - Reply

      Perhaps I should have said a viable format for some forms and audiences. For internal business use, where you know your target audience has the right software, why not? But yeah, otherwise, you do want to keep to free, if at all possible.

  19. The Authors January 28, 2016 at 8:58 am - Reply


    Oh you have brought back some wonderful memories of working on that book. And to think that it is still on bookshelves is heart warming.

    What’s ironic is that except for an interface that has totally changed, there is not a single feature for interactivity that is new for Acrobat. I would imagine that anyone could use the techniques today. They would just have a horrible time trying to find where things are.

    The book never needed a sequel because the program never added any new features for interactive buttons, movies, etc.

    If Peachpit hadn’t put the number “5” in the title, the book could have sold for a few more versions.

    In fact, that may be why we have this current problem with interactive PDF. The features are stuck back in 2002. It’s like seeing pictures of the village of Chernobyl after everyone left. A place frozen in time.

    The biggest advancement for interactive PDF was when InDesign added the ability to make interactive elements in InDesign. Suddenly it was very easy to make graphically designed buttons with special rollover and onclick states. Too bad they are no longer useful on tablets.

    I was on the phone with Bob Levine when I saw this post. I told him how impressive it is that you are commenting.

    I can’t think of anyone who knows more about interactive PDF!

  20. The Authors January 28, 2016 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Much better!

    • Bob
      Bob January 28, 2016 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Well, I strive for perfection but rarely achieve it. Thanks for keeping me in line. 🙂

  21. michaelejahn January 28, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Windows 10 and Word 2016 to create forms? Please tell me this is not some effort to refry the old and stinky Microsoft OOXML format !

    • Bob
      Bob January 28, 2016 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Not at all. They’re still Word files.

  22. Max Wyss January 28, 2016 at 10:44 am - Reply

    @Sandee: Don’t exaggerate, I am blushing…

    You are quite right; fundamentally, nothing really has changed. This is a sign how stable PDF actually is. Considering that since Acrobat 5, we have now the fourth new user interface, each one using more real estate than the other… OK, there has been some progress with JavaScript, as newer JS engines got implemented, but the event processing sequence is the same, the available events are the same…

    With updated step-by-step actions and screenshots, most of the Masterclass book could be reused.

    The issue with InDesign is/was, that the advances were not strictly PDF, but contain(ed) Flash elements, a decision which showed to be quite questionable in hindsight.

  23. The Authors January 28, 2016 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I thought there was something not-kosher in how ID did those things. When I asked the product manager for ID how they were doing the magic, he said “Oh, we’ve got some secrets going on behind the scenes.”

    Aha! It was Flash. No wonder all those fancy graphics in forms turned to empty blue fields.

  24. Max Wyss January 28, 2016 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Yeah, there was more Flash in the Adobe applications than you would have liked. That’s why I proclaimed “Trash Flash” (around Acrobat, because about 90 percent of the security vulnerabilities in Acrobat were due to the Flash integration).

    Just FWIW, if the interactive elements in a PDF are strictly PDF, they do work in PDF Expert by Readdle (the leader of the pack when it comes to smart documents on iOS)…

    That said, if the interactivity is introduced using Acrobat there is a good chance that the document works on iDevices (with the right PDF viewer).

  25. The Authors January 29, 2016 at 10:13 am - Reply

    BTW, did you know that for quite a few years, Adobe has used Flash as the engine for the panels and interface elements of the CC apps.

    It was supposed to be a way to completely coordinate the look and feel of the products across Windows and Mac. But all I know is it caused problems when I tried to take panel shots using certain programs.

    They were REALLY trying to justify the Flash technology.

    • Bob
      Bob January 29, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Yes, I did.

      I also know that MEI and Extensis have both rewritten their panels to eliminate the need for it. Benefit is they are much, much faster.

  26. The Authors January 29, 2016 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Totally amazing. I would have thought Flash would have been faster. And believe, at least for the Adobe apps, that many elements were vectors, not pixels. Wouldn’t that have made for the faster, light interface?

    Did MEI and Extensis not use vectors? Cause pushing pixels around with Flash could be an effort. (They don’t call me Vectorbabe for nothing.)

    • Bob
      Bob January 29, 2016 at 10:55 am - Reply

      I won’t even pretend to know how that all works.

  27. Uwe Laubender February 1, 2016 at 5:18 am - Reply

    Wow. A very interesting discussion here, that I missed until today…*
    Maybe there is more on the Web, but I found this video interesting about the future of PDF Standards 2.0:

    Introduction to PDF 2.0
    PDF Association


    Also linked from this website:

    Additional video material can be found here (also a video about EPUB for PDF developers):

    *Now I checked the two “notify me” buttons at the bottom of the editing field 🙂

    • Bob
      Bob February 1, 2016 at 7:27 am - Reply

      Hey Uwe, Sorry about the moderation, but more than one link in comment will set that off.

      I’ll give those a look as soon as I get a chance.

  28. michaelejahn February 1, 2016 at 10:30 am - Reply

    “Introduction to PDF 2.0”
    “PDF Association”

    Uwe – that was from 2 years ago ! And I do not thing version 2 has very little to do with improving forms.

  29. Uwe Laubender February 1, 2016 at 11:17 am - Reply

    Michael – yes, that video was recorded 2 years ago. But it is showing what PDF 2.0 is up to when if finally comes to life maybe next year. ISO standards tend to take its time for finalization and implementation.

    This discussion does not solely revolve around form making, but generally around interactiveness and multimedia.
    PDF 2.0 is offering something new in this regard.

    Apart from that:
    There are developments under way to even make a browser understand and render PDFs “natively” using JavaScript. See PDFNetJS by PDFTRON. There is a price tag on PDFNetJS, but basically it’s possible to use PDFs with forms in a browser (their claim). I did not test it yet.

  30. Uwe Laubender February 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Just found, that one implementation with some features of PDFTRON using PDFNetJS is Xodo:

  31. Steve Jenks April 10, 2016 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Very interesting reading here – thank you.

    We’ve started looking at getting documents out to clients as FXL recently. It seems like a great platform to get what used to be print-only documents out to a wider user base and to keep them up-to-date without the cost of reprints.

    It works brilliantly on an iPad, but the big stumbling block for us has been Android tablets seemingly not being able to support the interactivity.

    The documents will be used by reps on their own devices so we need it to work across all sorts of tablets. We also need for it to be simple for the reps to get it working themselves.

    Reading the comments, above it sounds like it may be possible through the use of some plug-ins – Readium for Chrome is mentioned and Adobe Digital Editions – so we’ll give those a go. But is there no e-reader for Android that supports interactivity on it’s own?

  32. The Authors April 11, 2016 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Adobe Digital Editions is available at the Google Play store. From what I can see, it supports all the bells and whistles that iBooks supports.

    Now regarding your comment “is there no e-reader for Android that supports interactivity on its own?”

    You’re getting things a little confused. It’s true that iBooks ships with Mac iOS devices. But it’s not built into the iOS system like what happens if you ope a PDF attached to an email on iOS. The built-in iOS system will open and display the PDF without needing to use any other application. That to me is “on its own”.

    But iOS requires a separate app, iBooks, to open/display FXL ePubs. But if you wanted, you could download Adobe Digital Editings from the iTunes App store. And that will open/display FXL ePubs without using iBooks.

    So, all your reps need to do is download Adobe Digital Editions from the Play store, and then open any FXL ePub and designate it to be the app that opens all ePubs from then on.

    This isn’t a second-class “plug-in”. It’s an honest-to-goodness app that will open/display FXL ePubs.

    I may be wrong, but I believe Readium is only a plug-in for Chrome on Windows.

    But even there, I would go with Adobe Digital Editions.

    • Bob
      Bob April 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      On Windows Readium is better than ADE which has been improved but is still not as good as it is on Mac.

    • Steve April 11, 2016 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Thanks for clarifying this. We’ll test it out Adobe Digital Editions and see how it goes. An early test wasn’t promising, but we’ll persevere and see whether we can get it working.

  33. Jen Street April 7, 2017 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Bob, I created my first interactive document using InDesign CC Based on a video tutorial I watched on Adobe’s website I learned how to add interactive features to my document. The transitions are beautiful when viewed in the program’s EPUB preview. When I exported it, no such luck. These were simple transitions like fading in objects and fly in left objects.. nothing too complicated. I tried exporting it in every conceivable output and it didn’t work at all. Why even push tutorials? What a huge disappointment. I consider myself an industry professional with 20 years learning Adobe products under my belt. With so many different products available now, it’s difficult to figure out the best way to transform print documents for web. I would love some recommendations.

    My goal is simple – I love InDesign and use it a lot to create print publications. How can I utilize it or other Adobe products to convert these stunning designs for web to be used for digital presentations online? Thanks in advance.

    • Bob
      Bob April 7, 2017 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      What are you viewing the EPUB in? Support for fixed layout epub with all interactivity is not available in all EPUB readers.

  34. Jacob Wilson June 12, 2017 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Hey Bob! Quick question in response to this:

    “By the way, I’m intentionally omitting anything related to digital publishing on the app side. Those choices are simply too expensive to compare to PDF.”

    Could you give me some recommendations for some of these digital publishing apps? (money not being an issue). My company is asking me to create a document with a high level of interactivity (animating charts, having elements pulsate on loop, objects flying in). These 40-50 page documents will used in pitches for new business, and will be sent to the prospect clients (so it’s kind of a big deal). I’m working in InDesign and have been using the publish online feature, which is excellent. But there are a couple things that are giving me trouble, so I wanted to hear about any apps I could buy that might be more capable. It will be worth it to buy the best if there’s anything better. Thanks!

    • Bob
      Bob June 12, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      If money is no object, take a look at AEM Mobile (likely to run you 6 figures a year). If you want something a bit more reasonable I would be looking at Twixl. Check out my “What’s Next For Adobe Digital Publishing Suite Users?” for more on that. That said, if you want cheap and can control the distribution channel, fixed layout epub and iBooks on the iPad is something you probably want to look at.

      • Jacob Wilson June 12, 2017 at 4:42 pm

        Awesome, thank you! I’m going to try out the free trial of Twixl for now. Thanks, that was helpful!

  35. Rebecca March 11, 2018 at 10:09 am - Reply

    What a great discussion, that just confirms all my suspicions about Interactive InDesign possibilities. Thank you.

    • Bob
      Bob March 11, 2018 at 11:16 am - Reply

      You’re welcome! 🙂

  36. Nathan Summers June 9, 2018 at 9:16 am - Reply

    PDF is also still a nightmare of a format for those who use assistive software. Jakob Nielsen had it right when it comes to the format.

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