General Question

augustlan's avatar

What is the advantage of using a PDF instead of other formats?

Asked by augustlan (47711points) October 17th, 2012

I notice that when you click a link on some websites (typically for more information), it sometimes leads to a PDF rather than another page on the website itself. Since PDFs take longer to load and are often not as intuitive as the site, why do this?

Recently, I’ve been asked to submit some paperwork by email as a PDF rather than as a straight Excel or Word file. What makes the PDF preferred in this case?

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16 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Just a guess. Maybe because the PDF cannot be altered? It is possible to have a pdf that can be altered, but if you created one, most likely it would not be able to be changed.

wonderingwhy's avatar

It embeds the formatting info in the document making it platform independent (assuming of course you have software capable of reading it).

jaytkay's avatar

PDFs look the same on everybody’s computer.

Word and Excel files look different depending on the application version, operating system and installed fonts.

Word and Excel files even look different depending on what printer the user has connected. Even if they only want to look at the file on screen!

Adobe Reader and many, many other PDF readers are free. Word and Excel are expensive.

And, as @JLeslie points out, PDFs are typically protected. You know users are reading what you sent out, not some version that’s been passed through many hands may be heavily edited.

wundayatta's avatar

Think of pdf as a form of printed document. Except it looks the same on every printer, or on every screen. Its advantage is standardization and certainty. What you see is what you get.

jerv's avatar

Every platform has a PDF reader capable of rendering the PDF to look the same as it does on every other PDF reader. Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, OS, Symbian…. doesn’t matter, teh damn thing will look the same. You cannot do that with ,doc, .rtf, and definitely not with any of the Office formats.

augustlan's avatar

Ok, so all of this makes sense to me as it pertains to paperwork submitted by email. But why do websites use them, rather than just including the info on the actual site?

CWOTUS's avatar

As a viewer, you also have assurance that the file won’t “do something” to your computer.

As we all know now – don’t we? – you can hide a lot of malice inside HTML code. Inside .PDF, not so much.

ETpro's avatar

@CWOTUS Actually, there are exploits that can be hidden in PDFs or linked to from them. So as with anything else you do on/get from the Internet, have good, up-to-date AV software installed, updated and running.

@augustlan Websites use them as downloads for all the good reasons articulated above. Websites use PDFs for inline content intended for viewing online because some websites are developed by people who are clueless about accessibility.

creative1's avatar

Websites change however a imbedded pdf document is a snapshot in time as to when that website contained the information you wanted to add to your site.

ETpro's avatar

@creative1 If I created a PDF and posted it on my site, I could create a completely different one tomorrow, name it the same as its predecessor, delete the old and replace it with the new. I could do this as often as I wished. So I don’t see how the PDF is any more a snapshot in time than any other content I administer on a server I control.

_Whitetigress's avatar

I know when I download my buddies writings in word documents I get to see all their red mark errors and other funky formatting when I open with my Word…

PDF allows me to view anything from images, to scales, to instructions, to writing the way it was meant to be seen. That’s my spin.

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tom_g's avatar

@augustlan: “But why do websites use them, rather than just including the info on the actual site?”

I mostly come across PDFs when dealing with school stuff for my kids. The school is still very invested in the concept of paper documents, and it appears that someone gets a stack of printed documents and told to scan them to put them on the website. Since there is likely nobody capable of maintaining a simple website (or even Wordpress blog) on the payroll, they just scan the papers, save as PDF, and just provide a link to that document.

So, in many cases, it’s just ignorance and laziness that results in PDFs standing in html. But there are some legitimate uses for PDF as a format. Like @jerv mentions, this is cross-platform and free. So, web applications that provide reports will often allow you to export in many different formats. PDF is great for this. But this is really just a way to export the real content you are viewing online to a “printed page”. It’s virtual paper. It’ll maintain all of the formatting, etc. No website should be displaying content to a user using PDF.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Having files available as downloads boosts the score used to calculate rankings by the biggest search engines.

Oh, and it gets Gary Glitter’s hopes up, only to cruelly dash them.

creative1's avatar

@ETpro yes that is what I am talking about if I was designing a site and wanted to use something from another site to make sure the integrity of my site is good I would save it as a pdf and make the link to download rather than take you to the site that may have changed over time. Because if you put a link in that site could change without you knowing or reviewing and you may not agree with what it changed to. At least with a pdf I know what information I am attaching with my site and it is something that I want to use.

tom_g's avatar

^^ @creative1 – This breaks the internet. What is this thing thing you’re using “from another site”?

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