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Adobe's Trials and Tribulations Toward Rich-Media PDF

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If you're planning to produce an interactive PDF that will contain some form of audio, video, or animation, it's important to understand the limitations of the PDF specifications. We'll warn you right now: You must move carefully through a minefield to reach your final destination. Use this chapter as a map to learn Adobe's vision for Acrobat and how it gradually grew to become a multimedia application that allows PDF to replace the Web browser. You'll soon understand the reason why many Web page developers and others creating traditional forms of media have classified PDF as a disruptive technology.
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If you are planning to produce an interactive PDF that will contain some form of audio, video, or animation, it's important to understand the limitations of the PDF specifications. Not everyone has Adobe Reader 5 or later installed, which is required to play the basic rich-media file formats available inside a PDF. If you "overbuild" your production, assuming it will work everywhere, you will become frustrated by the complaints you'll soon receive from people who can't view your work as you intended.

File format and version incompatibilities, not to mention the "bugs" that slip by Adobe's quality control department, are found in the PDF format. Many multimedia developers to this day have simply abandoned the PDF multimedia format after unsuccessful attempts to produce a working product.

I'll warn you right now: You must move carefully through a minefield to reach your final destination. Use this chapter as a map to learn Adobe's vision for Acrobat and how it gradually grew to become a multimedia application that allows PDF to replace the Web browser. You'll soon understand the reason why many Web page developers and others creating traditional forms of media have classified PDF as a disruptive technology.

Through the years of the development of Acrobat, many companies have tried to hinder (and still do) the progress of rich-media PDF. One of Adobe's visions of the Internet is where all the current media that you can view on a Web page—such as text, pictures, video, animation, ecommerce, message boards, RSS news feeds, and so on—is delivered to your desktop and viewed inside a PDF file. Yes, this would eliminate the Web browser, and with Adobe's purchase of Macromedia Flash, this is now possible. Let's take a look at the trials and tribulations of Adobe's journey.

The Race to Rich-Media Domination

In the mid-1990s, the most well-known rich-media application was Macromind Director, which became successful after being purchased by Macromedia, a company that could supply substantial marketing support. Most multimedia developers at that time were using Director to make rich-media applications that could play on interactive touchscreen displays, floppy disks, and (later) commercial CDs. Director gave birth to thousands of commercial creations such as interactive games, animated storybooks for children, and edutainment—a whole new category for learning.

Director was a challenging application to learn because the engineers at Macromedia had developed their own code language called Lingo to make production interactive. Except for the tools that were needed to produce digital video, Director had everything needed to create the document, make it interactive, and provide playback on a user's computer. The program created a "projector" file that could be distributed freely to anyone, and it was compatible on both Mac and Windows computers—a real nice multimedia package (FIGURE 3-1).

Figure 3-1

Figure 3-1 Director created a "projector" file that could be distributed freely to anyone, and it was compatible on both Mac and Windows computers.

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