Acrobatic Fools

 By Shamus May 22, 2006 13 comments

This is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen done with Adobe Acrobat, and that is saying something. I’ve seen companies use PDF files to document various API’s (computer code stuff) for developers. (Note that this is astoundingly annoying, since you can’t cut & paste text out of a PDF.) I’ve seen PDF used for stuff more suited to HTML. Heck, I’ve seen it used for stuff that could go in a simple plaintext file. PDF files are naturally slow, akward, difficult to navigate (no hyperlinks!), and more bandwidth-intensive than they need to be. Once in a while Acrobat is the right tool for the job, but the program is abused far more often than it is used.

But this example takes the cake. It’s a map of Kennywood, a smallish amusement part near Pittsburgh. Instead of being a simple image, the map is made from icons / symbols / vector graphics which draw in very, very gradually. Here is what it looks like when it’s fully rendered:

Kennywood Map

Note that everything on the map is a little doodad that must be drawn. Every tree, every icon, every building, everything. These little bits render a few at a time, slowly filling in the image. On my 2Ghz machine I clocked it at about a minute and a half (!!!) to complete the entire process. Note that if you do anything that requires a re-draw, it must start over at the very beginning. You can’t scroll, or zoom, or switch to another window, or resize the window, or anything else. You just have to sit there and not touch it for 90 seconds while it paints the map a few elements at a time. Note that the most important info – the labels – are drawn last. Most of the time is wasted drawing the little trees.


Who’s idea was this? I can’t imagine the level of misunderstanding that would lead to developing and distributing a map this way. If they had taken the final map and simply turned it into an image, (as I have done above, took less than a minute) it would have been about 1/5 the download, it wouldn’t have required Acrobat, (which the user might not have) it would have rendered instantly, and it would have allowed the user to scroll around and examine it in detail.

UPDATE: It just keeps getting better:

Acrobat Sucks

1313 comments. That's a baker's dozen.

  1. Pixy Misa says:

    Whee! And all I have to rant about at the moment is phone companies who insist on using ATM to carry internet traffic…

    How did they even create it? The file says it was done in Illustrator, but unless Illustrator redraws 100 times faster than Acrobat, the designer would have gone mad.

  2. Shamus says:

    How did they even create it? The file says it was done in Illustrator, but unless Illustrator redraws 100 times faster than Acrobat, the designer would have gone mad.

    Madness WOULD explain how this got so messed up.

    However, you bring up another point: Why is Acrobat is dang slow? Ok, I understand there are probably thousands of elements in that document, but still, a minute and a half? That’s just crazy. Even running in software mode today’s computers can push a few thousand textured polygons a second without breaking a sweat. Laying aside the issue of why they don’t draw the thing to a buffer and then just blit over sections as needed: there is just no way it can be this slow. It defies reason. A 486 could come up with an image of similar size and complexity in far less time. What on earth are they doing to produce this image?

  3. hank says:

    It’s still common to find many academic papers written in postscript, at least in my field of electrical engineering. One of the most insane practices I have seen, that still pops up its head on occasion, is to convert a PS file to a PDF via the intermediate stages of EPS and TIFF. I’m guessing they do this because they don’t know how to handle the weird formulas and diagrams, but DAMN… TIFFs are, in image compression terms, only slightly better than storing a hardcopy of the image by writing out the string of 1s and 0s on paper, one digit to a sheet. Add that to the inherent slowness of PDFs, and it is maddening.

    When Digikey first started publishing PDF catalogs, the product drawings they used were the CAD drawings from the manufacturers. So, for instance, a sheet of perforated circuit board, rendered at about 1″ x 1″, would contain hundreds of thousands of vector circles… and not just one for each hole – the drawings were in isometric view, so through the hole you could see part of the circle on the back, too. You could scale the thing up to poster size and it would still look good. That was just one of what might be 30 or so pictures on a page… there were literally millions of vector objects. It was quicker to just have them mail you a catalog than it was to render the thing onscreen.

  4. Ruthie says:

    I again ask myself how we’re related. pdf, html, ghtz and mb, jpeg and gif. i just press buttons and hope that it works. when it doesn’t work i ask you why. sometimes i don’t even get that far… i just give up.
    maybe you got all this from your dad’s side of the gene pool. cuz it certainly didn’t come from mom’s.
    love ya brother! i hope i see you soon.

  5. Shamus says:

    maybe you got all this from your dad’s side of the gene pool. cuz it certainly didn’t come from mom’s.

    Actully, Moms side is where all of our engineers are. My Dad was a poet, and daft with computers. Remember uncle Bruce? He worked on the Apollo program. He was into Ham radio and model trains, and then went on to work on personal computers once someone get around to inventing them. (About the time I was born.) He was a geek before they were called that.

    Oh, and don’t get confused by the acronyms. Most of them are just systems for displaying ASCII text and / or RGB data. You see…

    Oh nevermind. Love ya.

  6. Errol says:

    PDF files are naturally slow, akward, difficult to navigate (no hyperlinks!), and more bandwidth-intensive than they need to be.

    Depends on how you make them. Our 150-page modified version of the DragonQuest rulebook is written in LaTex, and distributed as a PDF. You can copy-and-paste from the PDF, and has various hyperlinks (e.g. ToC entries, section cross-refs, page no.s in index), as well as the PDF Bookmarks. One day we hope to convert it to XML (even HTML being non-practical when it was first produced over a decade ago).

  7. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    OMG. I shouldn’t have clicked that link at work. Tears of blood were streaming down my monitor and the lights dimmed. In the entire city of Edmonton.

    The biggest issue I have yet run into with PDF was when a previous employer had me create the company’s catalog in Excel and our printer needed it in PDF format. “How hard can that be?” I thought. I may as well have said “What more could go wrong?” Seriously, it may have taken less of my time (and therefore cost less) to print the original Excel file 1500 times and staple the pages together.

    And, while it’s fresh in my mind: “it wouldn’t have required Acrobat, (which the user might not have)”. Is it even possible to own a computer without Acrobat? I think Linux distros designed to run off of floppies probably have it installed by default!


  8. Chris says:

    I know this is an old post, but i found it interesting.
    Just for the record, yeah, i agree, what would posses them to do that, but on my machine it rendered in 5 seconds…the trees showed up in big sections. IDK if its just been changed or if my machine is alot better, idk. I’m running a quad core 2.4 GHz machine though, that could be it…

  9. KelThuzad says:

    I hate Adobe Acrobat. I tried to uninstall it, but i’m not very proficient with a computer, and that program is a parasite akin to iTunes for me. I most hate how they put game manuals that come with the games in PDF format.

    I didn’t notice the link… the horror. The HORROR! I have an extremley powerful and fast connection, and 2GB ram, and it took the evil about 2-3 minutes to load. I can’t imagine the fury of people who have bad connections or computers.
    I run SUPREME COMMANDER, and yet Adobe Acrobat sends my computer reeling.

  10. jerrett says:

    um idk yet i havent been there buy i heared it was the best park ever and im going to go soon next month it will be all some

  11. Moridin says:

    AndrewNZachsDad: Actually Linux doesn’t need Acrobat. It has native PDF viewer.

  12. Jock says:

    The reason why I like PDF’s is that it gives me a way to ensure the formatting of a document no matter what the other guy is running, especially if I expect it to get printed out later. A couple of simple examples: A manuscript where I want to make sure that Chapters always start at the beginning of a page; A resume that’s had its formatting played with so that it fits on exactly 2 pages and not 2 pages +1 orphan line on a third. As was mentioned, it is quite possible to include hyperlinks, bookmarks, enable copy-pasting of text, etc, especially if it was written in a text editor and outputted to pdf via some mechanism (OSX does it natively, but I’m sure there’s other methods on windows). You run into the situation you mentioned when you take a hardcopy, scan it as an image, and then turn it straight into pdf.

    Granted, this is a defense of PDF as a format, not Acrobat as an application. I 100% agree with your hate of that (have an open pdf in a browser window and want to shut down? Sorry, not until you click on a dialog box that says ‘Yes I want to fraking quit acrobat’ that only shows up a minute into the process, so you can’t walk away. Oh, and if you don’t click on it fast enough, shutdown fails. GAH). It’s because of that hate that I’ve made a concerted effort to never install Acrobat on this computer once I bought it. But since it’s an open standard, now anyone can make their own (almost guaranteed to be better) pdf viewer.

  13. D says:

    Zombie comments!

    Huh. No significant problems – ever – with Acrobat on a Mac. PLENTY of problems with PDFs, though. It is far too easy to make dumb PDFs.

    In this case, though, I’d bet that the poor decision-making occurred at another part of the process. My vision is this: the map designer designs a map in Illustrator, designed for print. They make a high-quality PDF, also for print, which naturally preserves the vector data, and when the project is all done as a courtesy they give a copy to the client…

    …who has their web monkey upload it to their website without another thought.

    The designer could have spat out a low-res, all-flattened PDF in seconds, or better yet, a JPEG. But my bet is that no one asked.

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