As I said in a previous installment of this column, most e-ARCs these days still come in the time-honored format of the PDF file. It’s still the easiest, fastest way to format a text – editorwise, I mean.

PDF format was created in 1993 by Adobe Systems (in fact, it evolved from a system called “Camelot”, created in 1991, so we’re dealing with a Jurassic file in Internet-time) with a laudable goal: according to J. Warnock, author of the first document describing it, “The specific problem is that most programs print to a wide range of printers, but there is no universal way to communicate and view this printed information electronically.”

So the programmers at Adobe created what they called the Postscript language, devised to make documents visible on any display and printable on any printer. It took them two years to go from Camelot project to the first certifiable PDF file – but it paid up. PDF isn’t old because people are lazy or overlooked something – it wasn’t discontinued until now because it is good and it serves its purpose fairly well – even to be read in a mobile device. Just not in every mobile device.

Kindle is one of these no-no cases. And, since I already have complained here before about it, I’m not going to do so again.

I still use my iPhone a lot to read PDF files. The latest was the e-ARC of Lavie Tidhar’s OSAMA. (A very good book, by the way, and one which I’ll review soon here.) Over time, I found it easier to cope with the…let’s call it “inflexibility” of PDF when it comes to being read on a mobile device.

After all, that was never the point with PDF, so let’s not blame Adobe for it. All they wanted was a kind of universal readable document, something that could be printed in every possible machine and generate the same results every single time – and they did it.

Notice, if you please, that the original Camelot document stated that they strove for visibility, not exactly readability. That’s a subtle but very concrete difference. Nobody was thinking of reading a document in a computer screen in 1991. (“Damn, the glare! My eyes, my eyes!” and all that – though I must admit that I always loved to read on the computer screen, even in the Pre-Cambrian times of green phosphorus.)

A thing of beauty in the iPhone is the touchscreen – you can adjust the size of the PDF file at will – a thing you most definitely can’t do with Kindle, where you must conform to preset parameters that can be a pain, depending on the formatting of the particular PDF. OSAMA, for instance, was unreadable in Kindle.

Why? Because it was locked in a two-page view – and I couldn’t unlock it to read it one page at a time. On Kindle, it is what I call the hell of the 5-direction button (I use the Kindle 2 International, for those who want to know), because you must keep your finger on it as if it were the control of a Playstation, just to move the window of text to the left, to the right, up, and down (talk about square dancing!)

On my iPhone, I still had to do the finger dance – but at least I could touch the screen, adjust size at will and then use only my thumb to dance the text around without sweating a lot (the Kindle button tends to give you a sore thumb after a while). It’s not my idea of a great reading, but it’s the next best thing – and it sure beats the Kindle PDF Barnstormer Dance.

What about you, my reader? Have you had the same experience with PDF files in your mobile devices? What about other devices? Please do tell me everything about it – I want to know the beauty and the terror of it all.

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