Skip to main content
June 5, 2013

“No PDF for you!” The destructive power of arrogant thinking

I love it when an offhand remark on Twitter turns into a smart conversation.

I was joking with the reference to the much-maligned Windows ME, but Al Martine’s “arrogant thinking” observation is correct. Microsoft was foolish to think one new OS could change decades of how people use the PC interface: “You don’t need a stinkin’ Start button or the ability to boot to a desktop view. You’ll get our new Metro interface and LIKE it.”

Microsoft is about to eat crow with the release of Windows 8.1, which will include—drum roll—a Start button and booting to the desktop interface.

Tech comm professionals can learn some lessons from Microsoft’s poor decisions on Windows 8. We are experiencing huge shifts in how we can distribute content: PDF files/print are being superseded by web pages, ebooks, wikis, video, and more. But that doesn’t mean we just stop producing PDF files because they aren’t cutting edge.

You can’t force your customers to happily rely on new output formats when you’ve supplied just PDF content for the past umpteen releases. This is particularly true if contracts or industry regulations specify how you provide content. If you have a legal requirement to offer PDF, print, or some other format, it doesn’t matter that your HTML pages are searchable or that the EPUB version works well on a tablet. The HTML and EPUB don’t fulfill your obligations.

Even if you don’t have legal reasons to continue to provide PDF files, it’s the height of hubris (and stupidity) to assume your customers will immediately accept content distributed in new ways. Instead, be smart by offering your customers choices in how they consume content. For example, if you want to establish an HTML version of your content, your HTML pages could include links to the PDF manual in the header area.  Google searches will lead customers to particular HTML pages, but if customers want the PDF version,  they can get the PDF file with little extra effort.

More than once, I’ve heard, “PDF is dead, so we aren’t going to offer it any more.” That kind of short-sighted thinking can indeed lead to death—the death of your career at the hands of angry customers who clog up the phone lines and mailboxes of your support department.

Let your business requirements guide how you deliver content, and introduce new outputs alongside your PDF files and other “traditional” formats. Otherwise, your content—and the product it supports—may join Windows 8 as another casualty of arrogant thinking.