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Common Internet File Formats

Last Updated: Friday, 09-Jan-2015 12:32:40 PST

Flash and PDF are some of the most common Internet file formats, besides the HTML, JPEG, PNG, CSS, and JS file formats, which are known collectively as web pages.

What is Flash?

Flash software can mean 3 different things. First one is Flash, the $400-700 integrated development environment, which is the most common way to create .swf format files. These .swf files are inserted into web pages which are called Flash too. Then finally there is the free Flash Player which is used to play the .swf file. When people say you need Flash to view their web page, they are referring to the free Flash Player. Microsoft is the only major company, whose file formats are commonly linked to on the web, that requires you to buy software to view them.

The Flash file format was originally designed to create high impact, low bandwidth websites using vector animation. So Flash files, in the way they were originally designed, would load instantly. Later on people began embedding images and sounds in Flash and creating animations that responded to mouse interactions, so that things moved when you put your mouse over them. Later they added simple programming for advanced animation using Javascript and then they finally added the ability to put video into this mix as well.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Flash

The first big reason for using Flash is that to do the same without requiring Flash Player would require a professional programmer. It is not that Javascript is a particularly advanced language, but that due to the various levels of incompatibility between Internet Explorer and every other browser that it makes it much harder to get the same Javascript program to run on all major browsers. The second big reason Flash is used is that it is taking a long time for major browsers to add the same animation capabilities possible in Flash without Javascript. This is mainly because of political and philosophical reasons. Finally, Flash is often used for video, because it is the only format that will stream video (so you don't have to wait to download it) in all major browser and on all major operating systems.

Many people do not like Flash because it is used by many annoying ads, it is generally not made so blind people can browse it, it doesn't work well on mobile devices, because it takes too much battery power and the mouse interactions don't work, it is not a free and open format like other common web formats, and many older people do not like interactive web pages.

What is a PDF

The PDF file format stands for Portable Document Format. It was originally designed for the print industry, so that you could produce from any program a file that could be seen exactly as it would be printed regardless of platform. This format was designed also to be hard to edit and so the design would stay fixed. The PDF format is very much like an office document with much better graphics, but is designed to be a final read only version.

One of the main downsides of the PDF format were that you couldn't reliably convert the format back into an editable version and it was not designed to be able to be read by blind people, because the only information saved was what was necessary to be able to view it and print it. To solve these problems, the tagging feature was added, which marks words, paragraphs, heading and other structured elements, if the original file was marked with headings and the like.

Later features added were hyperlinks, Javascript for making simple electronic forms, and finally you can now embed 3d models and Flash video in PDF files.

Advantages and Disadvantages of PDFs

After adding all these features, the original intent was not always met as it causes problems when printing some PDF files in a professional press, so there emerged sub formats that deliberately left out certain features or placed certain restrictions on and added properties the PDF file had to implement. The major sub formats are PDF/X for professional printing, PDF/A for long term archival uses (to make a future proof file format).

Many people do not like PDFs because they don't like Adobe's free Reader application which is designed for professional publishers, takes a lot of memory, and supports a lot of advanced features that most people don't want. As the PDF format is completely free and open, most major operating systems now have free, more efficient PDF readers that only allow for the most common features. Another reason why some people don't like PDFs is because they think that it is not ok that Adobe allows the author of the PDF to restrict what someone can do with that PDF file.

The reason why I use PDFs for my longer documents is that the only way to make a file easy to view, save, and print at the same time required using a PDF. A big difference between a web page and a PDF is that all the images and formatting are included in the PDF file, you can make page breaks in a PDF, and that PDFs print out much better than most web pages.

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