How To: Add Flash content to PDFs

A new tutorial on Adobe Developer Connection concisely describes how to add a Captivate movie clip (more generally, any SWF) to a PDF document using Acrobat. While the article’s author Jeff Freeman didn’t mention it, the SWF content also works great in Adobe Digital Editions as well as Acrobat and Reader. Actually the Digital Editions experience is better because it doesn’t display the annoying “Manage Trust for Multimedia Content” warning dialog (that Jeff also failed to mention).
That dialog has always seemed a bit senseless to me since Web browsers by default play rich media content without such warnings. Perhaps it made sense back when Adobe was integrating with 3rd-party multimedia engines not under our control, but heck it’s now Adobe Flash. But as a solution targeting enterprises & knowledge workers Acrobat/Reader is under a number of constraints so I guess this conservative behavior is somewhat understandable. As Digital Editions is a consumer-focused solution, and built on Flex/Flash, we decided to make the experience with Flash-enhanced content truly seamless.
A wide range of text-centric content can potentially benefit from the ability to add rich media & interactivity, from eLearning-enhanced digital textbooks to novels that can add ancillary content to make reading more engaging and entertaiing. I’m looking forward to seeing what creative authors and publishers start coming up with.

Kindle – The Reading Experience

I posted earlier today about intensively using Kindle on a Mexico trip. While it was a positive experience overall, I definitely encountered some issues with the reading experience. In no particular order:
- Painfully slow current-location-relative navigation. Going to any but the next or previous page is a real chore. There’s a non-reliable “type ahead” with repeated presses of the page buttons, but with the almost full-second time to show a page it can most charitably be described as “stately”. Any mostly you end up in a “press-wait-press-wait” loop. Even with fiction I found this problematic, especially given the propensity to accidentally press the awkwardly located next/prev page buttons. But with non-fiction this was an out-and-out hair-pulling experience. A paper book of course is quickly
- Cumbersome menus. For example, pressing the font-size button brings up a menu, warping the “cursor” on the LCD stripe up to the top of the screen, with the “Close” menu item selected. So you need to move your eye focus from the very bottom (where the font size button is located) up to the top, move your thumb up to the cursor roller-button, take note of the current value (which has an arrow indication), roll the cursor down to the desired font size, then click to select. The Sony Reader’s simple font-size button function simply increments around the set of sizes, providing immediate visual feedback via the updated page view. In contrast, the Kindle implementation seems incredibly cumbersome. Implementing a volume control on an MP3 player by popping up a modal menu would be crazy – the font size feature seems analogous for a reading system.
- Slow text input, which makes searching a chore. If I raced a person reading a paper book to read all the pages containing a given index term, I’d lose by a country mile. The fact that searches always return results from all content was also distractive. Digital should kick butt over paper in searchability – so this is almost shameful. The frequently-displayed tip on using accelerators like “@store” to constrain searches was almost laughable – given the s-l-o-w typing experience, the term “accelerator” hits an ironic note.
- No intrinsic lighting, plus glare with focused light sources. Let’s face it, a lot of reading goes on in bed, much of it next to a sleeping spouse. The opaque reflective display that makes E Ink excel in sunlight leaves it no better than paper in the dark. I had thought that the lack of an edge LCD was just a cost issue, but after more use I think there may be deeper issues. Using various book lights and flashlights, the glass frontplate of Kindle caused a lot of reflective glare. Best results with Kindle were obtained from diffuse light sources at a wide angle; but these days most portable book lights tend to be of the high-intensity LCD variety and angled acutely to the display surface.This was a situation where I found paper still delivered a significantly superior reading experience.
For most of these issues the Amazon Kindle team at Lab 126 can’t be blamed; they are hamstrung by the limitations of the current generation of E Ink display subsystem and overall Kindle is a very usable breakthrough device. And, pioneers are destined to take some arrows. Luckily, this display technology is rapidly improving, especially in refresh rate, so these issues should be much improved even within just the next year.
One suggestion for the Kindle team: you went to all the trouble of putting a quick-refresh LCD “strip” on Kindle, why don’t you use it more? For example, why not support navigating to a location by using the LCD as a scroll bar, which it already resembles: e.g. hold down the “ALT” key and the strip shows your relative position in the current book, and as you roll whenever you pause it moves the page view to that location – bingo, fast navigation, like thumbing through a paper book. Hit back button and you are back to your previous reading view. BTW after a week of heavy use it seems obvious that the separate LCD strip is more clever hack than fundamental user interface concept; Scoble’s Kindle review was overly harsh but I completely agree that a touch-screen UI is eventually going to be a much better way to go – and even with the current E Ink technology the iRex iLiad delivers a nice experience with touch screen.

eBooks Storm the Beach

On a holiday visit to beautful-but-isolated Yelapa, Mexico, I took along an Amazon Kindle for a real-world test. I read 5 books on Kindle, along with several more on paper (I had to time-share the Kindle with the family), and I can now say definitively: eBooks have arrived! I was a little concerned about Kindle in the salty, sandy beach environment but it never faltered or felt fragile, readability in bright sunlight was great, and battery life was excellent – lasting over 6 days before needing a charge (wireless off, since the Sprint network wasn’t available anyway).
But I’m already a convert – the real evidence was the attention I received from a procession of people wanting to know what I was doing, which invariably led to the inquirer getting excited and expressing keen interest in adopting eBooks. Never once did I get an “oh, OK” kind of response. And it’s clear why: the gringos of Yelapa are truly desperate for reading material! Yelapa is accessible only by a 30 minute open boat ride, and the local book supply is a few slim shelves of left-behind paperbacks at various restaurants and casitas. Even those who only spend a week at Yelapa are likely to exhaust the reading supply they are able to reasonably include in their luggage budget – and there are people here who stay months on end or year-round. So these folks – by no means gadget-philes, after all this is laid-back car-free Yelapa that only got electricity 4 years ago – immediately realized that eBooks were a compelling, practical solution to being able to read what they want, wherever they are.
I did come up with a laundry list of usability issues with Kindle that I’ll post about in a separate review, and will compare and contrast with the Sony Reader, but to me the bottom line is that I finally feel confident in saying that eBooks have really arrived as a consumer-relevant media type. Market forces and the continuation of Moore’s Law will lead to radically improved reading systems in the coming years, but it’s already become a no-brainer. My ever-practical spouse questioned whether it was a good idea to bring an eBook reader on this trip. It’s clear that next time she’ll be questioning whether we should take up space and weight with any books of the paper variety.

Kindlling eBook Openness

Amazon Kindle has certainly accelerated awareness and interest in eBooks. My spouse, son, and I have been sharing (i.e. fighting over) a Kindle for the last couple of weeks, and the consensus opinion is that Amazon definitely got some things very right with its solution. Seamless, untethered acquisition of content really does transform the experience. The widely noted complaints around 1980s-esque appearance and usability issues (can’t hold without accidentally pressing buttons) certainly are factors – the Sony Reader 505 is a much more refined industrial design. But the real barrier with Kindle is much more fundamental: it’s an entirely closed system.
Buying eBooks in a proprietary vendor-specific format that can only be used on that vendor’s device is a mug’s game. Kindle is far more closed even than iPod, which started out and have remained primarily players for MP3s, easily made from any audio CD. While Kindle supports a couple of non-DRM publication formats (unfortunately not yet PDF or EPUB), there’s almost no supply of non-DRM commercial content, a situation unlikely to change any time soon. Amazon touts 90,000 titles on the Kindle Store but searching for any topic will quickly reveal that it’s still quite a thin selection – a substantial number of the titles seem to be relatively obscure treatises and for-sale DRMed versions of public domain works. Leaving aside quality issues with the titles, Kindle Store selection of consumer-relevant content feels somewhat less comprehensive than an average major-airport bookstore. Underwhelming, yes – but the real zinger is that you’re completely out of luck if Amazon’s sole-source store doesn’t have what you want to read.
For a healthy eBook ecosystem, readers need to be able to choose where they want to get their content, and where they want to read it. That’s what Adobe is working to enable. Admittedly we still have a lot of work to do, but there’s going to be some major steps forward in the very near future. Sony and Adobe announced back in June that Sony Reader products would gain support for the EPUB open eBook standard, reflow capabiliies for PDF, and Adobe’s DRM, supported by hundreds of online bookstores and libraries. Adobe has also noted that we’ll be enhancing the DRM support in Adobe Digital Editions to enable content transfer across multiple PCs and devices. Yesterday Adobe open sourced a tool to validate EPUB titles for conformance to the IDPF standard.
Heading off to a sunny beach, Kindle in hand, I thank Amazon for taking eBooks a major step forward in 2007, and I applaud Jeff Bezos and the Lab126 team for their creativity and persistence. Amazon clearly has an incentive to maximize its retail opportunities. As the open eBook ecosystem grows, dedicated reading devices, convergence devices, and PCs improve as platforms for reading, and it becomes clear that “cornering the market” with a sole-source/sole-device solution is not going to fly, I hope that Amazon (already an IDPF member) will end up becoming a major participant in, and contributor to, the broader digital publishing ecosystem.

Hachette Book Group standardizes on Open epub Format

Today Hachette Book Group announced that it will no longer be delivering eBook content to distribution channels in proprietary file formats, becoming the first major publisher to announce adoption of the IDPF epub standard. This move, coming hard on the heels of formal approval of the core standard just weeks ago, underlines the costs and hassles publishers have faced dealing with a plethora of incompatible proprietary eBook file formats, and many other publishers are expected to follow suit. Additional coverage from The Book Standard and Publishers Weekly.
The increasing mainstream adoption of digital publishing and eBooks – noted in today’s Telegraph – stands to be significantly accelerated by convergence to open interoperable standards for eBooks. Hachette’s move also signals the breadth of support for open standards: this is not one or a few companies getting together to dictate a solution. The IDPF’s nearly 100 members include publishers, technology vendors, trade and textbook publishers, educational institutions, libraries and other governmental bodies, and this group unanimously approved the new epub standards earlier this month. The point is not to advantage any single vendor or publisher, but that the industry as a whole can only grow if we create an open, healthy ecosystem that inspires confidence on the part of publisher and consumers. There’s more work to do – DRM is still a tough nut – but with epub providing the open standard complement to PDF for reflow-centric text-based content, we are well on our way.

What’s the Future of iTunes Store?

Interesting Slate article Apple vs. Everyone by Ivan Askwith, focusing on the recent new alternatives to Apple’s online music distribution hegemony and potential future scenarios for both music and video .
The article glosses over the key point that “iTunes” is not synonymous with “iTunes Store“. Even the new directly-competitive Amazon Music Store prominently touts right on its top banner “All songs compatible with iTunes…”. It’s interesting that Apple’s dominance of PC music library software is somewhat independent of iTunes Store and even iPod – and is predicated on Apple’s support of the open standard MP3 format. With only 22 iTunes Store songs per iPod there would be an awful lot of empty iPods and iTunes libraries if it weren’t for unprotected MP3s from CDs and other sources.
Could one possible outcome be for Apple to retain its PC music player dominance by supporting multiple stores, and maybe even non-Apple devices, more explicitly in iTunes? Or will the linkage between iTunes and iTunes Store grow ever tighter, with users seeking freedom of choice in content sources and downstream devices forced to seek elsewhere for well-integrated PC music library solutions? And how will this shake out for other content types? In music Apple certainly has the pole position – but for video downloads it’s stil early days and other solutions – including our forthcoming Adobe Media Player - are certainly still in the hunt.
For eBooks and other text-based content I think it’s even less likely that we’ll see a single monolithic end-to-end solution with majority market share. There are just too many channels via which books, magazines, and other publications get out to readers. The Slate article points out that Universal controls “one out of every three new albums sold in the United States” – print publishing has consolidated quite a bit but no one has that kind of control. That’s why Adobe’s supporting open eBook standards, including PDF and IDPF epub, making sure our Digital Editions software supports acquisition from the user’s choice of Web-based retailers and libraries, and working to enable multiple devices to consume this content.

Adobe Strengthens Digital Publishing Business Team

I’m very pleased to announce that Nick Bogaty, currently Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), will join Adobe next month to lead our digital publishing business development. Nick has demonstrated strong vision and the ability to “herd cats” in successfully guiding the IDPF, a trade group that brings together publishers, vendors, and other publishing industry stakeholders to advance technology standards and promote market development. While Nick understandably decided to seek new challenges after an almost six year stint at the helm of IDPF, his passion for promoting the broader adoption of digital publishing was clearly unabated, so I’m delighted that he’s chosen to come on board and play a key role in advancing Adobe’s contributions. Adobe remains a strong supporter of IDPF, consistent with our overall philosophy of promoting open standards and interoperability, and we are committed to helping to ensure a successful IDPF leadership transition.

Authoring EPUB from InDesign CS3

Several of our key developers, including our lead architect Peter Sorotokin, recently started a new Adobe Digital Editions blog . One of the first posts delves into best practices for authoring EPUB XML from InDesign CS3. The team plans to cover a wide variety of topics relating to the technical underpinnings of Digital Editions and various authoring workflows. Future posts I’m looking forward to include automatic conversion of DocBook XML to EPUB, and delving into the use of XSL-FO master page templates as an EPUB extension that facilitates dynamic, adaptive layout. If you have topics you’d like to see covered, suggest it in a comment on Peter’s intro post.
There’s a broader issue with use of our new InDesign feature that I’d like to touch on here: the tradeoffs between authoring PDF and EPUB. Many content authors have long been firmly rooted in a “WYSIWYG” mindset, and some have as a result expected EPUB to be some kind of XML version of PDF, that preserves all the composition of InDesign. That’s not the case: if you want final-form fidelity, you should stick with PDF – that’s what it was designed for, and it does its job very well. EPUB is designed to represent a more adaptive portable document – one that encapsulates a sequence of linear text flows (“Stories” in InDesign/InCopy lingo). Content-level styling can be applied (via CSS), final-form content can be embedded within a text flow (as SVG or Flash SWF), and hints as to page-level formatting can be applied (via our XSL-FO-based extensions to EPUB), but at the end of the day it’s up to an EPUB processor to determine the proper page layout based on a user’s screen size, resolution, font size preferences, etc. And different EPUB renderers are free to make different line layout decisions.
One implication of this is that “your mileage may vary” in creating EPUB from InDesign CS3. If you have a nice linear book, with InDesign stories flowed into well-designed page templates things should go well – especially if you follow the tips in Peter & Piotr’s post. If you created page layouts manually in a “pasteboard” manner, then things may get a bit stickier. Again, you may choose in this case to just stick with high-fidelity PDF. Our DIgital Editions software natively supports both PDF and EPUB as first-class citizens. But if you want the benefits of adaptive layout, mobile device optimization, and increased accessiblity of using EPUB, you may wish to reconsider your authoring workflow, to more consistently utilize InDesign Story flows to pave the way for structured EPUB XML export. This is something else I hope the team will blog about in more detail down the road.

Flash (and Digital Editions) to support standards-based H.264 video

Today Adobe announced that Flash Player 9 will gain support for standards-based H.264 video , which will enable compatibility with MPEG-4, QuickTime, and 3GP mobile video content. H.264 support is coming in an imminent update “dot” release, a beta of which will be available on Adobe Labs later today.
Flash Video is of course already broadly proliferated on the Internet. But until now Flash Video has been limited to specialized codecs that have had limited adoption on mobile devices, not much integrated HW acceleration, and not a great deal of choice iin software encoding tools. Now we can have the best of both worlds: seamless end-user experiences in Flash Player, and interoperability with a wide variety of video creation tools and device and PC HW-acceleration options. This announcement is also another strong demonstration of Adobe’s commitment to the open standards community.
Adobe Digital Editions, our new application for reading and managing eBooks and other digital publications, is built on an extended Flash Player 9 runtime (in effect a precursor to Adobe AIR). Digital Editions 1.0 was just released in June, but we are already hard at work on an update to, among other things, localize to a number of languages. We decided some time back to synch our update with the impending “MovieStar” Flash Player dot release – but until today couldn’t disclose one of the key underlying motivations. I believe the added benefit of H.264 video support definitely makes it worth the wait. Many publishers are eager to enhance learning and entertainment experiences by adding video to eBooks and other digital publications: the ability to choose a standards-based video encoding will be a big plus, and is consistent with Digital Editions native support of open standards PDF and EPUB.

Google: a Glass-House Dweller re: Misleading Notices?

Google, Others Contest Copyright Warnings , today in the WSJ, notes a pending complaint that the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) , a trade group in which Google, Microsoft and others are members, is filing about copyright notices that, according to the CCIA, mislead users by not noting legitimate fair-use reproduction rights. What Google’s role, if any, in the complaint is not entirely clear, but it certainly seems ironic that Google is being associated with this complaint, at the same time as they are putting putting highly misleading notices on scanned public domain works:
The Google notice, found as page 1 on downloadable PDFs of public domain works available via Google Book Search, “asks” users to:

Make non-commercial use of the files. We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes…
Maintain attribution The Google “watermark” you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.

There is clear U.S. precedent that scanning a public domain work does not create a new copyright so there seems to be absolutely zero legal basis for restricting use or forcing users to preserve inserted per-page watermarks-cum-advertisements.
In previous email-list discussions some have argued that Google is only “asking” users to not do these things. Yet putting the above in a sternly-worded “Usage Guidelines” notice (containing phrases like “Keep it Legal”) certainly makes it sound like it’s intended to convey to users the impression of restricted rights. And it hasn’t been entirely clear whether Google is claiming contract-based usage restrictions between it and users of Google Book Search.
So Google: which is it? If I make commercial use of one of these files or remove Google’s watermark advertisements am I violating a contract with Google or otherwise breaking any laws (in which case terms like “ask” and “request” are disingenuous)? Or, am I not in violation of anything legally (in which case your current notice seems at least as misleading as anything being complained about)?
Personally I hope that the latter is Google’s position and that, in the spirit of “do no evil” and to avoid undermining the FTC complaint it may be backing, Google will revise their notice to make it clear that it is perfectly legal for users to make commercial use of their files and/or remove their per-page watermarks.
My position is based on the principle that what’s in the public domain must stay in the public domain. That a deep-pocket corporation chooses to pay for digitization is meritorious but doesn’t give that corporation the right to dictate subsequent usage. If that company is the prevalent entry gate for discovery, and so can arrange that “its” copy of a work, rather than any other digitized copy, is the most widely utilized, the potential for undue corporate intrusion into the public domain is obviously even higher.