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PDF files looking horrid

Syntho

Well-known member
On my OS8 machine I have Acrobat 5. There’s a setting in there called ‘smooth line art’ that makes vector graphics (like sheet music pdf files) look MUCH better. On my System 7 machine I have Acrobat 4, and unless I’m mistaken there is no smooth line art setting, so things look godawful in terms of vector graphics.

Before Acrobat 5 was released, how did people deal with such terrible looking line art on their screen in PDFs? Is there some sort of hack that I’m unaware of?

 
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dcr

Well-known member
You printed them?

The original Acrobat was released in 1993 and Acrobat 5 in 2001.  So, first, there wasn't widespread adoption.  Even in the late 90s, there were plenty of people that had never even heard of Acrobat.  And, screens, especially for consumers, weren't real high resolution themselves.  So, what today is considered terrible looking actually didn't look too bad back then.  You also knew what to expect.  People weren't necessarily reading documents on their screens either.  You'd print them out.  If you had a PostScript printer, vector graphics would usually print fine.

 

Syntho

Well-known member
It looks absolutely beautiful printed. And the same pdf files opened on other systems look perfect. Even in Acrobat 5 on the same system looks great. That “smooth line art” setting which seems to be in version 5 and up really does the trick.

 

cheesestraws

Well-known member
Before Acrobat 5 was released, how did people deal with such terrible looking line art on their screen in PDFs? Is there some sort of hack that I’m unaware of?


Perhaps worth noting that IIRC the original purpose of Acrobat was to facilitate printing, rather than for reading on-screen.  So when displaying it on-screen, the purpose was to make sure that it would print properly.  So perhaps it isn't as critical as you think.

Also, I'd note that making things look smooth on low-resolution (as we'd think of them today) displays isn't entirely simple and has a CPU cost associated with it.

how did people deal with


This kind of thing is something you've posted a couple of times now, and I think you may have ... a slight glitch in the way you're thinking about how tools develop.  Expectations and tools develop hand in hand.  Fundamentally, people dealt with it because it did something they needed to do better than the options that came before it, and because they didn't expect what you are expecting.  You are coming from a modern machine, but they were not, so the experiences to set those expectations up hadn't happened yet.  For context, as far as I know when Acrobat was first released, only one line of computers was doing OS-wide text smoothing for outline fonts.  And it was slow (but very pretty).

(A thought exercise: what do you think people will say "how did they deal with x" about the systems you like now?)

So you have to understand that all tools proceed by local improvements and occasional big jumps, but never a jump to "perfection".  And no tool and its use can be understood by what came after it, really only what came before it, because that's the direction causality works in.

It might also help to think of people and their tools in very intimate dialogue, such that the process of thinking is actually in some ways "spread out" between the person and the tool.  I can't remember the book I have on the subject—my books are all ahoo at the moment—but "distributed cognition" is the name of that area of research.

 

paws

Well-known member
One perspective: I grew up with consumer Macs, and had fairly slow ones and hand-me-downs from 1989 until I got my an iBook when I was 18 in 2002. I always hated PDFs, they were big, slow to redraw, and the viewer used a lot of memory - sometimes so much that I couldn't keep the application and the manual open at the same time. I had a copy of Codewarrior when I was in my teens which came with some PDFs on learning how to code, and I'm quite sure I had to quite Acrobat to open the IDE in the 32MB RAM or whatever I had at the time.

There were a number of different ways of distributing documents and manuals for on-screen consumption, sometimes even as self-standing applications, and as far as I remember I always preferred those to PDF. The WYSIWYG aspect was maybe cool if you were doing DTP, but arguably PDF wasn't really meant for screens, and it really shows on old hardware.

 
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