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cyocum (7706)

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An American post-graduate student living in Scotland.

Journal of cyocum (7706)

Friday August 14, 2009
05:24 PM

LaTeX, the Humanities, and PDF commenting

[ #39463 ]

One of the biggest problems when working with Humanities scholars (or scholars in other areas) is that they are accustomed to using the commenting features of their favored format (usually Word). Now, PDF has the facility to allow commenting. The only problem is that Adobe keeps the keys to this particular kingdom pretty tight. No open source PDF thing (other than PDFEdit, which isn't very stable from what I have read around the web) can add comments to a PDF in a graphical environment.

This brings us to closed source but free products that allow you to add comments graphically to a PDF. There are two that I know of and both work on Windows: Foxit Reader and PDF-XChange Viewer. Foxit has a free Linux version but it doesn't allow commenting yet. However, Foxit does work under Wine but I have not tried it yet.

This takes down one more barrier to adopting LaTeX in the humanities if you can get your University or supervisor to support an non-Adobe PDF reader.

I cannot wait for something like GNU Juggler or maybe something using PoDoFo library to allow real commenting on PDFs.

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  • Adobe is certainly not holding the keys tightly. The PDF specification has been wide open almost since the beginning. The problem is more that it's a huge specification and it takes a lot of work to get it right.

    I'm the author of CAM::PDF, an open-source library for PDF manipulation. It's a pretty big library, but I only support the very basics of the PDF features. And I'd probably find that I averaged less than minimum wage if I divided the dollars earned on this product by the huge number of hours I'v

    • From what I understand [], you must obtain a cryptographic key from an Adobe product to add to the PDF to enable commenting in Adobe Reader. I know the spec is HUGE (I had entertained crazy notions of implementing it but now I know why you need a large team of people to do so). Of course, I very much appreciate everyone's efforts (including your's) to make PDFs available on Linux.

      • Oh, you're right. Weird, I didn't know that Adobe restricted adding annotations. I usually use Apple's bundled for annotating PDFs, so I'd never noticed.

        I had misunderstood your comment about keys to mean that you needed a key to create a PDF application. Apologies for reading too fast.

  • In my experience at least, the most important thing would be to get JSTOR, Sage, Oxbridge Journals etc. supplying journal articles in something other than PDF, as our departments didn't actually produce digital material themselves. How you'd even start to move publishers like that though, I don't know.

    "In order to comment using the free Adobe Reader application, the document needs to be signed with a cryptographic key only available from Adobe's commercial (non-free, for-pay) software suites. Likewise, if o

    • No, you are correct. Other applications like the ones that I listed in my original post can add comments directly into the PDF that are viewable in Adobe Reader. In fact, annotation is part of the PDF standard. It is just getting Adobe Reader to activate its commenting features that is the problem.

      That said, almost everyone has Adobe Reader or has heard of it. It is the same problem as trying to get people to use something other than Word; they will not want to install some other piece of software becau